Should cyclists do cross training in the winter?

So by cross training, I’m going to define that as any cycling that is not your primary discipline (think roadies doing MTB) and any off the bike training that is not S&C (as that should be done all year round ideally). Cross training is often a way to mix training up, keep up enjoyment levels, or a means of avoiding cycling in wet, windy and wintery weather. There are several common ways that cyclists try to include cross training as part of their winter training, and we’re going to cover the pros and cons of several of them.

Other forms of cycling

For us roadies, we often stick to just road riding and time trialling, maybe the odd bit of gravel. However, there are many other cycling disciplines that can be very beneficial to road race performance. Although gravel is technical, it doesn’t quite match MTB, either XC or Downhill.

Doing some MTB work can be great for several factors linked to road riding. Firstly, technical skills. Look at Tom Pidcock, Peter Sagan, and MVDP, all great MTBers with some incredible bike handling and control on the road. Another big benefit is smooth pedalling as on loose or slippery surfaces, delivering power smoothly is essential so a more efficient pedalling stroke can be developed for the road as well. There are similar benefits from doing CX as well, but CX also really works the lung busting hour of pain and high power capacity, as well as providing a fun competitive event for over the winter.

BMX is another aspect of cycling that is less often used in cross training by road riders but has some great benefits. For example, BMX riders often have some of the highest peak power outputs of any cyclists, sometimes besting track sprinters! The combination of high torque and very high leg speed at the starts means huge power delivery and pedalling efficiency. There are also many benefits to bike handling skills for doing BMX, even if just for tricks and fun.

Track cycling is another useful cross training tool to include when track isn’t your main focus. From helping develop a smooth pedalling stroke, to also improving your ability with bunch handling in a close environment. Then we have the events themselves which can scratch our competitive itch, while also being great training sessions with a lot of focus on very high end performance from maximal aerobic power and upwards.

An added bonus of these disciplines is also avoiding icy conditions on the road, or in the case of track cycling, avoiding all wintery weather and not having to spend so much time cleaning bikes. Obviously you need the facilities near by and also the equipment, but all of these other disciplines of cycling offer great ways to vary training throughout the winter.


Swimming is a useful exercise for cyclists, as if you’re not doing it as your sole sport you are not going to develop huge back and shoulder muscles from a couple of swims a week. What you will improve is aerobic performance and your breathing ability. Swimming requires large breaths to be inhaled and exhaled very quickly, which helps work your respiratory muscles and can improve their resistance to fatigue. Add to that the fact that swimming involves no impact so there are no eccentric contractions and you get reduced chance of injury and DOMS compared to say running. It’s definitely a useful exercise to include if you want to mix up your training over the winter while still looking to improve aspects of your cycling.


This is a very common one for cyclists in the winter, but it needs to be done carefully. The problem is that cyclists are aerobically very very capable. Muscularly, not so much. Cyclists spend almost all their time doing concentric muscle contractions, pushing down to create force, and very little time doing eccentric contractions, where muscles shorten due to external force such as landing from a jump. Eccentric contractions are great for strengthening muscles, however they also lead to greater DOMS and if you are not properly conditioned you will get injuries. So a very aerobically fit cyclist can likely run a marathon very happily, 4 hours isn’t that long for a cyclist after-all. However, muscularly they will get injured, often badly as their body will likely not be conditioned to deal with the impact and eccentric load. This means the key to including running alongside cycling is to start very easy (think 1 mile run at a low HR) and build up very gradually. 15 minutes of running will put more stress on your body than 1 hour of riding even at the same heart rate. It is also important to do this alongside S&C to make sure your body can deal with the loads experienced when running.


Like running, but far less impact or chance of injury. Walking and hiking are actually better than many would think for cycling performance. A big issue many cyclists have with low intensity long duration training is that they work too hard. Walking and hiking can often elicit a heart rate that is in the right physiological zone and quite a steady continuous effort. A long hike for example will be effective endurance training in the winter without the risk of injury associated with running.

Team sports

Sometimes, the cross training you might want to do might not be traditional aerobic exercise, and you might want to do some football, rugby, or other team sports. As team sports like these often require running, changes of direction, and in some cases contact, like running it becomes essential that the body is well conditioned and you start off very lightly. Cyclists often do not have very strong hamstrings and both football and rugby are notorious for resulting in hamstring injuries if players aren’t well conditioned. It can still be fun and a very useful sporting activity to keep fit in the winter, but it is essential that you make sure you are well conditioned and not over doing it.

Bottom line

At the end of the day, most benefit in training will be gained from actually cycling, as it is the most sport specific training if cycling is your goal. S&C is essential for building up increased strength and power too along with injury prevention, but needs to be done in the right way and correct volume. However people often like to mix up their training in the winter, try something new, or scratch the competitive itch. This is where different forms of training can be really useful for motivation and fun, while still helping you towards your goal of being a better cyclist. However cross training needs to be balanced and implemented in the correct way, both to increase the benefit directed towards cycling, and also to reduce the chance of injury.

What is Fatigue?

Different types of fatigue and how to combat them

We are all familiar with the feelings of fatigue in whatever form they strike: be it by the end of one of a very long endurance ride at a solid Zone 2 intensity; or when we are attempting that final 5 minute maximal aerobic power effort and our legs are screaming at us to let them stop. But there are many different types of fatigue and understanding what they are can help us combat them and reduce the onset or impact of these various fatigues.

