Done in an hour: Bike

Done in an hour: Bike

You know, and I know, there is no substitute for putting in the miles when it comes to cycling, the more revolutions done in training the easier the racing!

However, some of us work upwards of 40 hours per week and therefore can’t afford to just jump on our bikes and do 3 – 5 hour rides three or four days a week. So, what sessions are going to benefit you the most given our intention that you can get to your bike/gym and be done and dusted in under an hour?

There are three areas we are going to look at:

  1. Technique
  2. Force
  3. Sustained power


Session One: Technique

It’s funny how when people first talk about triathlon they focus so much on how technical the swim is, but the bike… “Oh, I will just jump on and ride, I used to ride to the office etc”. However, cycling effectively (economy of motion) is a very technically demanding skill and that skill starts with the correct fit.

Bike set-up

Have you ever thought what you might have in common with a down-hill skier? Take the triathlete off their bike and look at the perfect TT set up (have a go at it, is this how you feel on your bike, with the weight coming down through your glutes, quads and feet?), then fit the bike to the triathlete.

If your centre of gravity (feel that optimum force coming down through your bum, quads and feet) is not in the most efficient position on the bike you could be loosing 50 – 80 watts (you can test optimum set up on a power type turbo or through a mobile power meter). Even the pro riders are continuously jigging around with their bike set up and remember

A road geometry frame is not designed for full on time trial (TT) bars, unless you have a TT bike (steeper seat angle) you are better off with a little pair of short tri bars that don’t pull you too far forward.


Ever wondered why you find it difficult to run well off the bike? One area you may want to look at is your cadence. There have been a number studies done on cadence and all sorts of numbers are banded about. So, just to simplify things a little, if you want to ride 40km at an average cadence of 80-85rpm, this means you have to produce much more force than a rider who is cycling at 105rpm. Or, in weight lifting terms, rider one/ weight lifter one, is picking up 100kgs and trying to lift it continuously for 1 hour against rider two (weight lifter two!) who is lifting 60kg (a little faster) over the same time period.

Cyclists may choose a cadence they are happy with, but the triathlete must go with a higher cadence so as not to fatigue their legs prior to the run. Triathletes are not cyclists, we are a different animal!

So long as rider two has trained at this higher cadence (so his neural pathways are used to it) his legs will not have recruited as many muscle fibres as rider one, thus will be able to run off the bike at a high optimum cadence (above 90 steps per min), not over-striding, thus breaking as he steps forward.

Equipment needed for this session is your bike or a gym bike, clip in bike shoes or straps on pedals and a means of measuring cadence (cycle computer with cadence unit or just use your watch and count, but a very worthwhile investment for your bike).

Warm up (15 minutes): Aim is to increase neural firing of cycling muscles

  • 5 mins @ 95 rpm easy gear to start
  • 1 min @ 100 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 105 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 110 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 115 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 120 rpm same gear
  • 5 mins @ 100rpm building to 70% max HR

Main set (16 minutes): Aim is as for the warm-up and to increase power balance in individual legs

Unclip your right foot and position your leg safely out of the way of the cranks and the wheels. Pedal for 1 min with the left leg and then switch and pedal with the right leg.

Repeat the one-leg drills decreasing by 5 seconds each time: 55 secs left and 55 secs right, then 50, 45, 40 and 35.

Now change up 1 gear (harder) and continue decreasing by 5 seconds each time as follows: 30 secs left, 30 secs both feet, 30 secs right then 25 secs left, 35 secs both, 25 secs right and so on until you are down to 10 seconds per foot. Now got into the cool down. Although I have never had anyone injure themselves doing this session, for safety reasons do not go beyond 10 secs of power on SLD.

Cool down for 5 – 10 minutes of easy spin or run off the bike for 5 – 10 minutes.

Session Two: Force

For this session (54 minutes) you will need: rollers, a heart rate monitor and a mirror.

Rollers, not many people use these now as turbos have taken over in the “home entertainment” department! However, what the turbo does not teach is balance through your pedalling action as you ride (also, try riding with no hands up a slight incline … safely!).

