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Triathlon Training Program

How To Include SPEED Training For The Bike

If your aim is to improve your time for a triathlon, then you need to go faster!

A lot of triathlon training programs forget this simple fact even though it seems obvious. People often confuse training faster with training harder.

Cycling is the longest discipline in a triathlon, and therefore small increases in speed can result in significant reductions in time. YES it usually means training hard but the objective is to go faster not just to go hard.

This page introduces the various types of basic cycling training that you can include in your triathlon training program to help you go faster in your triathlon races.

REMEMBER: We use the term SPEED training to describe any type of training that trains you to go faster. ENDURANCE training describes sessions that help you to continue for longer at the same pace.

If you are a complete novice to triathlon or to cycling, then we suggest you read the Endurance and Planning Your Triathlon Training Program pages. These will help you to build a triathlon training program that develops a level of basic endurance that will enable you to then get more from your speed training.

If you have any questions about your triathlon bike training then you can just ask us.

Types Of SPEED Training To Include In Your Triathlon Training Program:

  1. Lactate threshold 1 (LT1)
  2. Lactate threshold 2 (LT2)
  3. MAP
  4. VO2max
  5. High Intensity Recovery (HIR)

What Do These Sessions Look Like And What Do You Get From Them?

1. Lactate Threshold 1

As we discussed in the physiology of training pages, Lactate Threshold 1 (LT1) is the intensity at which you begin to burn carbohydrates to fuel your exercise.

Including sessions in your triathlon training program to raise the power output that this occurs will increase the speed that you can sustain at the ‘uncomfortably-comfortable’ intensity. This threshold has a high correlation to triathlon cycling performance at all racing distances from Sprint to Ironman.

To make these sessions most effective you need to challenge the energy system around LT1, then allow a little recovery before challenging it again. To do this you need to have an idea of what your LT1 heart rate or power output might be.

We explain how you can find this out on the fitness testing page and lab testing pages. If you don’t use either of these tools then you need to get a feel for this intensity using a Rating of Perceived Exertion scale (RPE) LT1 intensity would be 12 – 13 on the RPE scale.

Once you know your LT1 heart rate or power output, you need to perform the interval effort at a little over this intensity. So we describe the point as LT1 + x%. This usually encompasses a range as it is not practical or beneficial to maintain either a precise power or an exact heart rate.

The key to this is then to not allow full recovery, so the ‘rest’ is actually part of the session. As you finish the main effort, you should ease off and allow heart rate to gradually reduce down to around your recovery target.

Your heart rate won’t respond instantly to the change in intensity and so this may mean that you only see your target heart rate in the last minute or two of the recovery. Power output should reduce immediately.

You then repeat the effort until you have completed the target number of times.

Example:

Interval Duration 15 min
Recovery Duration 4 min
Intensity of Interval (Heart Rate) LT1 + 5 to 10%
Intensity of Rest LT1 - 15%
Repetitions 3 to 4
Example LT1 HR 150 b/min
Example Interval HR 158 to 165 b/min
Example Rest HR ~ 128 b/min

These types of session require a reasonable level of ENDURANCE training base before they will be effective. As you can see from the maths, the session is around an hour in duration. So if one hours ride is your limit at present, you need to build this up through including ENDURANCE sessions in your triathlon training program before you are ready to gain the most from this type of training.

2. Lactate Threshold 2 (LT2)

As we discussed in the physiology of training pages, Lactate Threshold 2 (LT2) is the point at which you begin to almost exclusively burn carbohydrates to fuel your exercise. Including sessions in your triathlon training program to raise the power that this eventuality occurs will increase the speed at which you ride at the HARD intensity.

This threshold has a high correlation to triathlon cycling performance at the shorter triathlon racing distances of Sprint and Olympic, depending upon how long you take to complete the race. So an Olympic distance athlete who can complete the cycling section in about 60 minutes will be much closer to LT2 than an athlete who takes 90 minutes.