Hydrogen ions (recovery)

The first one that we are going to talk about, and the first of the peripheral fatigue mechanisms, is one you would’ve likely heard referred to as lactic acid build-up. However, this is quite a misleading title as lactate is not something that directly fatigues us and, in fact, is something that our body uses as fuel during efforts and can be converted into pyruvate which is then used to make ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which we know to be the energy source of all bodily functions. The real culprit of fatigue here is something that comes with that lactate production: hydrogen ions. Increased levels of hydrogen ions (H+) create a more acidic environment within the muscles. This, in turn, results in something called ATP hydrolysis, which is the process of ATP being split into ADP (adenosine diphosphate) and inorganic phosphate (Pi). This happens because the enzyme that causes ATP hydrolysis (ATPases) does not work as well in an acidic environment. This not only impacts on our ability to utilise the energy available in the ATP we create from substrate utilisation, but also our capacity to produce muscle contractions.

We can reduce the negative effect of H+ by improving our buffering capacity. This can be done by using supplements, such as beta-alanine or bicarbonate of soda. Another means of reducing H+ is to improve our ability to utilise fats as fuel at higher intensity, which reduces the production of lactate and H+ that come with it due to carbohydrate metabolism. As H+ production increases exponentially above the physiological turn point Critical Power, increasing our Critical Power through training will greatly help in reducing the fatigue effect of H+ at certain power levels. This is why when H+ levels do get so high that they cause fatigue, the best thing to do is to reduce the intensity, which then enables you to clear the hydrogen ions faster than you are producing them.

Inorganic phosphate (recovery)

Another cause of peripheral fatigue (and usually the one that leads to the pain we feel in our legs) is something called inorganic phosphate. This is produced in especially large quantities when we suddenly go from perhaps a very low intensity to a very high intensity. For example, during sprints or micro intervals. Inorganic phosphate is produced during ATP hydrolysis and also when using the phosphocreatine pathway to produce energy, which occurs during very high intensity or the initial uptake of high power. So, when you go from 40 W to 400 W in your micro intervals, the phosphocreatine pathway is how we initially uptake that power. Or, even when starting an endurance ride, the initial energy system working will be the phosphocreatine one, with the aerobic system is kicking in shortly afterwards. This also explains why we feel more fatigue when we have a lot of changes in pace, such as in a criterium or after conducting micro intervals. The production of inorganic phosphate leads to a reduced cross bridge capacity within the muscles, which is how we produce our power by contracting and releasing the cross bridges (see sliding filament theory). It also reduces the potential power from each cross bridge, resulting in a double whammy of power reduction. 

We can reduce the impact of inorganic phosphate by pedalling at an easy intensity after the repeated bouts of exercise that produce it or immediately after a large sprint. Studies have found that stopping peddling completely keeps the inorganic phosphate levels high and reduces our capacity to perform sprints again. So, in races, it is a good idea to reduce the amount of surges that we do as that will reduce the inorganic phosphate production. In training, after doing a high intensity sprint, it is important to remain pedalling at a low intensity rather than stopping pedalling entirely.

Muscle Afferents (recovery)

Our body is incredibly clever, and we have parts of our muscles called Afferent Fibres. These afferents play a very important role in exercise as they monitor the state of the muscle and interact with the central nervous system (CNS). The afferents we are concerned with here are Group III and IV as they mediate cardiovascular and ventilatory reflexes. Essentially, they help regulate the CNS to control some degree of blood and oxygen delivery to the working muscles. They are essential, as studies have found that blocking these receptors from signalling the CNS reduced the blood/oxygen delivery to the working muscles by reducing blood flow and also pulmonary ventilation. However, they also play a role in Central Fatigue and are linked in a way to some of the peripheral fatigue mechanisms (H+ and Pi). Up to a certain critical threshold these afferents assist in muscular contractile performance and delivering oxygen to the muscles. However, once this threshold is crossed, the afferents provide inhibitory feedback to the CNS to reduce the central motor drive, basically our voluntary capacity to produce greater muscular force is reduced. The suggested reason for this inhibitory feedback is to limit the body from spending time above this critical threshold and producing excessive peripheral fatiguing metabolites. This is to try and protect the body and muscles from associated damage due to these metabolites. Studies have tested with inhibiting the afferents above the critical threshold, and although blood oxygen levels were slightly reduced, this negative affect was outweighed by the increased central motor drive. In the test, cyclists were able to perform at a higher power output over a 5km time trial than those without afferent inhibition.

The way to overcome this afferent feedback induced central fatigue, is to reduce intensity and decrease Group III/IV stimulus. Once that critical threshold is passed, the cascade of fatigue mechanisms, both central and peripheral, increases until intensity is reduced. We can increase the threshold at which the afferents start to provide inhibitory feedback the same way we can reduce the presence of H+ and Pi, by increasing the physiological turn point known as Critical Power.

Substrate availability (carbs)

Another form of fatigue comes from substrate availability. Simply put, this means having the fuel available to conduct the work. Higher intensity work requires carbohydrates in order to complete it, but our carbohydrate stores are not indefinite. With our muscles and liver saturated in carbohydrates (muscle glycogen when it’s in the muscles), we have perhaps enough carbohydrates to fuel 90 minutes of high intensity exercise. This is why consuming carbohydrates is vital to allow for prolonged high intensity work. When we do not consume enough carbohydrates, we are unable to complete exercise at higher intensities, as even with a lot of fuel in even a very learn person’s fat stores, fat metabolism requires more oxygen to break down than carbohydrates so can’t be done when oxygen demands are very high such as high intensity exercise. This means the only way that we can continue to exercise is to reduce the intensity dramatically. This is likely the feeling you will have encountered if you’ve ever suffered the dreaded bonk. Your legs go heavy and there is no intensity that you can produce other than one that is essentially just turning the legs very, very easily.