When I talk about force, I am referring to the amount of pressure applied to the pedal at a slow cadence (power is referred to as the amount of force applied at high cadence).

Warm up (15 minutes): The aim is to increase neural firing of cycling muscles

  • 5 mins @ 95 rpm easy gear to start
  • 1 min @ 100 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 105 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 110 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 115 rpm same gear
  • 1 min @ 120 rpm same gear
  • 5 mins @ 100rpm building to 70% max HR

Main set part 1 (16 mins): The aim is to increase force output to cycling muscles and increase balance of left and right legs. Four sets of 3 mins with 1 min recovery spin between each repetition.

NB; your goal is to keep the bike on a straight line (too much force from left or right leg could spell trouble!) while maintaining 65 – 75rpm in your aero position (as this is the position you will want to produce the power in later!).

Finish with 3 mins recovery spin @ 100 rpm

Main set part 2 (10mins): Now apply a smooth pedalling action at your normal rpm in a relatively easy gear. 10 mins in aero position @ 100rpm around 65/75% max HR. This time can be increased to up to 1 hour if you have lots of time.

Cooldown for 5 – 10mins easy spin.

Session three: Sustained power

This is the meat and veg of your triathlon cycling performance training routine. As coaches we can come up with all kinds of fan-tangled sessions, with work and recovery of all different times, but the crux of the situation is: you need to be able to sit in your aero position at your optimum functional (power) threshold. The more power you can produce over the bike course and then run effectively off the bike, the better your result.

For this 50 to 60 minute session you’ll need: a power meter showing watts (ideally this will be a proper meter as the ones on turbos and gym bikes are generally not accurate but they will give an indication), a heart rate monitor, a cadence sensor and either a flat(ish) bike route or a turbo/rollers.

If you don’t have a mobile power meter (Ergomo, Power Tap or SRM), you are at a slight disadvantage when it comes to triathlon, as bike speed itself is irrelevant to triathlon performance. (More to follow on power meters soon).

Warm up (17 minutes): Start with 10 mins at over 100rpm, building to 65 – 75% max HR (so you are working but not breathing too heavy). Now do 7 mins of pick ups and recovery (either 20 secs max out or 1 min at 90%, make sure you are ready for the hard 20 mins, but don’t kill yourself!) and 3 mins recovery spin prior to the start.

Main set: Work for 20 mins at over 100 rpm, as hard as you can sustain for 20 mins. (You need to be highly motivated to do this type of session, don’t go off too hard as you will blow up)

Cool down for 10 – 20mins easy recovery spin.

(10 – 20mins)


The aim of this last session is to find out where your functional power threshold is. Once we have this data we can work out what power output you need to complete a standard or Ironman distance course. You could also find out what your average heart rate (HR) is, but the heart will start to lie over a longer duration event (HR drift phenomena) and, therefore, is not as reliable an indicator as once thought.

Working it out: If your average watts for the 20 mins of the last session was, say, 300 you calculate your functional threshold by multiplying this by 0.05 (300 x 0.05 = 15) and then subtract this from the 300 (300 – 15 = 285). Your functional threshold (what you could maintain for 1 hour) is 285 watts. This is now the “magic number” you need to see improving as you become a better cyclist.

Power to weight ratio: It is reported that prior to the start of each of Mr Armstrong’s Tour de France wins he would look to achieve his magic 6.7 watts per kg (I think he weighed about 71 kg at the time). The higher your power to weight ratio, the stronger rider you are, this is another very important number to get to know and, again, improve on, by either increasing your power or reducing your weight.

Each person has an optimum power to weight ratio. One does not want to lose so much weight that you become weak and ineffective.

For example, if you weigh 90kg and produce 350 watts climbing a hill, a rider weighing 56 kg and only producing 218 watts will climb at the same rate as you — they have the same power to weight ratio. Once you know your functional threshold you can divide this by your weight and get your own power to weight ratio. For example, a 75kg ride averaging 300 watts for 20 minutes has a functional threshold of 285 and a power to weight ratio of 3.8 w/kg.

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