Improving Cycling for the Sprint Distance

author : Amy Kuitse
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Are you ready for your second season of triathlon? This article will show you how to improve your cycling for the sprint distance using drills and interval workouts.

"My first season as I triathlete went better than expected.  I think I can have big improvements on the bike. If sprint distances are my focus next year, how much riding should I be doing?  Also with the sprint distance I suppose intensity plays a role as well?  What about sprint drills on the bike?"

Congratulations on your rookie season as a triathlete.  It looks like you had a terrific season and gained some great experience along the way.  It also sounds like you have been “bit by the tri bug,” with your desire to work hard on the bike and your goal for placing in your age group!   I always say, "It’s the first one that gets us in trouble."

Let’s take a look at how you can improve your riding with focus on the sprint distance.  Just as you had mentioned in your question about speed work for swimming and running there is the need for this too, on the bike, if you want to improve.  In saying this, also recognize that improvements come over time and we cannot force this.  Improvements will continue to come during the time you are involved in the sport, as well as, with this “speedwork” you are asking about.

Training Phases

There are different phases of training.   The early phase is a good time to work on pedal stroke technique, endurance and then adding hill work to your weekly training.  From there you will continue with endurance rides, incorporating hilly or big gear work in your week, lactate threshold (LT) work, and an easy spin or recovery ride.  Without going into lots of detail here on describing phases, please note that you may have similar workouts in different phases, but the approach to the workout is different.  
For example, I like to recommend hill repeats in the later parts of base phase training with the objective to build strength and power.   The hill work is at a controlled effort so you are using small gears and staying seated.  Recovery between is a full recovery to heart rate (HR) zone 1 or rate of perceived exertion (RPE) 1-3.  In one block of training you may see the number of hill repeats go up with the recovery staying the same.  The next block would see the repeats dropped and the recovery time decreased.   Then an increase in repeats with this decreased recovery time.   During this time the focus is on building your strength, power, and endurance engine.  In the build phase you may find yourself going out on a hilly ride with 10-15’ race simulation efforts.  The goal would be to ride the specified efforts, on the flats, rolling and hilly portions of the ride, at your determined race pace HR or RPE. 

Ride Volume

In terms of overall volume I would recommend 3-4 days of riding with four days being the optimal.   Knowing your goal is to improve on the bike, this additional day can be very helpful even if it is an easy recovery ride.  It ultimately is about the time you spend in the saddle to improve and the work you do.  The actual volume is relative to you.  How much time you have to train and how you respond to that training will determine your overall volume.  It is important that you evaluate how you respond through the build week (usually two) and how you feel coming out of your recovery week.  This three week cycle is found to be effective for most people, but should be adjusted accordingly.

Below is a sample week of training you can build on from week to week.  As with the swimming and running your workouts need to be correctly placed in your training plan so you get the maximum benefits from your workouts and the recovery you need to be ready for the next workout.  The bike is only one of the three sports and you will want to make sure you are doing the necessary work for the other two as well.

Swim - easy recovery
Bike – easy recovery ride 30-60’

Run – easy run of 30’

Swim – workout per schedule (25’s, 50’s, 75’s)
Bike – drills and cadence work.  This includes single leg drills (SLD) starting with time of 15-20” (seconds) per leg so that the pedal stroke is smooth throughout the time.  As strength improves the time of the single leg pedaling is increased.   The workout may look something like: 

Warm-up for 10’.  Then 15” right single leg pedaling, 45” both legs, 15” left single leg, 45” both legs.  Repeat this cycle for 10 reps.  Easy 5’ then 10’ in small chain ring at rpms of 85-90.  The rpms, just like the time of the SLD’s, should be done according to your present ability and increased as you improve.

The following week you may increase the SLD to 20-25” with the same recovery time.
In the late part of base phase this workout could shift into high rpm work in bigger gears that you are able to maintain those rpms at.

Run:  40-45’ that would include 4-6 x 20” strides over last 10-12’ of the run.
Bike:  Hill repeats.  This workout may look something like: 

Warm-up 10-15’.  Then 4 x 1’ hill intervals, seated, with the recovery being to return down the hill.  Ride in a gear that allows you to spin as smoothly as possible up the hill.  Easy cool down of 10’.  This workout may also read to alternate sitting and standing.

The following week this workout would read 6 x 1’ hill repeats with recovery between being the return down the hill.

In the late stage of the base phase this workout could shift into LT work.  This workout may start as: 4 x 1’ at LT with 2’ recovery between.  The goal will be to increase the repeats, then the time and in the late build phase decrease the recovery between.

Swim – workout per schedule (maybe 100’s, 150’s, 200’s)

Bike – long ride.  This long ride may range initially from 60-75’ and go up to 90-120’.  There is no intensity and you are riding in HR zone 1- low zone 2 with an RPE of 1-3/4.  As you progress into this longer ride this workout could contain efforts of longer periods in big gears.  Something like this:  2 x 10’ in the big chain ring at rpms of 65-75 with an easy 5’ recovery in between.  The goal would be to increase the efforts up to 4, then increase the time of the efforts.

Run -  As you enter into the later stages of your base phase you may start adding a run off the bike ranging from 5-15’, easy. OR run-offs may begin in the build phase.

Run – long run
Bike – some people like the option of the Monday easy ride being done Sunday. afternoon to flush out the legs from the weekend training and keeping Monday as a swim only.   This is a another option for this easy ride.

This is just one way to lay out a training week and how you can build on these workouts from week to week to focus on your cycling.  The other workouts in the week above are just examples.   It is the layout of the entire plan that will help you make the gains you are looking for on the bike and in your overall performance.  Hard days are meant to be hard and easy days easy.  Your plan here on BT will help you follow a structured set of workouts so you get the optimal gains from each workout.
All the best as you enter into your second season of racing.  The fun has just begun! 


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date: March 9, 2010

Amy Kuitse