Fortunately, this one is probably the easiest form of fatigue to combat. We simply must ensure that A) we’ve consumed sufficient carbohydrates in both the day leading up to, and on the morning of, exercise, and B) for exercise sessions longer than 90 minutes that we consume carbohydrates during the session as well. The amount of carbohydrates that you can consume depends on your ability to process them. Traditionally, we’ve been told that 60 g an hour was the maximum we could consume. This then increased to 90 g an hour when a mix of fructose and glucose was consumed. Nowadays it is considered that up to 120 g of carbohydrates can be consumed per hour when mixing different carb sources –  as long as our gut has been trained to deal with the high carbohydrate load. It’s important to consume the carbohydrates before we feel that we need them. Once we hit the point of fatigue due to lack of fuel, it’s too late as the time required to get the carbohydrates into the working muscles means we’ll have to spend a period of time working at a very low intensity in order to recover. For those just starting out with carbohydrate fuelling, it’s best to start with maybe 40-60 g an hour. After that, you can train with increasingly higher carbohydrate loads to improve your body’s tolerance to carbs and ability to utilise them.

Heat fatigue (a good fan and cooling of the hypothalamus)

Heat fatigue affects us in several ways. The main one we’re going to talk about is heat production itself and how that affects both the muscles’ ability to contract and also our ability to utilise fuel sources. When we work in hot environments, we become less able to use fats as fuel and more reliant on carbohydrates, which itself causes greater hydrogen ion production and therefore quicker onset of fatigue. The big issue with heat is when it affects our core temperature as, when that increases, a lot of enzymes in the body are unable to function properly and we therefore lose certain functions such as the ability to break down fuel.

The other way in which heat causes eventual fatigue is by dehydration. When we become dehydrated, we experience a reduction in our salt balance as salt is required to move water from within the body to outside the body to allow evaporation to cool us down: this is essentially sweating. With salt levels reduced (often called electrolytes), we lose some of our signalling capacity which is how our muscles contract and release. You may feel particularly bad cramps after being dehydrated, for example when your calf muscles tense up without any conscious intention to do so. This happens due to electrical signals not been passed properly to the muscles, and all muscle cross bridges by nature are contracted, hence why rigor mortis occurs in bodies. We actually release the muscle cross bridges with energy so dehydration, often accentuated by heat, can cause cramping by failure to release – or relax – the muscles.

There are various ways to reduce the impact of heat fatigue. One method is heat acclimatisation which essentially involves training in a hot environment more regularly and increasing our ability to sweat in order to reduce body temperature. Additionally, it has been found that making sure the hypothalamus section of the brain is cool has a significant effect on body temperature. An easy way of doing this is by putting an ice pack on the back of your neck. Ensuring that you have a good quality fan in your turbo room, as well as maybe a dehumidifier, will also go quite a long way to reducing the impact of heat on your performance. Another very simple way to combat dehydration is not only to consume enough water but also to ensure that enough salt is being consumed. This is hard to get exactly right unless you have your sweat tested for the amount of salt per millilitre and then also have your sweat rate tested. However, the amount of salt required is often higher than you would expect when exercising hard in the heat. 

Hopefully you found this piece interesting. Let us know any stories of how fatigue has really hit you and how you combatted it.

This article only scratches the surface of what fatigue mechanisms exist within the body. For more information on different types of fatigue, there is a very comprehensive scientific review out there: Allen, D. G., Lamb, G. D., & Westerblad, H. (2008). Skeletal muscle fatigue: cellular mechanisms. Physiological reviews.

Should cyclists do Strength training?

Short answer, yes! But what are the benefits of Strength and Conditioning for cyclists? Let’s dive into some of them and investigate further…


This is probably the most commonly-suggested reason as to why cyclists should include Strength and Conditioning (S&C) as part of their training plan. There have been countless studies looking at how S&C helps increase cycling power, but it will probably surprise a few people to hear that the power benefits lie beyond just sprint performance. There’s no doubt that, for track or road sprinters, lifting heavy and fast helps with the generation of force and results in an increase of fast twitch muscle fibres (Type 2B or Type 2X or Fast Glycolytic fibres) which are capable of producing large amounts of power quickly. But a lot of research has found that S&C also improves power output during time trial events where oxidative muscle fibres are the main producers of force, as well as increasing overall speed/performance. Some weight focussed cyclists may be worried about building muscle and gaining weight, but when it comes to leg muscle, increased quadriceps cross-sectional area has been linked closely with increased power and performance, as can be seen in the study by Vikmoen et al., 2016 (see references). So, although weight might go up a fraction, the W/kg equation will likely remain the same or increase and, if it remains the same, then performance on the flats and downhills will improve while uphill performance remains the same.

Efficiency and Economy

Another big why cyclists should do strength and conditioning is efficiency and economy. Economy relates to the amount of power you can generate at a given percentage of your VO2max or oxygen consumption, a little like your miles to the gallon. Efficiency relates to the amount of work you can generate for a given energy expenditure. So, if you are using 2 litres of oxygen per minutes (the average for untrained women) and producing 150 watts, S&C could improve your economy and increase that power to 160 watts for the same oxygen consumption. If you are expending 4000 kilojoules of energy an hour, but only 800 kilojoules of that is going to the pedals, you have an efficiency of 20%, fairly common in road cyclists as we generate a lot of excess heat energy. However, if you can put down 1000 kilojoules to the pedals, your efficiency increases to 25%. Studies such as Sunde et al., 2010 have shown that S&C training can increase both cycling economy and efficiency.  

Time to Exhaustion

As a result of this improved efficiency and economy, another area found to be improved by S&C is the time to exhaustion (TTE). This is often referred to as the time it takes to not be able to continue exercise while performing at a steady state, be that FTP (not our favourite measure), Critical Power, a set percentage of VO2max, or Maximal Lactate Steady State (MLSS) etc. So, let’s say you did an FTP test and you held 300 watts for an hour, your TTE would be 60 minutes. Studies have found that after an intervention of S&C training alongside cycling (compared to just cycling), TTE does increase. This is supported by Sawyer et al., 2014, who attributed it to an increase in Watts Prime (W’) but interestingly did not find an increase in CP in their participants. However, with a static CP and a higher W’, the TTE will be decreased and ability to maintain powers about CP will increase.


