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Benchmark a Better You: Get Started With Bike Month

We'll kick off bike month with a benchmark 10-mile test and then get Week 1 started with your first two workouts from coach Karen Smyers.

Welcome to our Benchmark A Better You challenge—bike month! Hopefully you’ve seen some great gains from January’s run month and now you’re ready to dive into some cycling-specific work in February to really improve your performance on the bike. March will be swim month.

Just like with run month, we’ll be starting bike month with a benchmark test to see where you’re at. We’ll then work our way through four weeks of workouts before we test again to see how you’ve improved. Former Ironman world champion Karen Smyers will be guiding you through bike month—with two to three bike workouts per week throughout February, as well as the benchmark tests. Most of these workouts are designed to be done on an indoor trainer, but they can be done outside if the weather is nice.

(Of course, for those of you who’ve recently completed the final 5K run test, give yourself a few recovery days before getting started on bike month! You want to approach the initial 10-mile time trial test feeling mentally and physically ready to crush it.)

For those who’ve not recently done the 5K run test or are just joining us for bike month, the benchmark 10-mile bike test is intended to be done on Monday or Tuesday. There are then another two bike workouts for the first week (see below). Each week’s workouts will be posted on Sunday, so you can plan ahead. Get ready to crush it!

Bike month benchmark test 

Equipment you will need: 

  • An indoor stationary trainer
  • A bike

Equipment that is useful but not mandatory:

  • Power meter: measures your output in watts (w)
  • Heart rate monitor: measures your HR in beats per minute (bpm)
  • Cadence: measures your rate of pedaling in revolutions per minute (rpm). You can determine your own cadence by counting the pedal strokes on one leg for a minute (or count for 15 seconds and multiply by 4).
  • Bike computer that measures distance and/or speed.
  • Smart trainer: a trainer that connects to an app which controls the resistance on your back wheel or drive train and can allow you to progress along a virtual “course” based on your power output and weight.

You do not need all of these but it will be necessary to have at least one objective measure—ie. heart rate, power, or speed and time—to be able to quantify your progress when you re-test at the end of the month.

Effort levels in this month’s workouts will be given 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: The Benchmark Test

Before your test, you will want to do a good warm-up and calibrate your trainer if your trainer requires it.

10 min. easy pedaling:
light resistance/easy gear, 60% or less, RPE=2-3

3 min. of drills:
3 x 1-legged drills as 3 x (20 seconds one leg/10 seconds both legs/ 20 seconds other  leg/ 10 seconds both legs)

10 min. Warm-up Set 1:
Increase your heart rate, get your leg muscles supple and warm
5 x (1 min. @ moderate rpm/moderate resistance, 1 min. fast rpm/light resistance)

Notes: if you have a power meter and know your zones, do this at 70% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). Moderate pedaling should be between 80-90 rpms.  Fast pedaling should start at about 5-10 rpms faster than your moderate and increase each of the five segments so you may get to 110-120 rpm by the fifth 1-minute interval. If you have ergometer mode on your trainer, it works well for this set.

Re-calibrate if your trainer requires it. 

5 min. Warm-up Set 2:
3 x (1 min. @ 90%, 100%, 110% or @ RPE= 7, 8, 9;  rest 30 sec. easy between each).

Main Set:

10-mile time trial: Start from a stop and cover the distance as fast as you can. (If you do this outside, pick a route that is safe and that you can replicate at the end of the month.)

  • Record your time and speed (mph). Your effort on this should correspond to an 8 or so on the RPE scale. 
  • You can do this on a virtual course if you have a smart trainer, but make sure you can use the same course to repeat the test at the end of the month. Make sure you do not have drafting on if that’s an option. 
  • If you can not measure distance on your trainer, you can go hard for 25 minutes and keep track of what gear you are using and what cadence you are able to maintain for comparison at the end of the month. This will be referred to in the workouts as your TT gear and TT/ideal cadence.
  • Other data to record if you can: 
    • Average and max heart rate 
    • Average power: You can recalculate your FTP as 92% of this (assuming you finished in the 25-36 minute range) 
    • Estimated best 3-minute power – if this occurs in the first 5 minutes of your time trial, you went out too hard! If this exceeds your average power by a lot, you can improve your pacing (unless there were big hills that required a power spike)
    • Average RPM (this is what you perceive your “ideal” cadence to be—this may change as we work on your cadence range so adjust what your “ideal” is according to your body feedback as your training progresses)

3-5-minute cool-down until your heart rate and breathing return to an easy level and any heaviness in your legs has dissipated.  

That’s it—well done!  Now let’s get to work this month on improving your time!

