One-Hour Workout: Drill-Focused Bike Trainer Session

This “transition phase” bike workout takes athletes from the end of the off-season into the first phase of triathlon-specific training.

Photo: Nils Nilsen

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Every Tuesday we’ll feature a different coach’s workout you can complete in 60 minutes (or less!).

This week’s swim workout comes from Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, and owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition (, She’s a nine-time Ironman finisher and recent 2015 IM World Championship qualifier living in Greenville, S.C. She says this “transition phase” bike workout takes athletes from the end of the off-season into the first phase of triathlon-specific training, with an emphasis on sport-specific drills, building an aerobic base and working on functional strength.

“During this phase, many triathletes find themselves indoors, biking on a stationary trainer, due to the cooler temperatures as well as the earlier sunsets,” Sumbal says. “Although the trainer may seem boring, riding your primary, well-fit, indoor bike on a trainer, is a great opportunity to entertain yourself with a variety of drills that can make you a stronger and more efficient rider for the upcoming season.”

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The following workout includes three drills that are specific to improving your cadence, strength and pedal stroke.

On/Off Drills: Not only will you increase your heart rate rather quickly, thus warming up your body in a quick timeframe, but by increasing your RPMs you will reduce the tension on the muscles (less force) and may reduce the overall fatigue while riding. Improving your cadence on the bike has been shown to have a positive role in running cadence off the bike and to be beneficial while climbing.

Single-leg drills: Unclip one leg and let it hang loosely (do not rest it on anything). You should be sitting up and not aero. With the other leg clipped in, pedal with one leg only. Find a gear that allows you to have a smooth pedal stroke. Notice if you experience a clicking noise at the top of your pedal stroke. This is called the “dead spot” when you stop placing tension on the chain and thus, a “click” is heard. Instead, you want to avoid this clicking sound by keeping tension on your chain through the entire revolution of a pedal stroke. You may also notice that as the set continues, your hip flexor and glute muscles may fatigue which is increasing the clicking, demonstrating a lack of force on the top of your pedal stroke.  Continue to work on single-leg drills and functional hip/core/glute strength (or you may use Power Cranks) to improve your pedal efficiency.

Heavy gear drills: Although heavy gear drills are a great way to build leg strength and power, this is also an effective way to work on your pedal stroke as you have more time to think about what muscles are engaged during each phase of your pedal revolution.

While standing, use a hard gear like you would be climbing a steep hill. Focus on a strong core as your glutes and leg muscles are called into action. Keep your upper body as relaxed as possible while directing all of your energy to the pedal strokes. When the interval is complete, sit down and use the same heavy gear that you did while standing but this time you are pedaling seated with a low cadence of around 50–60 RPM (if you can not pedal smoothly at this low cadence, adjust your gears to maintain a low cadence but smooth revolution). Once again, only your legs will do the work as the upper body will remain as relaxed as possible with hands resting on your bars. Unlike climbing, you should not be experiencing major cardiovascular strain while performing heavy gear drills. The effort should only be around 80% (not 90%+) as the focus is on riding comfortably with a low cadence and not forcefully trying to pedal with a heavy gear (while standing/seated)

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Transition Phase One-Hour Bike Trainer Workout

10 min

Main Set #1:
On/Off Drills
5 x 30–60 sec ON/OFF drills (ex. 30–60 sec high cadence pedaling, without bouncing. Adjust gears as needed. 30–60 sec easy spin/recovery.)

2–5 min EZ spin

Main Set #2:
Single-leg drills
5 x 40–70 sec single-leg pedaling. Alternate right leg, then left leg and rest as needed in between to unclip/clip.

2–5 min EZ spin

Main Set #3:
Heavy gear drills (repeat for five rounds total)
5×1 min standing while pedaling with a hard gear (while keeping a smooth cadence, focusing on the full pedal stroke), then sit down (without changing gears) and go right into 60–90 seconds seated. Keep the upper body relaxed as possible with hands on the bars (do not rest hands on your aero pads). Then go into 1 minutes EZ spin with a light gear and high cadence to flush the legs, position yourself however most comfortable.

EZ spin as needed

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