Five weeks to a stronger bike

Want to see solid gains on the bike before your next goal race? Take to the hills.

As a triathlete, your calendar year should not be a linear build of balanced swim, bike and run sessions. Rather, you’ll want to pick specific times of the year to work on certain aspects of your race. The mid-season is a good time to tackle a bike-focused plan.

A few reasons why you would want to add a mid-season bike focus phase into your training schedule include:

  1. You feel you are under-performing or are feeling weak on the bike in general.
  2. Your key event(s) has a demanding bike course.
  3. Despite a strong cardiovascular engine and top run fitness, you have not been able to run well off the bike (increased strength and efficiency on the bike will leave you with more energy for a stronger run).
  4. One particular aspect of your cycling is not up to par, such as your climbing.
  5. Your key race(s) is a long-course event that is late in the season, and you’d like to ramp up the training volume for that occasion.

Typically, the bike segment of triathlon is the longest leg time-wise, and it is critical that you are in peak riding form for your goal race(s). Training on hills can be very effective and efficient in helping you achieve this peak form with your cycling. Hilly routes amplify a deficiency and are also prime opportunities to make gains in cycling competency and fitness. Hill climbing is central to this plan.

The programme

This programme places an emphasis on cycling while still helping you maintain swim and run fitness. It is important to do the sessions in the order listed. There are some optional sessions and duration ranges for athletes of differing abilities, time availability and accumulated fatigue levels. If you started racing in April or May, you should plan for a mid-summer block of limited racing or no racing at all. You will build your triathlon training schedule around your bike focus, with 50–60 percent of your allotted training time being in the saddle. 

This five-week programme targets athletes who are racing Olympic-distance or half-Ironman events and have been swimming, biking and running at least two to three times per week. You should be comfortable running a minimum of 75 minutes and riding more than two hours, with some interval work or racing under your belt. Be more conservative if you have done less training. If you are racing longer, increase volume and decrease intensity slightly, while following similar principles.

By the end of the five weeks you will be ready to taper into your key race, and you will be riding hills stronger than ever!

Types of hill sessions

  • Low cadence climbing or simulated climbing: Riding at a lower cadence in a big gear recruits more muscle fibres per pedal stroke and builds cycling-specific strength. Slowing the cadence allows you to focus on being efficient. This can be done on an evenly graded hill, on the flat into a headwind or on a trainer using a large gear.
  • Hill accelerations: Hill accelerations are short, dynamic climbs that start by accelerating quickly out of the saddle and then pedalling seated,with speed for the duration of the interval. They are done at approximately 85–90 per cent of top speed for the listed duration. They build leg speed, efficient central nervous system recruitment of muscle fibres and lactic acid tolerance.
  • Classic hill intervals: These intervals are done at or above race effort for one to five minutes. Typically athletes ride up and down the same stretch of hill to gauge progress and create a repeatable effort across the set. The last half of the interval set is challenging and trains lactic threshold. You will build strength and an ability to sustain a harder effort for a longer duration.
  • Hilly base ride: Riding on hilly terrain guarantees you will get some quality work in and will give you a chance to practise your climbing and descending skills. Ride the hills with confidence and let your heart rate creep up a little on the ascents. Remember that this is primarily an aerobic effort. Practise keeping some pressure on the pedals on the descents as well.

CLIMBING TECHNIQUE TIPS 

SEATED:

  • Sit farther back in the saddle to gain leverage on the pedals.
  • Bend elbows slightly to maximise biceps effectiveness.
  • Avoid rocking side to side or back and forth.
  • Keep your upper body “quiet” and utilise core muscles.
  • Pedal full circles, pushing forward in the shoes and back at the bottom of the stroke.
  • Keep ankles at 90 degrees throughout pedal stroke.
  • Practise and employ proper gear selection to maintain a high cadence whenever possible

STANDING:

  • Accelerate for three to five pedal strokes when transitioning from sitting to standing.
  • Keep your chin down and your butt up.
  • Keep elbows bent to maximise biceps’ pull on handlebars.
  • Rock the bike just slightly from side to side, but paint a straight line up the hill with your tyres.
  • Employ a quick and light cadence: “Dance on the pedals.”

OTHER FACTORS TO HELP YOU CLIMB:

  • Drop extra weight—off your bike or your body. Climbing is about power-to-weight ratio. If you are still carrying an extra two kilogrammes from the off -season, it’s time to trim down. A kilo or two off your bike helps as well, especially if you are a smaller athlete. Losing a kilo off your bike is more significant to a 50 kilogramme athlete versus a 90 kilogramme athlete.
  • Pump your tyres and oil your chain. Low tyre pressure and a gritty chain will add resistance and slow you down.
  • Practise shifting. Carrying momentum into and over a hill means timely shifting. Shift too early and you spin out; shift too late and the hill overcomes you. Timely shifting as you crest the hill helps you accelerate faster over the top.
  • Invest in a power meter. Learn your optimal power vs. cadence vs. heart rate on different hill grades to gauge efficiency. Or simply start chasing higher wattage outputs while climbing your favourite hill

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