Another key point relating to performance is position, specifically with regard to aerodynamics. We see a lot of the pros in some amazingly aerodynamic positions that look near enough contorted, and yet they are still putting out large amounts of power with a very reduced hip angle and a lot of pressure on the shoulders and triceps. This is where a full body approach to S&C is very important, as to maintain these very fast and efficient positions, a great amount of core (trunk) strength and stability is required, as well as a good functional range of motion in the hip, and not having a tight posterior chain or even back and shoulder muscles. 

Injury Prevention 

Another issue that cyclists can encounter if they don’t do S&C is injuries. We’ve heard of overuse injuries, imbalances, muscle tightness, or even joint issues. Correctly prescribed and properly performed S&C can help to prevent these, as it enables us to strengthen the tendons and ligaments concerned in order to avoid damage to them, as well as to the muscles themselves. When we stretch out not just the tight muscles but also the rest of the muscles along the chain (a tight shoulder can lead to referred pain in the back of the knee), we can increase joint stability and strength by ensuring the muscles around them are strong and functioning properly (shoulder, hips and knees are a common one for this). S&C is particularly good for this as cycling doesn’t necessarily work the muscles which need to be strong in order to reduce chances of injury. Additionally, cycling is a concentric exercise (muscle shortening), whereas eccentric stimulus (muscle lengthening) has been found to be even better for strengthening muscles. 

Long Term Health 

Finally, we have probably the most important one and the reason why everyone should be doing resistance training or S&C. As cyclists, we don’t experience much impact exercise; it is also a weight limited sport where disordered eating is common. A negative impact of both of these is decreased bone mineral density, which can result in the early onset of osteopenia or osteoporosis. Strength training significantly improves bone mineral density as well as increasing muscle strength, which is very helpful for maintaining proper posture, supporting the bones to reduce the chances of them getting damaged, and maintaining a higher metabolism. Another benefit of this is that, in the long term (decades), performance will be better maintained and/or the rate of decline of the performance will be heavily reduced. 

So, if you’ve read this and think you’d benefit from including S&C training alongside your on-bike training, please get in touch as we can offer you full S&C programming, tailored to your individual needs, to help facilitate maximum performance gains and assist with injury prevention. 


Vikmoen, O., Ellefsen, S., Trøen, Ø., Hollan, I., Hanestadhaugen, M., Raastad, T., & Rønnestad, B. R. (2016). Strength training improves cycling performance, fractional utilization of VO2max and cycling economy in female cyclists. Scandinavian journal of Medicine & Science in sports26(4), 384-396.

Sunde, A., Støren, Ø., Bjerkaas, M., Larsen, M. H., Hoff, J., & Helgerud, J. (2010). Maximal strength training improves cycling economy in competitive cyclists. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research24(8), 2157-2165.

Sawyer, B. J., Stokes, D. G., Womack, C. J., Morton, R. H., Weltman, A., & Gaesser, G. A. (2014). Strength training increases endurance time to exhaustion during high-intensity exercise despite no change in critical power. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research28(3), 601-609.

Session of the week #6: 1 on:1 off – a balanced first introduction to structured training 

Original article and downloadable session available here.

Do if… you want to start including intervals into your rides for fitness gains

Ready to get fit through cycling? This cycling workout is great for both those first dipping their toes into structured training, as well as seasoned athletes looking to build up their fitness again after a long time off the bike for whatever reason. 

For everybody, there is the temptation to jump straight in with the most brutal workout you can find – start as you mean to go on, right? But really, that just spells a one-way ticket to common cycling injuries, ironically leaving you with more time off the bike. 

This cycling workout will get you working, expanding good levels of energy and stimulating those signals which tell your body that these muscles are being used. At the same time, this workout isn’t so intense as to risk any strains, here we’re building the foundations of fitness in the right order.

So, what’s in store? We’ll be starting off with a 10 minute warm-up followed by five one-minute efforts at threshold, each followed by one-minute really easy pedalling. After that first ‘block’, it’ll be five more minutes of recovery and then repeating that one-minute ‘on’ / one-minute ‘off’ block.

You should feel your legs working in the efforts, but it shouldn’t be anything like an all-out sprint for the line. Think about the kind of intensity you’d be putting in when cycling into a hard headwind or up a long – but only moderately steep – hill.

For those using and training with a power meter or heart rate monitor and who know their training zones, you’ll know what constitutes a Threshold – or Z4 – effort. But you can just plug your FTP or Critical Power (CP) into this session and it’ll work out all the numbers for you. 

But be warned: if you are coming back from a long time off, your numbers are likely going to be very different to what they were. And jumping straight in with an FTP test as your first time on the bike isn’t a particularly pleasant way to get going – best build yourself up training on feel just initially. 


For those of us who have just started riding, all these numbers and power thresholds can be quite daunting. If you have acquired a power meter, you might not have done a power test yet, or even know how to! Although it is beneficial to have done a power test before doing these sorts of efforts, they can still be done using the power that you know you can maintain for a local 10 mile time trial. If you haven’t done one of those, you can do this cycling workout at the power that you can maintain for a 10 minute climb, with a reduction of 10 to 20 per cent.

For those without a power meter, you can use heart rate but, to make sure that the efforts are consistent, you can track your average heart rate during each minute and try and keep this the same. Your heart rate will increase during the efforts but you want to make sure you are not hitting your max heart rate. Essentially, you are looking for each effort to be around the same average heart rate and also the same peak heart rate.

For those without a power meter or heart rate monitor, you can do this based on RPE. It can be a bit difficult to gauge what the effort feels like as this effort sustained for 20 minutes will feel a lot harder than sustained for one minute. A good rule of thumb would be that each one minute interval feels like a seven out of 10. So, it is a hard effort, but one that feels like it would be easily sustainable for longer than the one minute.

