Top 5 cycling exercises

While any ride will help, there are some exercises that are more effective than others. Some games to prepare you for training. Others to help you recover. But there are some key exercises that are both demanding and rewarding with great improvement. Spring is just around the corner, so here are the 5 best workouts that will improve your speed, stamina, and help burn off your winter podge by revving up your metabolism.

Warning: As with any exercise program, check with your doctor to make sure it is safe for you to do intense exercise.

Filmax Periods

These are the power-based intervals that I created based on research on increasing VO2 max and triathlon strength. To do this properly you will need a power meter and power test your function threshold. These are among the hardest intervals I have ever done so if you have less than a year of training under your belt or are going to quit, don’t do it as you will likely vomit if you do it right.

The performance gains from these are very rapid, so the intensity described is for the first time you do these intervals. Typically for each workout you will increase either the number of intervals or the wattage you do after the first workout.

Warm up 15-20 minutes

Filmax Periods

30 seconds at 135% FT power / 30 seconds easy repeat until you can no longer maintain wattage.

With wattage fluctuations, I usually set a goal and when you can’t keep 10-20 watts below that level, the workout is over.

For example, if your max is 300 watts, your Velmax goal for your first workout is 405 watts. It’s okay to go above 400. But don’t go below 400. When you can’t keep it above 395 watts, your workout ends and you wind down. The first time you do it, it’s common to only get 15-20 repetitions. Maintain the same wattage goal until you can get more than 30 repetitions. When you can increase your wattage for your next workout by 10-15 watts.

The athletes I work with have gone from averaging 400 watts for 18 periods to 450 watts for 31 periods in just 3 weeks. This translates to a higher sustained energy boost, a higher sustained heart rate, and a better ability to recover from strenuous efforts.

The reason it works so well is because the 30-second interval of work gets your heart going higher, but the 30-second recovery isn’t enough to get your heart rate down that much. With each interval, your heart rate and oxygen utilization continue to rise until you reach your Vo2 maximum. The recovery time is enough to clear your legs a bit allowing you to do more work than you could if it was going on. This allows you to accumulate a lot of time at maximum oxygen capacity, which leads to a rapid improvement in the cardiovascular system. Although very effective, again I would not try it if you are not used to intense training.

Tabata intervals

Tabata intervals are named after the physician who conducted the research into the effectiveness of short, high-intensity intervals versus longer, moderate exercise. Tabata describes the time lapse protocol. 20 seconds work / 10 seconds rest, repeat 8-10 times. Show research d.

The key is to do maximum efforts with shorter recovery times. Incomplete recovery leads to an increase in oxygen debt resulting in an improved ability to process oxygen. In a six-week study, these intervals done 5 days per week increased VO2 Max by 13 percent, aerobic capacity by 14 percent and anaerobic capacity by 28 percent. That’s with just 20 minutes of exercise a day including warm-up and cool-down.

20 solid seconds / 10 easy spins x 10 reps = 5 minutes of hell

Then drive easy for 5 minutes and then do it again.

Measure your level of effort based on your current fitness level. If you’re new to or getting back into cycling, go with about 80% instead of all-in. If you train regularly, give each 20-second interval 100% effort. Don’t try to beat yourself up, just attack each interval like the last in the group.

If you’re using a power meter, you’ll want to aim for 150% of your functional threshold strength for 20 seconds of hard effort. When you start out do only one set of intervals but as you get fitter you should increase the number of sets you do.

4 x 4 intervals

Norwegian researchers Hoff and Helgerode found that you can get better increases in cardiac output from high-intensity repetitive exercise than from longer, but lower-intensity workouts. The basis of Hoff & Helgerud’s theory of endurance training is the 4 x 4 interval. This means 4 intervals of 4 minutes each, at 85-95% of maximum heart rate activity (for elite athletes at 90-95% of maximum heart rate), with low-intensity rest periods of 3-4 minutes. This is the training that aims to give the greatest increases in VO2max – which according to Hoff & Helgerud is the deciding factor for endurance (something I only partially agree with but anyway).

The theory relies on training the heart at maximum stroke volumes to expose it to maximum shear stress—conditions only reached at the highest heart rates. Why 4 minutes? It seems like it takes more than two minutes for the heart to reach maximum stroke volume under these conditions, so you need to keep working for a longer period of time to get maximum training effect here. They have found that intervals lasting more than 4 minutes usually mean a decrease in intensity and are therefore less effective.

Researchers had the athletes perform several consecutive days with 4×4 intervals only (up to 18 sessions in 14 days) with 2-4 weeks of low volume training to facilitate recovery, while maintaining gains without having to work out too much. On average, people saw an improvement of 5% per exercise.

The experiments led to significant increases in VO2max, up to a 10% increase over the course of the trial for already highly trained athletes. If you’re training with a power meter or heart rate monitor, do the intervals like this: Warm-up 15-20 minutes. 4 minutes at 120% of your threshold power at a high tempo of 100-110 rpm or maximizing your heart rate from the fitness test.

– Go back for 4 minutes
Repeat a total of 4-6 times.
Cool down for 10-15 minutes

periods of muscular endurance

This exercise is good for further developing strength. Putting out quite a bit of power is a combination of pedal cadence and gear selection. Aerobic and pedal conditioning exercises will allow you to rotate, and this workout will help you do it in larger gear. This exercise is great because it works the cardiovascular system and really works the legs. In time your legs will not get tired from the constant hard efforts.

While doing low RPM intervals, focus on being smooth and relaxing your upper body. If you have knee problems, go to a higher tempo so you don’t hurt your knees.

Do this exercise twice a week with at least two days between workouts because your legs will take longer to recover from this exercise than from high-candle aerobic riding.

Warm up for 15 minutes to build the upper end of your aerobic range (90% of your average heart rate from your fitness test) Tempo 90-100 rpm.

Do a 5 x 10 second set with 3 minutes of recovery between efforts (choose a hard gear, go slow, then pedal, trying to go as fast as you can for 10 seconds). 5 minutes of easy riding after pedaling followed by 10-30 minutes at 70rpm at the upper end of your aerobic zone. (If you are using a power meter, this will be 85-90% of your Thresold’s functional wattage). Cool down for 10 minutes with easy spins to clean the legs and gradually lower your heart rate.

threshold periods

The functional threshold (FT) for practical cycling purposes is the maximum heart rate or power you can sustain for about an hour. The higher your threshold strength, the faster you can go for a sustained period of time without having your legs explode on you. Quite simply, the way to raise your anaerobic threshold is to ride at your heart rate or strength for progressively longer periods. This is tough but effective. If you took a fitness test, you would have calculated your anaerobic heart rate and/or your strength if you had a trainer or pedometer on the bike that measures wattage.

Start with 2 x 10-minute runs at minimum heart rate with 5-minute recovery between intervals.

Each week, increase the amount of interval time by two minutes until you reach 20 minutes each.

To increase from there, look to add a third interval or several days of threshold intervals in a row. This can be very taxing but when you recover from your workouts you will be stronger.

mix it up

While you’ll get the biggest fitness improvements from high-intensity workouts, longer, easier rides are still needed. While you can build great endurance performance with the above workouts, if the events you’re doing are long (i.e. more than two hours), you need to get your body used to spending that kind of time on the bike. Plus, less intense riding is great at promoting physical and mental recovery. Sometimes it’s hard to push yourself hard enough to get the benefit of interval training due to mental exhaustion, so mixing up your training is a great way to keep yourself mentally sharp and keep moving forward physically.

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