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Why are time trials important for a recreational cyclist? How frequently should I do them?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard
- Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the yearThis is a great question that I get asked all the time. Weekly time trials that are put on by cycling clubs are an important tool for improving your fitness level. Most recreational cyclists do most of their riding at a moderate to easy level of intensity. Not that this is wrong, as it allows the individual to ride for long distances without blowing up. However, for any cyclist interested in improving her fitness level, doing a weekly or bi-monthly time trial is a great way of achieving it.

Time trials are meant to be ridden at a significantly higher intensity level— at a high but steady pace— than rides of longer distances. The combination of the intensity and steady pace allows the rider to ride harder, stronger and more efficiently.

Long distance rides are ridden at an intensity level we call Zone 2 – Zone 3. To simplify  the training zones I will use a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale of 1-10, where 1 is the easiest you can ride, and 10 is the hardest you can ride. Zone 2 would be 4-5, and zone 3 would be 5-6. On this scale, time trials would be ridden at a 7-8 intensity level. By riding in this zone you will improve the body’s ability to transport oxygen, increase the use of fast twitch muscle fibres (slow twitch muscle fibres are predominantly used in long distance rides) and improve both the aerobic (presence of oxygen) and anaerobic energy (absence of oxygen) pathways.

I strongly recommend bi-monthly or weekly time trials for recreational cyclists, as they allow you to improve your fitness, which helps you to be stronger in the saddle. The goal is to ride faster at a lower heart rate. Time trials are also a good way to measure your fitness level as the cycling season progresses.

If you’re doing a time trial  for the first time, focus on maintaining a steady pace throughout the distance. Starting out too hard will be unsustainable, causing leg muscle fatigue, which will result in slowing down, and possibly not being able to complete the distance. If  you ride with a heart rate monitor, then ride about 4 – 5 beats higher than the rate at which you cycle on longer rides. This will allow you to complete the time trial, without total exhaustion. So get out there, turn up the intensity, and ride strong.

If you have a question you’d like Diane to answer please email it to [email protected]

Diane Stibbard Ask a ProAs a world-class duathlete, Diane Stibbard brings a rare combination of expertise, motivation and knowledge to her coaching. She knows that the driving force to reach any goal comes from a deep desire within. As a trainer, she has a unique ability to help individuals embrace this desire to achieve their athletic potential.

Diane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training.

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.

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