The benefits to this cycling workout are various. It does produce a training stimulus due to having to start the effort, have a short break, and then start another effort – a bit like doing micro intervals but on a slightly larger scale. You can read more about some of this benefits in the explainer to a 20/40s cycling workout. For the most part though, the session presents a good opportunity for people to begin adding intervals and structure into their training.


Don’t start the first effort too hard or, by the time you get to the later effort, it will feel too difficult. Pacing can be a tricky thing to learn in the early stages and it might be that the first few times you do the session, you do the first couple of efforts too hard. However, the more familiar you become with judging your own internal sensations whilst riding, the better you will get at pacing your efforts without using either heart rate or power. 


For riding outdoors, this cycling workout requires a little thoughtful planning as it involves quite a long period of alternating focused effort and rest. There are several ways to approach this. The first is to find a 10 minute section of flat or rolling road that doesn’t have any disruptions like tight corners, junctions or traffic lights. You can do your one minute of threshold and then your one minute of rest easily as, on the flats, you can rest properly. You then need to repeat this five times in total to do one effort block. The rest between effort blocks can be extended slightly to suit your needs.

The other way of doing the cycling workout is to do it on a climb that is 10 minutes long. This can be a bit more difficult as the rest period is going to be harder because you will need to push out more power on the climb than you would on the flats. However, it is still possible to complete the workout this way.

Session of the week #5: Under/Overs – improve your ability to recover while still pushing the pace [59 mins]

Original article and downloadable session available here.

Do if… you want to improve your threshold power and your capacity to recover at higher intensities

The goal of this cycling workout is not only to help us perform at intensities above Crticial Power, but also to aid recovery from high intensity efforts. For example, if you’ve pushed hard on a steeper section of a climb and then want to recover on a flatter section whilst still keeping some intensity. The benefits of this workout could be valuable either in a race situation or on any climb you’re looking to improve your time on.

What’s coming up? So this week’s cycling workout involves a longer warm up of 15 minutes followed by a block of one minute at 110/120 per cent of Critical Power (CP), then two minutes at 95 per cent of CP, times four (12 minute total block). 10 minutes recovery, then repeat the ‘under/over’ block, with a 10 minute cool down to finish off.

Critical Power is an alternative to FTP for setting training zones, find out how to get your numbers and use them in our explainer on Critical Power here.


When we do hard efforts, we need some time to recover from them. But if we’re riding up a long climb or during a race, sometimes we have to try and recover at a pace that itself is still quite high.

Riding at 110-120 per cent of CP is a hard effort and, for a lot of people, is in their Maximal Aerobic Power (MAP) range, so is not sustainable for long as it will drain our Watts Prime (W’) – more information on this metric and how it’s beneficial for training can be found in our explainer on Critical Power here as the two metrics go hand in hand.

To counter this, the effort will only be for one minute before we dip just below CP. Even though this is still a hard effort, it does allow us to recharge our W’ sufficiently so that we can complete several more of these ‘under/over’ efforts.

The reason we have a range of 110 to 120 per cent of CP is that, for different individuals, their W’ in relation to their CP may be smaller – or their MAP might be a lower percentage of their CP.

Doing these sorts of efforts not only gives us a training stimulus to improve our CP or sustainable threshold power – it also helps us to recover at higher intensities where heart rate (HR) remains elevated and likely will not drop much.


So, let’s take a rider with a CP of 300 watts (W) and a W’ of 15000 joules (J). They’ll be doing one minute at 360 W (120 per cent CP) leaving their W’ at 11400 J. Then, after two minutes at 285 W (95 per cent CP), their W’ is recharged to 13200 J. Theoretically, using this model (which is referred to as W’bal) means that, during effort eight, the rider empties their W’ and is unable to complete it. However, factors such as heat, pain resistance – and anything else that contributes to fatigue – mean that failure to complete an effort often occurs earlier than predicted.

During the ‘over’ section, our HR will be significantly elevated and, although it can decrease slightly during the ‘under’ section, it still remains quite high compared to the level we’d normally be accustomed to during the recovery period. Quite often, this results in us hitting a plateau and reaching our VO2max – the point at which our oxygen consumption is at its maximal level. So, not only can these sessions help with maintaining high power for extended periods and recovery at high intensities, but they can also assist in improving our maximal capacity aerobic performance.


Don’t overdo it too soon. It can be easy to get carried away with the first few ‘overs’, which will lead to either having to decrease the power for the other ‘overs’ or decrease it during the ‘unders’, both of which defeat the purpose of the session. 

After the first block, if it felt a bit easy at say 110-115 per cent CP, then increase to 120 per cent for the next block. 


These sessions can be done outdoors but, because the effort blocks are a bit longer, it is very important to find either a good uninterrupted stretch of undulating road with minimal potential for possible disruptions, or a 12 to 15 minute climb. 

A local time trial course often provides a good bit of road to complete the efforts on but, for a lot of people, a longer climb may present a slightly easier way to hit the power targets as the positive gradient provides consistent resistance. However, the ability to put high power down on the flats is very important, especially for time triallists and other racers, so mixing up the terrain you complete this cycling workout on is also advisable.

Session of the week #4: Rev outs – spin your way to quick wins [1hr]

Original article and downloadable session available here.

Do if… you want to maximise on the fitness you already have and develop your pedalling efficiency

Most of us riding a bike want to get faster, be it for racing, making your way up the Strava KOM leaderboard, or increasing the average speed of your ride. Improving pedalling efficiency is a great way to achieve this, but is often an area of training which gets neglected and is seldom given enough specific focus. 

This week’s cycling workout targets pedalling efficiency with six 15-second efforts where the goal is to spin your legs as fast as possible with about eight minutes rest between each effort.


