Workout of the Week: 20 Seconds to Heaven

The ability to turn a big gear with high cadence teaches a sport-specific strength that is difficult to create otherwise.

Cyclist summiting a hill with blue sky ahead
Photo: Shutterstock.com/Katya Pulka

In a world where base miles and threshold work are, once again, all the rage, it seems many have forgotten that races are won with high-end power. The higher we can push an athlete’s ceiling, the more able they are to respond to moves in racing and win races when the chips are down. The saying goes high tide raises all ships and it is true in cycling as well. Raise the high end and the rest (threshold, durability, sprint capability) is likely to follow. 

Many athletes do VO2max work, but unfortunately VO2max is a huge zone, and that zone is more detailed than defining it as everything above 110% of FTP. Though your head unit treats it all as purple, different time in VO2max and different rest trains very different things.  

I like training intensity for a couple of reasons. The first is, as noted earlier, often the zone in which races are won, and the legs and the mind need to be comfortable up there. Secondly, the pure power and technique of producing high watts can be trained in a way that does not leave as quickly as one might think. 

The workout involves 20-second intervals of at least 150% functional threshold power (FTP) with 80-90 seconds of rest. With this long of a rest, athletes are able to reproduce the watts while creating comfort in a very uncomfortable zone. High power production hurts and producing it is as much about training the mind as it is training the legs.  

Perform two to three sets depending on ability. Quality is the key here, not quantity. More is not always better. If the power begins to slip, be done after two sets. If you find it hard to hold the watts, start out a little easier to try and produce a tabletop on the power graph instead of falling off. Keep the cadence high during these efforts. No grinding! 

Whether indoors on the trainer or on the road, the ability to turn a big gear with high cadence teaches a sport-specific strength that is difficult to create otherwise. There is a technical component to getting over the pedals smoothly at such high wattage that can be called on throughout the athlete’s season and career. Yes, high-end fitness can disappear quickly, but once learned, this ability does not fade nearly as fast. 

RELATED: Cadence & Sprint Workout

Workout of the Week: 20 Seconds to Heaven 

Warm-up 

20 min. easy riding 
5 min. build from easy to 90% FTP 

3 × 45 sec. builds from threshold power to >120% FTP (the higher the better) 
1 min. easy riding between sets. 

Main set 

2-3 sets: 

4 × 20 sec. seated @ >150% FTP. Try to keep power steady throughout the effort.  
Rest 80-90 sec. between reps. 

7 min. easy spinning set rest. 

Cooldown 

15 min. easy riding