Speedy Bike Sessions

Boost your cycle power with these short but effective bike sessions


Posted: 4 June 2008

Smart cycling isn’t all about long, slow rides at a high cadence. The key is to build power by adding intensity with the correct training sessions and clever use of gears. Runners looking to make the transition to triathlon often have a head start: a light build and legs that turnover quickly can be a great advantage in a triathlon. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that if you’re coming to triathlon from a running background, you might find that you don’t yet have classic cycling strength in your quads.

The bike leg is the longest and most strategic part of any triathlon, so it’s crucial to make the most of it. Your bike training should always include a long ride at a slower pace and lower heart rate (just like running, they’re usually done at weekends). Try to also include one shorter ride per week, similar to a tempo run. Then, if you have time, you could also include a turbo session, hill session or spin class to work on intervals.

Don’t forget that cycling will shorten your hamstrings and calves so you’ll need to stretch them thoroughly after each bike session to keep yourself in good condition. By boosting the power to your legs, you’ll be able to overtake on hills and find a second wind when your competitors are flagging, setting you up perfectly for a storming run home.

Change Gear

Choose one short ride per week where you ride in a higher gear than usual. This will build strength and power in the leg muscles and teach your body to cope with the stress of being tired.

Don’t Change Gear

Climb a hill without changing gear: this is a killer workout but you’ll see fast results. From time to time, make the effort not to drop down into an easier gear while you’re heading up a hill. After a few sessions, you’ll find that you’re able to make it up the same hill in the harder gear with less effort. Try to avoid hills that are busy with traffic though.

Hill Repeats

Just as in running, try a hill rep session on your bike. Choose a long, fairly steep hill that’s free of traffic. Power up it, turn around and coast down, using the downhill as active recovery. Do this eight to 12 times per session and you’ll be able to tackle hills in races better than most.

Like the Wind

There’s no denying it, headwinds are horrid. Annoying, frustrating and energy-sapping, riding into the wind is no fun at all, but you can turn a negative into a positive by using, not hating, a headwind. Next time you face a headwind, put your head down and purposefully ride harder. The added effort will mean you’ll motor along on less windy days.

Gym'll fix it

If you have the time and resources, gym work can compliment your bike training by helping to build strength in your leg muscles. Squats and lunges (with or without free weights) are a great place to start. Ask the gym staff to demonstrate top technique and guide you in selecting the right weight.

In a spin

They’re usually at dawn and involve melting into a puddle of your own sweat, but a good spinning class can make a real difference to your cycling. Make sure that you choose one where the instructor has factored in hill climbs, sprints and intervals (and avoid those who do ‘press ups’ on the handlebars).

Turn to Turbo

Cycling on a turbo trainer is useful when it’s too dark, wet or windy to cycle outside, but you should also consider turbo training as an integral part of any cycling programme.

Turn On Your Turbo

Try this short, effective turbo power session:
  • In an easy gear, warm up for 10 minutes
  • Increase the gears until you feel as if you’re struggling, then cycle for 45 seconds all-out in this gear (this should feel very hard). Your cadence shouldn’t drop below 70rpm. (To check your cadence, drop one elbow to your knee and count how many times your knee hits your elbow as you cycle. Time this for 15 seconds and multiply by four.)
  • Find an easy gear and do an active recovery of 45 seconds. Your cadence should be around 90rpm
  • Repeat this cycle eight times
  • Do a 15-minute warm-down in an easy gear and focus on cycling in circles (pushing your feet forward and backwards as well as up and down)

Pick up the first issue of Triathlete's World free with Runner's World on the newsstand. Of course, if you’re already a magazine subscriber you can order your free copy now. Simply call 0844 848 1601 – have your subscriber number handy - and quote C477.


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Discuss this article

Hi. Can I ask why a Spin class who do press ups on the handle bars isn't a good idea? I read the paragraph 'In A Spin' but there's no explination as to why you should avoid those particular classes.
Posted: 19/07/2011 at 16:48

The thrust of the article is on trying to increase your speed on the bike.  In the real world you'd never start doing pushups on the handlebars while riding down the road, so the article is trying to move you away from the spin sessions which are trying to give you a 'complete body workout' and (hopefully) towards something more like mimicing an outdoor bike training session on a stationary bike.
Posted: 19/07/2011 at 17:08

I know what isn't a good idea and that is taking the advice in that article on how to ride a bike faster.     The bike leg of a triathlon is basically a time trial - are they seriously suggesting a novice time trialist should look at doing hill repeats in a big gear, 45 second sprints and weights in the gym !     
Posted: 19/07/2011 at 23:32

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