To make these sessions most effective you need to challenge the energy system around LT2, then allow a little recovery before challenging it again. To do this you need to have an idea of what your LT2 Heart Rate or Power output might be.

We explain how you can find this out in the fitness testing and lab testing pages. If you can’t do any testing then you need to get a feel for this intensity using a Rating of Perceived Exertion scale (RPE). Your RPE for this intensity should be 16 - 17.

Apart from the interval being at a higher intensity than the LT1 sessions, the other significant difference is the intensity of the recovery. As the intensity of the main effort is quite high, your recovery needs to be EASY otherwise you will be unable to complete the full session before fatigue sets in and the quality of the efforts deteriorate significantly.

It is also very important to hit the right intensity during the effort. These efforts should not be near maximal, they should be hard but controlled.

The sessions are described in a similar way to LT1 sessions with an interval duration and intensity, a recovery intensity and duration and a set number of repetitions.

Example:

Interval Duration 8
Recovery Duration 4
Intensity of Interval (Heart Rate) LT2 + 3 to 6%
Intensity of Rest LT2 - ~ 30%
Repetitions 3 to 5
Example LT2 HR 170 b/min
Example Interval HR 175 to 180 b/min
Example Rest HR ~ 120 b/min

These types of session require a reasonable level of endurance training base before they will be effective. The session is between 40 minutes and an hour in duration. If you can’t ride comfortably for over an hour then you need to build this up through including ENDURANCE sessions in your triathlon training program before you are ready to gain the most from this type of training.

3. Maximum Aerobic Power (MAP)

Maximum Aerobic Power is the highest work rate you can sustain using aerobic means of energy production, usually determined in a laboratory test. It is related to the highest power you can sustain for about 3 – 4 minutes.

Although it is unlikely you will actually race at a pace very close to MAP, it is significant because it essentially sets your ‘upper limit’ to performance. No matter how well trained you become you will eventually reach a point where you cannot become better trained without increasing your ceiling.

It is a phenomenon often seen in experienced triathletes and cycling time-trialists. They get so specific in the training to become better trained at ENDURANCE and LT1 and 2, that eventually they are performing so close to MAP that no matter how much more training they do, performance has reached a plateau.

By this time it is quite a long process to begin improving MAP. As part of a balanced programme it is beneficial for most moderately trained triathletes to include some form of MAP training in their triathlon training program.

The key ingredient to these sessions is time spent training above your current MAP. You can determine you MAP via lab assessments and do-it-yourself fitness tests using a power meter. If you do not have access to either of these options you can use the guidelines on our do-it-yourself testing page to determine how the effort should feel.

We do not use heart rate for these efforts as it is too slow to react to the effort you put in and would lead to highly inaccurate training sessions.

Example:

Interval Duration 1 min
Recovery Duration 1 min
Intensity of Interval Very HARD
Intensity of Rest Very EASY
Repetitions 6 to 10
Sets 1 to 2
Rest Between Sets ~ 15 min

In this example, we have used 1 minute on and 1 minute off. This first minute should not be the hardest 1 minute you can do, otherwise you will only end up doing a couple of reps before you begin to fail quite quickly.

The idea is to pace it like you are doing a 2 or 3 minute effort, then try and maintain that speed or power for all the efforts. It should be possible to complete each effort at an even pace, so there is no significant drop of power output or speed during the effort.

You know you have had enough when you are unable to get within about 10% of your first 2 to 3 efforts. Once the quality has deteriorated the efforts are not having the desired effect, and you are just making yourself tired not fitter! This is when you should stop.

When you first include this session in your triathlon training program, start with 6 – 8 repetitions. Then gradually add more repetitions over a period of weeks. When you are a bit fitter you can add a second set to your triathlon training program, but ensure you are well recovered between the sets to ensure quality of efforts.

4. VO2max

VO2max sessions are about raising your physiological ceiling, but unlike MAP, it is not about the power you produce but about how much oxygen you can process.