When we pedal, we are producing power. To go faster, we need to produce more power, physiologically speaking anyway. Power itself is made up of two elements: torque and angular velocity. The torque is the force that we apply (think about a torque wrench – the higher the torque the more force you are applying to that poor seat-clamp). 

The angular velocity is the speed at which that torque is applied – in other words, your revolutions per minute (RPM). If we are able to increase our speed (angular velocity) whilst maintaining the same torque, we can produce more power. 

This session essentially helps you be able to turn your legs at a faster speed and is beneficial as a lot of people ride at a cadence that might not be most efficient for them.


So, how does this session help you do that? Well, when we pedal, we experience something called muscle coactivation. This occurs when you push down on the pedals with your quads (the agonist muscle group), yet you experience resistance from the hamstrings (the antagonist muscle group). 

This happens for several reasons, but is predominantly because the hamstrings are trying to help stabilise the knee. So, when you push 100 watts down, you may also be encountering 10 watts negative force, resulting in a net forward positive power output contributing to forward momentum of 90 watts. 

Several studies have investigated this in depth and found that well-trained professional riders experience far less hamstring muscle activation during the downstroke of the pedal phase than amateurs who train less, therefore producing a higher positive power output. So, in our 100 watts example, minus 10 w reduces to minus 3 w (not exact relative figures). 

Doing these high cadence drills (where novice riders may struggle with 100+ RPM and experienced riders can push north of 200!) can help in reducing this muscle coactivation.


Don’t worry about bouncing on the saddle. These efforts feel very alien to conduct and quite often, as you reach a higher RPM, it feels uncomfortable and you bounce up and down on the saddle as the muscles try to fire in the right pattern at a high speed. This is normal and will reduce as you get used to these efforts and develop a more efficient pedal stroke. 


These efforts are very easy to do outside: find a nice, flat stretch of road. Starting at a ‘walking’ pace, select your smallest gear. Then, as the title suggests, rev out! Pedal as fast as you possibly can for 10 to 15 seconds. The rest periods between the efforts can be longer or shorter, depending on the overall ride that you are doing as the physiological effort of rev outs is low, therefore recovery is quick. 

Session of the week #3: MAP (Maximal Aerobic Power) efforts – Boost your speed on steep climbs [1hr 5 mins]

Original article and downloadable session available here.

Do if…you want to build your maximal aerobic engine to stay with your mates on four to six minute climbs

Do you find yourself getting dropped as soon as your mates decide to blast it up a short climb? You’d have them on a mountain or longer hill – but sadly, that’s terrain you’re blessed with…

If this hits close to home – or if these efforts are already your happy hunting ground and you wish to further improve – then this week’s session is ripe for you.

The purpose of this cycling workout is to stress our maximal aerobic system and improve not only our aerobic capacity but also our ability to produce large amounts of power for intervals of between four to six minutes. 

These are especially useful for those looking to be stronger on climbs of this duration, which are very common in the UK. Plus, if you’re interested in racing, this cycling workout also helps with improving pursuit efforts.

After you’ve warmed up, there’s four sets of four minute efforts at 110-120 per cent of your FTP (or Critical Power) with six minutes rest. 

Critical Power is an alternative to FTP for setting training zones, find out how to get your numbers and use them in our explainer on Critical Power here.

These four minute efforts are not far off your five minute maximum power which is often referred to as Maximal Aerobic Power (MAP) – so they are going to feel tough. Just make sure you have enough left in the tank so that you can still hit the same numbers on the last interval as the first.


The way this cycling workout works can be treated as quite straightforward: you want to improve your four to six minute efforts – so pop some four minute efforts into your training.

It’s important to note that these efforts are on the shorter end and also aren’t quite at the very limit of your physical capacity. Going too hard and long at the start of the session would impact the later intervals – what you really don’t want to do is exhaust yourself so you end up putting out too little power by the end. 

The goal is to stress the aerobic system – and that does require some level of pacing.


The range of power for these efforts varies significantly, depending on your power profile as a rider. Often, a rider’s maximal aerobic power will fall between 110-120 per cent of FTP (or Critical Power) but, in some circumstances, it can be higher or lower. It is referred to as MAP, as efforts shorter than this are more glycolytic and have a higher percentage of anaerobic contribution, hence why MAP is defined as being the maximal power efforts we can sustain predominantly aerobically. 

What we (as coaches or athletes) are looking for in these efforts is two-fold. The first objective is maintaining a higher power for the duration. This is useful for Individual Pursuits (IP), where a high but steady maximal power is required for 4 to 4.5 minutes. For targeting IPs, doing these efforts in the aerodynamic position will help to maximise power in that position. 

Sustaining power in this way is also extremely useful for improving your time up a local climb during a road ride, and competing in road races or hill climbs, where four to six minute climbs are a common occurrence. In road races, these climbs often present a great opportunity to break away, drop the opposition, or are the location of the finishing line. So, being powerful over this duration is very important.

The second metric we want to monitor is the Heart Rate (HR) response to the efforts. These are sometimes referred to as VO2 max efforts as, during VO2 max Ramp tests, MAP is often the power at which VO2 max is achieved. However, VO2 max is not a power output, and can be achieved by different methods. 

VO2 max is defined as: the maximal rate of oxygen consumption where HR is maximal (or near maximal) and rate of perceived exertion is 10/10 (or 20/20 on the Borg Scale). One way of determining if VO2 max has been achieved is by looking for a HR plateau. Essentially, the HR hits a maximum, but does not increase any further as maximal oxygen uptake has been achieved. Improving VO2 max is the key to improving aerobic performance.


Don’t worry about maintaining the power for the efforts in this cycling workout; the main focus is getting the HR up so starting closer to 120 per cent of Critical Power, and even dropping to 105 per cent, is not an issue. If IP is a goal then maybe try to average as high a power as possible with an initial surge followed by settling into the effort whilst aiming to achieve limited drop in power by the end of the interval.  


