Training on Hills for a Flat Race

author : TINKARRA
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Most of the races are flat here, but I live in the area where I could do hilly rides with 1500-2000m of climbing. Is there much benefit with that if I am racing flat?

Member Question

I am training for a half iron distance race and have quite a busy training schedule. Now, most of the races are flat here, but I live in the area where I could do hilly rides with 1500-2000m of climbing. Is there much benefit with that if I am racing flat? Or will my recovery time be too long and it would be better to just ride mostly flat 3-4 hours. I am able to do 2 long rides a week (Sat-Sun).

Answer by Martina Young
Coach D3 Multisport.com 

My first thought in answering your question was that specificity of training would be the most beneficial and that the athlete should indeed ride on flat terrain if the race course is flat. However, riding on hilly terrain has its advantages as well because it is an effective strategy to build strength functionally. Strength gain is primarily achieved through workouts that promote the ability to generate force such as riding hill repeats. Therefore yes, there is benefit in riding hills even though the race course is flat.

On the periodization spectrum strength training falls under base 2 and 3 and build 1 blocks. To refresh the memory, periodization principles were introduced to the world of competitive sports approximately five decades ago. The premise of periodization is that a training season should be divided into smaller training units, which are crafted to accommodate the body’s physiological make up1. The right type and amount of training at the right time maximizes the body’s ability to accomplish a desired goal-get stronger, faster and fatigue resistant while avoiding overtraining and injuries.

Based on research, effects of strength training can enhance endurance capacity in endurance athletes, primarily through training induced increases of the proportion of type IIa (fast oxidative) muscle fibers and gains in maximal muscle strength2. Further, strength training has been shown to enhance the process of angiogenesis (vascularization)2 in athletes, which translates into greater ability for the body to deliver oxygen to working muscles. Strength training has also been shown to contribute to greater economy of the movement2 or in other words, strength training enables the athlete to be more efficient.

An athlete has to keep in mind that base 2, 3 and build 1 units are scheduled 2-3 months before the race for seasoned athletes and 4 + months out for beginners. Consequently the suggested strength building exercises should decrease in frequency as the race day approaches. To answer your question specifically, I would recommend the following: 

Base 2 and 3:

The best way to take advantage of the hills and build strength is riding the hill repeats with a gear that allows at the most 80rpm and a high RPE (8-9 on a scale 1-10).  For a half iron distance race, a 3-5 min interval is suggested with work to recovery ratio 1:1 or more for duration of 50-60 minutes. Another possibility is riding a hilly course for up to 90 min. The key ingredients of such a workout are relatively low rpm (80) with 10-15 sec surges at the top of the hill, a high Rate of Perceived Exertion RPE (8-9) and making it over the hills in a seated position. If possible the hills should be 5 min or shorter with full recovery3. Those workouts can be done mid-week (Tue). The body will recover by the weekend for a solid endurance ride. Weight lifting in preparatory and base 1 stages of training is recommended to prepare the body (bones, muscles, tendons and joints) for the demands of strength training on the bike.

Build 1

A workout recommendation is 6-8’ intervals in a big gear (allowing about 80 rpm and forcing you to achieve 8-9 RPE) on hills in the aero position. Full recovery between intervals is crucial. You will be encouraged to alternate mid week hill riding with a ride on a flat course until the hills are dropped all together to shift the focus on race specifics as the event gets closer. On a flat course a 10x5’ interval set with full recovery and in aero position for a total of 50-60 min is recommended. Further, a big gear and lower than race day cadence (80-90 rpm) to keep the focus on building strength is suggested. The gear/cadence combination should create a solid effort (8-9 RPE).  The flat course interval set is followed by a 15 min run at desired race pace. Desired effect of this workout is that you should feel like you can ride the same (big) gear at increasing cadence with less effort. 


1)    Issurin V. New Horizons for the Methodology and Physiology of Training Periodization. Sport Med. 2010. 40: 189-206

2)    Aagaard P, Andersen J. Effects of Strength Training on Endurance Capacity in Top-Level Endurance Athletes. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010. 20: 39-47

3)    Friel J. (2010). Your Best Triathlon: Advanced Training for Serious Triathletes. Boulder, CO: Velo Press. 

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date: October 31, 2012

TINKARRA

Being an athlete, mother, wife and a working individual I am aware that time limitations can be a struggle and a source of frustration for most typical age group athletes. Therefore I place a lot of importance not only in gathering objective data, such as lactate threshold, from the athlete but also subjective information such as routines and stressors that an athlete faces on a daily basis.

Finding a healthy balance to fulfill the needs of “athletic” and “non-athletic” self is a form of art that requires attention to detail and commitment to perfection, both of which I am proud to offer.

avatarTINKARRA

Being an athlete, mother, wife and a working individual I am aware that time limitations can be a struggle and a source of frustration for most typical age group athletes. Therefore I place a lot of importance not only in gathering objective data, such as lactate threshold, from the athlete but also subjective information such as routines and stressors that an athlete faces on a daily basis.

Finding a healthy balance to fulfill the needs of “athletic” and “non-athletic” self is a form of art that requires attention to detail and commitment to perfection, both of which I am proud to offer.

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