Workout of the Week: Hitting the Afterburners

Learn how to "sit in your burn" for longer with this mix of variable and steady efforts.

Cyclist powering up a hill

Sometimes the difference between success and failure is the willingness to hold on for a few extra seconds. Training is as much about your physiological tolerance as your mental tolerance—and this workout emphasizes both. Normally I prescribe workouts that are focused on one particular “adaptive signal.” We know how difficult it is to be productive when following different instructions from multiple people, and workouts trying to target a stew of adaptations can often yield improvements that are less than optimal. However, in this instance we can make seemingly opposing efforts work in concert.  

This is a workout I use after I’ve focused on blocks that improve weaknesses in my physiology. Targeted VO2max or threshold workouts carry more worth when trying to improve specific aspects of your performance such as FTP or power at VO2max. Physiologically, this workout is designed to flood your system with high amounts of lactate and hydrogen ions through short, hard efforts that rely heavily on your glycolytic energy system. Once the body is reaching an unsustainable state (with the variable efforts), we bring it back to a place where the glycolytic system takes a backseat to the aerobic system (with the steady efforts)—allowing us to sit in our “burn” for longer.  

Physiologically, we’re driving the uptake of lactate into our slow-twitch fibers through the MCT1 transporter, as well as buffering the concurrent acidosis. Mentally, however, we learn how to be comfortable with the discomfort in our body. Typically the first minute or two of the steady effort is harder, and as our body begins to clear lactate and buffer the acidosis, the end of the effort feels easier than the beginning. 

This workout has three sets total, each consisting of two parts, variable effort and steady effort. You can make this easier or harder by increasing the intensity or number of the short efforts or increasing the number of sets. However, it’s imperative that you keep the steady effort just under your FTP to ensure that you’re moving the emphasis from the glycolytic system to the aerobic system.   

Workout of the Week: Hitting the Afterburners 


10 min. steady riding  

Main set

3 rounds of: 

6 × 30 sec. @ 120% FTP with 30 sec. recovery @ 50% FTP 
5 min. @ 95% FTP 

3 min. recovery between rounds  


10 min. easy pedaling