These efforts are fairly straightforward to conduct on the road. For IP, it is best to do these efforts on a time trial bike so you can work on producing power in the aerodynamic position. In this case, find a nice flat or rolling stretch of road that lasts for more than the length of the effort. 

It requires a bit of route planning, or repeats on the same stretch of road, but it is manageable. Don’t worry too much about the time between efforts, just make sure you are recovered for each one and able to push your hardest.

Another simple way of performing these outside is by locating a four to six minute climb. Once you have completed your four min effort, you can recover by either turning around, riding on the flat or continuing to the next climb before repeating your effort. If you need to continue to the top of a longer climb, have a longer rest between efforts as you will likely be riding at a higher intensity than recovery up the rest of the climb.

Session of the week #2: Glycolytic Capacity Efforts – Short hills? Long sprints? Same session. [1hr 3 mins]

Written for Cycling Weekly, you can download the training session here

Do if… you love short, sharp and steep hills (–or if they’re your nemesis), plus it’s also good training for long, drawn-out sprints.

Although the efforts in this cycling workout are only very short – at just one minute long – these will feel very hard and near maximal. Be prepared to dig deep, but don’t be tempted to go too hard early on as you’ll want to still be able to maintain the same output in the last interval. 

This is a particularly useful cycling workout for those targeting shorter hill climb events where glycolytic muscle fibres will be the primary source of power. And also for longer efforts, such as at the end of a road race, where you want to catch everyone off guard a bit and go for that long drawn out sprint effort. 

Even if you don’t have any target events, this is still a nicely tough HIIT cycling workout for a quick and efficient fitness boost. 

This cycling workout starts with a long warm up, and is followed by 4 x 1 minute “very hard” efforts with six minutes rest. 


The muscle fibres you use in high intensity efforts are actually distinct to the ones used in endurance efforts – so you could potentially be doing hours of training but leaving this whole area completely neglected. 

These one minute efforts will activate that energy system, helping to improve your climbing, more specifically your ability to blast up short, sharp and steep hills. It’ll also boost the amount of power – and duration – you can sustain for a long, drawn-out sprint. Great for catching people off-guard in a road race or blasting your way up the pack in a Zwift race at 500m to go.


Efforts such as those in this cycling workout are referred to as glycolytic efforts because of the way in which we produce power at these intensities. This happens when we break down glucose into lactate without using oxygen (anaerobically) and, although it doesn’t produce as much ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate, which our body uses as energy for every action), it produces it far more quickly than breaking down fats or carbohydrates aerobically. 

The type of muscle that produces power this way is also different. When we do low intensity and primarily aerobic efforts, we use Type 1 muscle fibres (Slow Oxidative), whereas glycolytic efforts use Type 2A and 2B fibres (Fast Oxidative and Fast Glycolytic). These Type 2 fibres have more ATPase (the group of enzymes that hydrolyse ATP) and therefore produce muscle contractions far quicker than Type 1 fibres, allowing for faster and more explosive movements. 

In other words, you can reach maximal tension more quickly therefore producing a higher power, power being a combination of the force and the speed at which force is produced. 

So, how does this cycling workout help? Well, as with all training, we adapt to the stress we present the body with. In this case, we present the body with a highly glycolytic effort which requires ATP very quickly to produce high power. When we do these types of efforts, the training response from the body is to increase the amount of glycolytic enzymes and ATPase in the muscle fibres, thus increasing the rate of energy production and our capacity to produce these high-powered efforts.


Stick to the power numbers as best as possible; you don’t want to go too hard to start with and then find that you can’t produce the power by the end of the effort or find yourself weakened for the final effort. Your muscles will fatigue quickly so it’s important to go very easy between the efforts in this cycling workout.   


For conducting the efforts in this cycling workout on the road, hill reps are an ideal way to do this. Find a hill that you know takes you a minute or longer to get to the top of and do your efforts up there. Once you’ve done the minute interval, return to the bottom of the hill and spin easy for the six minutes recovery before the next effort. 

Don’t worry too much if there is a longer rest period between the efforts, or a longer warm up or cool down is needed to get to and from an appropriate hill.

These efforts can be done seated or out of the saddle, and you can play around a bit with the cadence depending on what feels most suitable for you. The key here is getting one minute at a high enough power to elicit the training stress that we are looking for.

Stay tuned for next week’s session, we’ll be bringing you a fresh new cycling workout every Monday. 

In the meantime you can find more indoor cycling sessions for turbo training here, sessions specifically if you only have 30 minutes spare to work out here, and training plans for beginners, intermediates and racershere.

Or how about having a go at one of the previous cycling workouts of the week:

 – Cycling workout of the week #1: 20/40s [50 mins]

Warm weather riding tips

Cyclists are often sun seekers, it’s a chance to get out and do long rides without the danger of rain or having to meticulously re-clean our bikes and drivetrains. It’s also the perfect opportunity to strengthen up that cyclists tan! However there are some things that you should do when riding in warm weather to ensure performance is not effected and that you don’t harm yourself. So, here are a few tips for warm weather riding:

1 – Sun cream! Sweat resistant sun cream is an essential, and if possible bring a small one with you on longer rides. Be sure to get your arms and legs, but don’t forget about face, back of neck, and ears which are common places that catch the sun. Although you may not get sunburn, or even feel you’ve caught the sun at all, damage will still be occurring to the skin which can lead to things like skin cancer further down the line. Always better to use sun cream than not when the sun is out! And don’t worry, you’ll still tan with sun cream on!

2 – Don’t overdo it. Especially when there are sudden changes of temperature (say from mid 20 degrees to high 30s!) and when this happens it is unlikely that we will be at all adapted to the heat. This makes it very important to not overdo it on these days as heat stroke and exhaustion can leave you feeling very tired for a few days.

