Why Include Speed Training For The Bike In Your Triathlon Training Program?

Speed training for the bike encompasses a range of different types of training sessions. The main purpose of all of these sessions is to change your physiology to enable you to ride faster over a distance or duration than you could before.

Unlike ENDURANCE training which is fairly straightforward and usually continuous, SPEED sessions are made up of intervals of HARD work followed by periods of EASY work or complete rest.

The key variables of these sessions are:-

  • Interval Duration
  • Rest Duration
  • Interval Intensity
  • Rest Intensity
  • Number of Repetitions
cyclist climbing

The interaction of these components can completely change the effect of the session.

Speed training as part of a triathlon training program is different to speed training as part of a cycling training program.

For cyclists, the speed training will vary a lot depending on what event they are training for (i.e. road race, timetrial, mountain bike, criterium).

In a triathlon race the cycling usually always revolves around a solo effort (non-drafting) at a intensity you control, but that enables you to get off and run.

Due to the specific nature of cycling training for triathlon we will focus only on the areas that have the largest effect on triathlon race performance.

If you have a question about your triathlon bike training please just ask us.

Why Is SPEED Training So Important?

If you want to ride faster in a triathlon then you need to change some areas of your physiology to enable you to meet the demands of riding at faster speeds (and therefore higher power outputs). These areas include

Combine this with ENDURANCE training and good recovery in a well thought out triathlon training program and you will go faster for longer.

Training pyramid

What Adaptations Can I Expect From SPEED Training?

Well as the different types of SPEED training sessions target specific areas, you can expect different benefits from the sessions.

These will include:

  • Increased VO2max
  • Improved buffering capacity
  • Improved neuromuscular co-ordination
  • Improved use of fats as a fuel source
  • Improved muscular endurance

Are The Benefits Of SPEED Training Applicable To All Distances, Even Ironman?

Yes! Although as an Ironman athlete you will be interested in different types and proportions of SPEED training within your program.

Consider the diagrams below. The first shows an example of how an Ironman triathlete might chose to structure the proportions of training over the year. The second is a Sprint triathlete’s approach.

As you can see there are more areas to consider in a Sprint triathlon training program, and they are arranged in different proportions due to the different requirements of the two events.

The larger the bubble the more time is spent on this type of training within the triathlon training program. Just because the bubble is small doesn’t mean it is less important! It means that you just spend less time training in this area.

Ironman Program Proportions

Ironman training components

Due to the nature of Ironman, endurance training forms a significant part of the training to help you maintain a certain speed for longer. However to increase this speed, you need to do training specifically to shift your thresholds upwards.

Sprint Program Proportions

Sprint triathlon training components

A sprint triathlon still requires an endurance component (it will take even the best nearly an hour to compete!), however to go faster there are more elements of your profile that need to be developed at various times of the year.

What Is Involved In The Different Speed Sessions?

The key areas to train to improve triathlon bike speed are:

1. Lactate Threshold 1 (LT1)

This is the boundary where comfortable becomes uncomfortably comfortable. To improve the power output at which the lactate threshold occurs, you are required to train at a slightly HIGHER speed or power output than your current LT1 power.


  • Using long (20 – 30 minute) intervals with medium (4 – 6 minute) recovery at efforts just above this point will help to raise the power at LT1 occurs.
  • Work to Rest Ratio (WRR) = ~ 4:1

2. Lactate Threshold 2 (LT2)

This is the point at which efforts become HARD, and sustained efforts over this intensity lead to fatigue in a comparatively short time. To improve the power output at which this point occurs, you need to train at a slightly HIGHER speed or power output than your current LT2 power.


  • Use medium (8 – 15 minute) to long (20 – 30 minute) intervals and medium (4 – 6 minute) to short (2 – 4 minute) recovery at efforts just above this point with help to raise the power that this point occurs
  • Work to Rest Ratio = between 2 - 3:1

3. VO2max

This is the highest rate of oxygen you can process. There are a variety of sessions for improving VO2max. All involve training at slightly higher intensities than VO2max.


  • Use very short (40s) to short (2 - 4 minute) intervals with very short (20 – 40 seconds) to medium 4 – 6 minute) recovery.
  • Work to Rest Ratio = 2:1, 1:2 – 1:3

4. Maximum Aerobic Power (MAP)

In laymans terms this is the highest power you can sustain for ~ 4-min, i.e. using predominantly aerobic metabolism. To improve it you need to train at power outputs above this level. Some sessions can be done at very high power outputs, other sessions will require only power outputs only slightly above MAP.


  • There are a few ways to train this area but all involve short (1 – 3 minute) interval with either short (1 – 2 minutes) or medium (4 – 6 minutes) recovery.
  • Work to Rest Ratio = 1:1, 1:2 - 1:3

5. Recovery

Not recuperation sessions but hard sessions designed to improve your ability to recover from hard efforts, without full rest. To improve this area you need to be working hard, then allow a period of recovery, but not enough to fully recover, then repeat.


  • There are a variety of ways to achieve this and it may depend upon which event you are in and the type of efforts you wish to recover from. Typically we would use hard efforts of about 4 minutes for shorter events and longer intervals of about 10 minutes for longer events.
  • Work to Rest Ratio = 2:1 or 3:1

What About Hill Training?

Riding fast up hills is just another form of SPEED training. So if you are going to be racing on hilly courses or you live in a hilly area, then some of these sessions can be performed on a hill.

Hills change the mechanics of pedaling and how you recruit your muscles Therefore as most races include some hills, make your training specific and include some hill work.

The exact type of session you use will depend upon what area of your profile you need to improve.

There are many myths about using hills in training. A lot of them revolve around getting STRONGER. Hills don’t really make you stronger. They can make you fitter, and this enables you to push more power and therefore feel like you are stronger. Strength doesn’t have a whole lot to do with it.

How Do I Use These Types Of Speed Training in a Triathlon Training Program?

To find out how to include all the different types of speed training in your triathlon training plan read this page:

How To Do Triathlon Bike Speed Training

Our Putting Your Triathlon Training Program Together page will help you plan how to incorporate speed training into your overall triathlon training plan.

Got a question about your triathlon training program? Then please ask us!

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