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Benchmark a Better You: Week 3 Bike Workouts

It’s time to power up for the next three bike workouts from coach Karen Smyers.


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Welcome to Week 3! By now you should have two solid weeks (see Week 1 and Week 2) of bike training banked and starting to feel some fitness gains as a result. Former Ironman world champion Karen Smyers has crafted three more workouts for this week, all of which are designed to keep you on track to see greater results when you repeat the benchmark bike test at the end of the month. 

Effort levels in these workouts are prescribed as a percentage of Functional Threshold Power (FTP), which is defined as the pace or power you can maintain for an all-out 60-minute time trial. If you don’t have a power meter or do not know your FTP, measure effort by Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) as follows:

1-3 – very easy, light aerobic, light strain on legs

4-6 – moderate, aerobic, sustainable for more than 60 minutes, moderate leg strain

6.5-7.5 – tempo, sustainable with focus; some discomfort/building fatigue/leg strain

8-9 – hard effort requiring lots of motivation to sustain even for short intervals, high strain on legs, breathing is deep and rapid

10 – anaerobic efforts, not sustainable more than a couple of minutes, legs at max effort, breathing at max if held long enough

Workout 1: Threshold Intervals

Duration: 60 Mins

Warm-up:

10 min. easy pedaling: light resistance/easy gear, 60% FTP or less, RPE 2-3
1 min. calibrate your trainer if your trainer requires it.

Set 1: 9 Min. Prep. Set:
Leg Speed/Pedaling Efficiency work

Do this set at 75% FTP (or RPE 4.5). If you have an ergometer, use it, as it will adjust the resistance when you increase your cadence to keep the power constant. If you don’t have an ergometer, use 1 gear easier for every 5 rpms higher to keep power constant.

Each time you increase to pedaling at 110 rpms, you should feel more comfortable and efficient as your neuromuscular system figures out the best pattern of movement.

1 min. @ 95-100 rpms; 1 min. @ 110 rpms
1 min. @ 95-100 rpms; 2 min. @ 110 rpms
1 min. @ 95-100 rpms; 3 min. @ 110 rpms 

Set 2: 3 Min. Prep. Set:
3 x (30 sec. acceleration to 100-110% FTP in TT gear; 30 sec. easy spin in easy gear)

Main Set:

5 x 5 min. with 2 min. rest between intervals. Use your TT gear for all intervals (except for the 3rd) and adjust your cadence to put out the target power/effort. 

1: 95% FTP   (RPE 7)
2: 100% FTP (RPE 7.5)
3: 100% FTP in one gear harder than TT gear (RPE 7.5)
4: 105% FTP (RPE 8)
5: 110% FTP (RPE 8.5)

Notes: 

  • By the end of the first interval, your heart-rate should be about 12-15 beats below what you averaged on the last five minutes of the benchmark test and it should build to what you maxed out at in the test by the middle of the fifth and final interval.
  • This is a tough workout because the intervals are quite long and intense. You can view it like your benchmark test but broken into smaller segments so you can focus more and push a little harder due to the extra rest. 
  • If you have aerobars on your bike, this is a good set to practice being in your aero position while you put out time trial watts. 

Cool-down:

2 min. easy spin

Workout 2: Endurance Plus Technique

Duration: 45 Mins

Warm-up:

8 min. easy pedaling: light resistance/easy gear, 60% FTP or less, RPE 2-3
3 x -1-legged drills as 3 x (20 seconds one leg/10 seconds both legs/20 seconds other leg/10 seconds both legs)
Calibrate your trainer if your trainer requires it.

Main Set:

4 x (3 min. @ 75% FTP, RPE 5 @ ideal rpms; 1 min. @ 70% FTP, RPE 4.5 @ 110 rpms)
4 x (2 min. @ 80% FTP, RPE 5.5 @ ideal rpms; 1 min. @ 75% FTP, RPE 5 @ 105 rpms)
4 x (1 min. @ 85% FTP, RPE 6 @ ideal rpms; 1 min. @ 80% FTP, RPE 5.5 @ 100 rpms)

No rest between sets or between intervals unless you can’t continue without a short break.

Cool-down:

1 min. easy spin

NOTES:  

  • This workout is all in the moderate range. Your heart-rate should be getting a little lower at the higher rpms if you have been following the workouts since week 1.  Practice relaxing your legs as you spin, not muscling through it. 
  • Ideal rpms refers to the cadence that feels most comfortable to you when you are pushing hard (like during the Benchmark TT).  
  • If you struggle to hit the cadences, you can reduce them by 5-10 rpms to make the highest point somewhat challenging for you. Alternatively, see if you can hit the cadences using an easier gear. Cadences don’t have to be exact to reap the benefits of learning to pedal with higher cadences.
  • If you don’t have cadence, count the number of pedal strokes you do with one leg for 20 seconds and multiply by three to get your rpms. Practice guessing what you think it is before you count and pretty soon you will know your cadence by intuition.    

Workout 3: Endurance/Base-Building

Duration: 80 Mins

Warm-up:

Included in the first part of the Main Set, see below

Main Set:

4  sets of : 8 min. build, 6 min. steady, 4 min. hill climb, 2 min. recovery as follows: 

Set 1: 
8 min. easy pedaling: light resistance/easy gear, 70% FTP or less, RPE 2-4 (use this as your warm-up)
6 min. @ 75-80% FTP @ ideal rpms, RPE 5 but do a 30-second standing surge @ 100% FTP when you reach halfway (at the 3 min. mark)
4 min. @ 85% FTP @ 80-85 rpms, RPE 6
2 min. easy spin @ 70%, RPE 4  

Re-calibrate now if your trainer requires it.

Set 2:
8 min. @ 80% FTP, RPE 5, as: 2 min. @ 90 rpms, 2 min. @ 95 rpms, 2 min. @ 100 rpms, 2 min. @ 105 rpms
6 min. @ 75-80% FTP @ ideal rpms, RPE 5, but do a 30-second standing surge @ 100% FTP when you reach halfway (at the 3 min. mark)
4 min. @ 90% FTP @ 75-80 rpms, RPE 6.5
2 min. easy spin @ 70% FTP, RPE 4  

Set 3:
8 min. @ 80% FTP, RPE 5 as: 2 min. @ 85 rpms, 2 min. @ 90 rpms, 2 min. @ 95 rpms, 2 min. @ 100 rpms
6 min. @ 75-80% FTP, RPE 5,  @ ideal rpms, but do a 30-second standing surge @ 100% FTP when you reach halfway (at the 3 min. mark)
4 min. @ 95% FTP, RPE 7 @ 70-75 rpms
2 min. easy spin @ 70% FTP, RPE 4  

Set 4:
8 min. @ 80% FTP, RPE 5 as: 2 min. @ 80 rpms, 2 min. @ 85 rpms, 2 min. @ 90 rpms, 2 min. @ 95 rpms
6 min. @ 75-80% FTP, RPE 5 @ ideal rpms, but do a 30-second standing surge @ 100% FTP when you reach halfway (at the 3 min. mark)
4 min. @ 95% FTP, RPE 7 @ 70-75 rpms
2 min. Easy spin as cool-down, easy gear, RPE 2-4   

NOTES:  

  • Ideal rpms refers to the cadence that feels most comfortable to you when you are pushing hard (like during the Benchmark TT).  
  • The goal of the workout is to accumulate a lot of sustained time at a moderate effort with a little extra in the tempo range in a harder gear to build some leg strength. The standing portions will spike your heart-rate a little and give you a chance to change muscle recruitment and positions.