3 – Hydration. It’s not just about drinking water, you need to include salts. Dehydration will tire you, but consuming too much water without enough salts can lead to a dangerous thing called hyponatraemia (low sodium). To avoid this, aim for 0.5g of salt per 500ml bottle if you sweat a lot or are a salty sweater. Just electrolyte tablets by themselves don’t often include enough salt. Still aim for at least 500ml fluid/hour. You can check sweat rate roughly by weighing yourself without clothes before a ride, doing a ride on the turbo for 30min, and weighing yourself after. Initial weight minus weight after, plus any fluid consumed, is your sweat rate. This can change with adaptation to heat and also exercise intensity, but gives a general idea. As for salt levels of sweat, that’s more difficult to measure. But if you leave salt patches on your dark jerseys after a shorter ride in the heat, you probably are a salty sweater.

4 – Fuelling! In the heat, we use more carbohydrates, so be sure to bring extra carb sources for that on the bike fuelling. If doing longer rides or high intensity, aim for ~60grams/hour in food or drink form.

5 – Heart Rate (HR). For those that use HR to gauge their training zones, be aware that in the heat your heart rate will likely increase relative to power. So at 200 watts, 120 BPM may now be 130 BPM. Also greater cardiac drift is a common thing to see when training in very hot weather. So if you start the ride at 200 watts and 130 BPM, you might finish it >140 BPM.

6 – Take a break. If you really feel the heat getting to you, find some shade, eat and drink, and get going when you’ve cooled down a bit. Although you ideally don’t want to interrupt your endurance training rides, if the heat gets too much for you then it is vital to give your body a chance to cool down.

7 – Ride early. The sun is at its highest come midday, but the temperature continues to rise beyond then. Best to get out earlier in the day and have your ride done and dusted before it gets even hotter. Or given it’s a red weather warning, train indoors or take rest day and stay cool. You could do more harm than good if you push it.

Session of the week #1: 20/40s – Just how hard can 20 sec intervals be? [50 mins]

Do if… you’re looking to boost your high-end power – whether that’s for races, Strava segments or as a HIIT-style workout

(Link to original article on Cycling Weekly)

This is a classic cycling training session used by many coaches for riders doing events such as criteriums, track races, or road races where the effort level required changes frequently due to changes in pace of the bunch, attacks, and sprinting out of corners.

It consists of a 10 minute progressive warm up, 10 x 20 second hard efforts, followed by 40 seconds of easy recovery. Then, a 10 minute rest before repeating the first block again. Finally a 10 minute cool down.

These intervals can be fitted into an indoor cycling session less than an hour long so are quite manageable to fit into even a busy schedule with limited training time.

Due to the high intensity nature of the 20 second efforts, your heart rate response from these efforts for the 10 minute block will be more like a sweetspot or sub-threshold effort – even with those 40 seconds of rest. For some, this is easier than doing a solid 10 minutes of threshold. 


The main benefits of this session is that it will help to increase the amount of power you can put out over your threshold, helping you improve your climbing on punchy ascents and following attacks in races. It’ll also increase your repeatability of these efforts, helping you stay up there hill after hill and corner after corner.


Another way of explaining why these intervals are so good for events like Crits is that they help improve your ‘Watts Prime (W’)’. This is the amount of energy above Critical Power (CP) that we can use and recharge. Basically if ‘W’ is a battery, then these efforts can help increase the size of that battery. Critical Power is an alternative to FTP for setting training zones, find out how to get your numbers and use them in our explainer on Critical Power here.

They also help with building resistance to fatigue generated by inorganic phosphate (Pi) production. This occurs with changes of pace from an easy intensity to a harder one. As the initial increase of power uses the phosphocreatine (PCr) pathway to produce energy quickly, your aerobic and anaerobic pathways will then be providing the rest of the energy. 

The issue is that using the PCr pathway leaves metabolites – in this case Pi – which can affect muscle contractile function, and therefore our ability to contract the muscles and produce power. But by training like this we can increase our capacity to remove Pi and thus experience less fatigue.

Additionally, active recovery (easy spinning) has been found to be better at removing Pi from the muscles and resynthesise it into phosphocreatine than no pedalling at all. So a way to make this session harder would be no pedalling in the 40 seconds rest.


The 20 second efforts shouldn’t be performed maximally from the start. If you do that, then about halfway through the 10 minute block you will start to really feel it and regret it. Your power will also start dropping off and you won’t gain the full benefits of the session.

Consistency is key. So stick to the prescribed effort level of 140 to 150 per cent of Critical Power and the intervals will feel steadily harder as the session goes on.

Another thing will be getting in the right gear for the efforts. In ERG mode this is easily done, but if performing the session in Level mode or outdoors, then gear selection is key. Choose one that you can start pedalling at, perhaps this is a cadence around 80 RPM, and then increase as the effort continues.


With the blocks being only 10 minutes long, these can be done quite easily outside in most places. Ideally you want a stretch of road that is flat or undulating, minimal tight corners, and no junctions. 

These can be done uphill, but bear in mind that recovery will likely be at a higher power output due to being on a climb so will make the session harder and maybe limit power output during the 20 second efforts. 

As with any outdoor efforts, it is good to know the stretch of road well so you are aware of any hazards such as potholes or gravelly corners. For riding outdoors, you can also increase the duration of the warm up and cool down around the efforts, as well as the 10 minutes easy riding in-between blocks. The key thing is getting the 10 minute blocks of 20/40s done spot on.

Stay tuned for next week’s session, we’ll be bringing you a fresh new workout every Monday. 

In the meantime you can find more indoor cycling sessions for turbo training here, sessions specifically if you only have 30 minutes spare to work out here, and training plans for beginners, intermediates and racers here.