If you’re built like me, you have a natural explosiveness. But your ability to ride hour after hour at a solid, consistent pace just below your aerobic threshold—at your so-called aerobic endurance pace—is lacking.
As I’ve moved away from racing cyclocross, where my explosiveness came in very handy, and graduated to long gravel races and week-long bikepacking races, I’ve had to consistently work on this weakness in order to cope with these new race demands.
There are various workouts that can help a punchy rider improve their diesel engine. One of my favorites is high-torque (or “big gear”) hill repeats.
These are not your ordinary hill repeats. The objective with these efforts is to recruit fast-twitch (FT) muscle fibers (the type involved in explosive power) and encourage them to work more aerobically.
If you can recruit FT fibers to do this, they won’t fatigue as quickly. And, therefore, they will have greater stamina and sustainability, which are critical attributes for performing at ultra-endurance events.
Interestingly, this is an area of sport science where the scientific research has yet to confirm what good coaches already know from experience. So, I can’t cite many studies that illustrate the benefits of this type of training. However, on Fast Talk, we’ve spoken to some elite coaches who have used this type of work with great success with world-class athletes. Listen to Fast Talk Episode 125: Put in in the Big Gear with Coach Neal Henderson for more.
Another way of describing the physiological transformation that’s being elicited with this workout is to speak in terms of VLAmax and VO2max. These physiological attributes, often cited by Sebastian Weber of INSCYD, are discussed at length in Fast Talk Episode 159: INSCYD and the Power of Testing Analysis with Sebastian Weber.
In fact, at the end of this episode, Weber describes the workout he suggests I do to prepare for a 2,500-kilometer bikepacking race. This is exactly the type of training that has proven so effective for me in the past.
A two-part workout
In order to make your FT fibers adapt, you need to recruit them to work aerobically. And you can only do this if your slow-twitch (ST) fibers are already fatigued. So, this necessitates a two-part workout.
First, to fatigue your ST fibers, do several intervals of 4-6 minutes (choose the length and stay consistent) at 20% above FTP. These efforts will decrease your glycogen. Then comes the main set of intervals.
Once you feel fatigued, do three-minute threshold intervals at a low cadence (40-60 RPM). Start with four intervals, and in subsequent sessions try to go to as many as eight repeats. I prefer to do these efforts uphill, rather than trying to find an open stretch of road with no interruptions.
The technique for the low-cadence repeats is critical. Remain seated when starting the effort. This will help reduce the tendency to be explosive at the start. Take about 20 seconds to get to threshold power. (Power will be much higher in those first 10-20 seconds during the acceleration phase.) Then settle in for the three-minute interval. Make each effort consistent; make the last one as strong as the first.
Weber emphasizes that to reap the maximum benefits from this type of workout, some portion of it should be included on a daily basis. It doesn’t have to be the full workout, or even an hour of it. But consistency will pay huge dividends when you are attempting to force those FT fibers to transform.
Workout of the Week: High-Torque Hill Repeats
20-30 min. easy riding
4-6 x 4-6 min. @ 20% above FTP
4-8 x 3-min. hill repeats @ FTP @ 40-60 RPM
Stay seated for the entire effort, taking 20 sec. to build to FTP
10-20 min. easy spin
Enjoying Chris Case’s Workouts of the Week? Try some of his other popular workouts: The Big Stupid Ride and The Overload Block.