Workout 2: Endurance/Base Building

Duration: 60 minutes

Warm-up:

8 min. easy pedaling: light resistance/easy gear, 60% or less, RPE = 2-3

3 min. drill: 3 x -1-legged drills as 3 x (20 seconds one leg/10 seconds both legs/ 20 seconds other leg/ 10 seconds both legs)

1 min. easy

Calibrate your trainer if your trainer requires it.

Main Set:

4 Sets (details below) x (9 min. gradual build in the moderate range, 3 min. easier recovery)

Set 1 3 min. 3 min. 3 min. 3 min.
By Power @ 70% @ 75% @ 80% @ 65%
By RPE RPE=4 RPE=4.5 RPE=5 RPE=3.5
Set 2 3 min. 3 min. 3 min. 3 min.
By Power @ 72.5% @ 77.5% @ 82.5% @ 65%
By RPE RPE=4+ RPE=5 RPE=5+ RPE=3.5
Set 3 3 min. 3 min. 3 min. 3 min.
By Power @ 75% @ 80% @ 85% @ 65%
By RPE RPE=4.5 RPE=5 RPE=5.5 RPE=3.5
Set 4 3 min. 3 min. 3 min. 3 min.
By Power @ 77.5% @ 82.5% @ 87.5% @ 65%
By RPE RPE=5 RPE=5.5 RPE=6 RPE=3.5

NOTES:  

  • Use the same gear all the way through for each set: to increase your power/RPE for each three-minute interval, increase your cadence slightly in that gear. For the next set, you can choose whether to use the same gear and hold 1-2 RPMs higher for each interval to hit the higher target OR use one gear harder and lower your RPMs by 3-4 for each interval.  
  • You can also use an ergometer if your trainer has one, but increase your RPMs for each interval by 1-2 RPMs within each set to practice a range of cadences.
  • You should be in one or two gears easier than what you used for your TT gear (the gear you used most for your benchmark test).
  • Use the 65% as your “recovery”. This set keeps your heart-rate elevated in your moderate range for the whole 48 minutes. The intensity is not high but there are no real breaks so it is a good endurance booster.  The cadence changes help break it up mentally as well as build strength and a fluid pedal stroke.
  • Heart rate should be in your moderate range for the whole workout. This will be about 20-30 bpms below what your average was over the course of the TT. 

Workout 3: Intro to Tempo and Surges

Duration: 45 minutes

Warm-up

10 min. easy pedaling: light resistance/easy gear, 60% or less, RPE=2-3

1 min. easy

Calibrate your trainer if your trainer requires it.

Main Set 1: 10 minutes – Leg Speed & Pedaling Efficiency

If you have a power meter, do this at 75%. For those without a power meter, use a gear that you can pedal at 100 RPMs at RPE 4.5 as your starting gear.

1 min. @ 100 RPMs, 1 min. @ +10 RPMs in 2 gears easier,
1 min. @ 100 RPMs, 2 min. @ +10 RPMs in 2 gears easier,
1 min. @ 100 RPMs, 3 min. @ +10 RPMs in 2 gears easier
1 min. @ 100 RPMs

NOTES: Heart rate will increase at the faster pedaling, even though your power output will be about the same.  Try to stay smooth at the faster cadence by focusing on sweeping your foot backward at the bottom of the pedal stroke like you are scraping something off the bottom of your shoe.  

2 min. easy: Recovery spin in easy gear at easy cadence. 

Set 2: 20 minutes – Tempo and Surges

2 min. @  80% @ TT/ideal RPMs, RPE=5

2 min. @  90% @ 5 RPMs lower than ideal (two gears harder), RPE=6.5

2 min. @  80% @ TT/ideal RPMs, RPE=5

3 min. @  90% @ 10 RPMs lower than ideal (3 gears harder), RPE=6.5

2 min. @  80% @ TT/ideal RPMs, RPE=5

4 min. @  90% @  1 min. @ 2 gears harder/5 RPMs lower

2 min. @ 3 gears harder/10 RPMs lower,

1 min. @ 4 gears harder/15 RPMs lower

2.5 min. @  80% @ TT/ideal RPMs, RPE=5

2.5 min. surges as
30 sec. @ 100%/RPE=8 // 30 sec. @  80%/RPE=5,
30 sec. @ 105%/RPE=8.5 // 30 sec. @ 80%/RPE=5,
30 sec. @ 110%/RPE=9.  

NOTES: 

  • All surges are in TT gear @ slightly higher cadence than TT cadence.  
  • Heart-rate should get close to what you averaged in the TT by the end of the set. 

Cool-down: 2 min. easy spin