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What’s the fastest way to get fast on the bike?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

- Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the yearQ: What’s the fastest way to get fast on the bike?

A: Many cyclists make the mistake of riding at the same speed and covering the same distance, and sometimes even on the same route all the time. That’s not a bad thing–it can help you improve your fitness on the bike and create consistency. But it won’t necessarily improve your speed. When your body has the same training all the time it improves to a certain point, then it plateaus. Many cyclists think the answer to this training adaptation is to ride more, so they add mileage to their weekly schedule. When they don’t see any improvement in their speed they become confused and frustrated.

As a coach, one of the first questions I ask new cycling clients is: what is your goal? Some say they want to become fitter and leaner with cycling, and others say they want to get faster. Knowing their goals helps me to develop a program that helps them achieve that outcome. And what you need to do to get fit and lean isn’t the same as the training you need to do to get faster on the bike.

Simply put, the fastest way to get faster on the bike is to ride fast! That doesn’t mean you have to go out and do your weekly rides as fast as you can. To generate more speed you need to combine power-training and high-intensity interval training. Most of you may be familiar with interval training, but not power-training. The reason power-training is so important is that more power translates into more speed. The force that is applied to the pedal via your leg muscles will result in greater speed and endurance, without fatigue.

Below are two simple but highly effective power-training workouts. The first one is short, intense, and incredibly efficient. The second is high-intensity interval training.

Before starting, do an extended warm-up. To avoid strains or other injuries the muscles need to be warm and ready for the type of load you’re going to put on them.

Start with 20 – 30 minutes of easy, steady spinning. At the end of the warmup, do a few brief 10 second surges in effort. This “tells” the muscles what’s to come.

The 30 Second Maximum Power Workout:
This is best done on a flat stretch of road, without too much car traffic.

After warming up, slow down, and put the chain into the big ring and a fairly big gear at the back.

Stand up and push as hard as you can for 5 – 8 pedal strokes, then sit down and continue to push hard for 30 seconds. If necessary, you can shift down one or two easier gears to maintain a maximum effort for the full 30 seconds.

Once you’ve completed the 30 seconds, immediately go into a smaller gear and spin easy for the same amount of time.

• Beginner cyclists can begin with 5 sets of these 30-second power intervals.
• Intermediate cyclists can begin with 10 sets.
• Advanced cyclists can begin with 15 sets, and build to 20 sets.

Finish with 20 minutes of easy spinning to cool down.

Substitute one of your regular training rides with this workout once every week or every other week.

The second workout is high-intensity interval training that adopts the 2:1 work to rest ratio. That means you’ll be working twice as long as you will be recovering/resting.

2:1 Work to Rest Interval Training Workout:
Begin with 20 minutes of easy spinning to warm up the body.

Beginner cyclists:
Start with 1 minute of hard riding (on a scale of 1 – 10, where 10 is the hardest you can ride, your intensity should be an 8, or if you are using a heart rate monitor then you will be at 80 – 85% of your maximum heart rate)
Then follow with 30 seconds easy spinning in between to recover.
Repeat 5 times.
Finish with 20 minutes of easy spinning to cool down.

Intermediate to advanced cyclists:
After warming up
Do 5 – 8 sets of 2 – 4 minutes of high-intensity riding, followed by 1 minute of easy spinning in between to recover.
Finish with 20 minutes of easy spinning to cool down.

This type of workout can be done once per week, or alternated with the power workout each week. Doing a recovery ride between each of these workouts will increase blood flow to the muscles and speed up recovery. Again, you need to mix up different types of workouts, as they each have a specific purpose.

Even if you aren’t interested in getting faster, doing these workouts from time to time will add variety and provide an extra bonus of burning lots of calories to help with weight management.

Get outside, ride strong and have fun!

Training for a two-day cycling eventDiane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, contact Diane at [email protected] or at LinkedIn.

Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.


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