Including sessions to improve VO2max in your triathlon training programme will also enable your thresholds (LT1 & 2) to be raised to higher levels.

These are very hard sessions and you need to be ready to perform them effectively. In other words you should be reasonably well rested and also motivated. If you are off your game then you will fail to perform the session properly and all you will do is exercise and make yourself tired. That is not training and will not optimize your fitness gains.

As with most SPEED sessions you need to go harder than the intensity of the area you are trying to improve. With VO2max there are two types of session that have been shown to have significant effects:

  1. Stochastic method (i.e. intensity changes relatively rapidly)
  2. Steady state method (more conventional longer steady effort followed by a rest period.

The first method uses intervals of about 40 seconds at around VO2max intensity, with 20 seconds of ‘recovery’ alternated one after the other until the quality begins to deteriorate substantially (you should be aiming for a total time of 7 – 12 minutes).

The key here is to have an idea of what that VO2max effort is, because it is not flat out. It is also key to get the ‘recovery’ intensity correct as well, because this is not complete rest or easy effort - it is actually at an intensity above LT1.

So as you might see it is a hard session, but you might not begin to realize how hard until 2 – 4 minutes into the session as your physiological systems ‘catch up’ with your effort.

5. High Intensity Recovery (HIR)

These sessions are designed to help you recover quicker from hard efforts. They are particularly useful when put into the context of a hilly triathlon bike course.

The fastest way to ride an undulating course is to ride slightly harder on the uphills, keep pushing over the top of the hill, and build up speed. Then use gravity to help as you keep riding down the hill but at a slightly lower intensity.

These intervals take this principle and magnify it by making the effort harder than you would normally go, then allowing an easy but short recovery.

When you then want to ride slightly over your LT2 on a climb or into headwind for example, your body has adapted to the greater demand of the training and you recover quicker and more effectively on the easier section.

You should be aiming for an intensity of around 5 – 7% greater than LT2 heart rate, or an RPE of about 18 – 19. This will be very hard efforts!

Don’t try to get your heart rate straight up to this value, but build into the first effort. You should only see your target heart rate in the final 1 minute of the first effort.

You will then find that you reach your target heart rate earlier and earlier in the reps. This is because you are not allowing yourself much recovery and therefore each rep starts with you being a bit more fatigued than the last.

If you are using RPE to judge your efforts, (to a certain extent even those with a heart rate monitor will need to use RPE to begin) then you should be at about 15 at the end of the first minute of the first rep and about 18 by the third minute.

If you get this right, this will set the benchmark for all subsequent reps. You will find that by rep 4 or 5 you are at 18 after 1 to 2 minutes and hanging on to the end.

The recovery for these efforts needs to be very EASY otherwise you will be unable to do more than a couple of reps without losing a significant amount of quality from the effort. The quality will drop off towards the end of the session - you should expect the last effort to be around 15% lower power output/speed than the first.

When you first include these sessions in your triathlon training program, aim for about 5 – 6 reps in your first few sessions. Then try to do 2 sets of these reps with about 10 minutes between. Don’t progress too quickly though, really nail the session a few times before trying to add any more reps.

Example:

Interval Duration 4 min
Recovery Duration 2 min
Intensity of Interval Very HARD
Intensity of Rest Very EASY
Repetitions 5 - 6
Sets 1 to 2
Rest Between Sets ~ 15 min

Summary of Speed Training

There are five types of speed training that you can include in your triathlon training program:

  1. Lactate threshold 1 (LT1)
  2. Lactate threshold 2 (LT2)
  3. MAP
  4. VO2max
  5. High Intensity Recovery – Long and short (HIR-L) (HIR-S)

These are all types of training to help you ride faster, rather than sustain a certain pace for longer.

To find out how to incorporate these sessions into your triathlon training program read our Building A Triathlon Training Program page.


Got a question about your triathlon bike training?

Then please ask us!




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