Your training questions answered with Dig Deep Coaching: part eight

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Dear Dig Deep,

A time-trial training question. Is it better to start with longer intervals (i.e. 2 x 20min) and then progress to doing the ‘more but shorter’ 5 x 6 min. Or is it better to start with the 5 x 6 minutes, and then progress to doing the ‘less but longer’ 2 x 20min…?? And a secondary question – in terms of bang-for-buck, if I had to pick one of those sessions per week, which would it be?


I would suggest that you start with the lower intensity and long duration intervals if you are in the early part of your preparation for boosting your TT performance. It is important to build that lower range and really boost your aerobic engine as much as possible before hitting the harder and higher threshold efforts.

Again, depending on the phase of your preparation, it would be useful to perhaps include one session a week of the higher intensive efforts, even doing one session of 3×5 minutes at 105%-110% of FTP will help maintain your ability to ride at higher intensities before you go into a final phase to really boost it.

A great way to see your progress in the lower intensities is looking at how your heartrate reacts to the 20-minute efforts (85-90% of FTP approximately). On the presumption that you have a powermeter you can gauge how much your heartrate will drift over the 20-minutes and once you begin to see the HR ‘flat line’ better for the 20 minutes then you know you have adapted to this intensity and perhaps time to build the higher zones.

Using both HR and power data is a great way to measure progress and being able to reduce your cardiac drift over 20-minute efforts is a good indication of improvements and building fitness, even if your power has not yet increased. Once you start to see this progress then begin to build the higher zones which will hopefully see you gain new levels of fitness and a higher functional threshold power.

Answer by Stephen Gallagher

If you are in an endurance event, such as a triathlon, and you are wanting to focus on burning fat for fuel instead of carbs on the bike, would it be better to use a lower cadence to keep a lower heartrate or use a higher cadence to not fatigue the legs? Assuming that the rider is riding at 70-75% of FTP for this. Thanks!

Nathan Lesniewski

Hi Nathan,

Using a higher cadence can also increase the respiratory rate which in turn can lead to a higher HR, although different people can be better adapted to riding at these cadences so they have a lesser effect on their HR.

When your HR starts to rise excessively you will begin to burn more calories and require more glycogen to keep up the intensity at which you are cycling. I would suggest though that there is very little difference in the type of fuel needed for reasonably trained athletes if their cadence is 80-85rpm compared to 95-100rpm.

The critical area is the intensity you ride at and how efficient you are at riding at that intensity. This will come down to your nutrition and how you have trained yourself to use fat as a fuel by manipulating your nutrition and training to enhance this. This will play a far bigger part in the energy systems you use or the percentage of fat/sugar we use at a given intensity other that which cadence you use.

Cadence is an essential part of performance and can be trained and adapted depending on the event and terrain. I would suggest for longer events with a steady state effort that a cadence of 85-95rpm should be optimal for the majority of riders. This will depend on terrain of course but this range will help you use your aerobic system to power your ride and avoid using a lot of muscular force in lower cadences which will see you fatigue quicker.

Answer by Stephen Gallagher

I have recently started to use a power meter and lots of people have mentioned ‘sweet spot’ training. Can you please explain what this is and how many times a week you would do this?


Hi Ed,

Sweet Spot training is a zone between two zones. It’s basically the high end of Zone 3 and the lower end of Zone 4, somewhere between 88-93% of you functional threshold power. It’s a great place to train as it is not as fatiguing as doing full threshold efforts.

I would recommend doing 20-30 minute blocks within your rides 2-3 times per week if you are already at a good fitness level, or start by doing one session a week if you are starting at a lower fitness level. They are a great way to get fit quick but this sort of training needs to be complemented with other specific areas if you are aiming for road racing.

Good luck!

Answer by Dan Fleeman

I am a road rider with several years’ experience but I would like to extend my season this year and race cyclocross. How would you suggest I adapt my training?


Hi Joe,

With cyclocross it is important to adapt your training to cope with the variable nature of the racing. Cyclocross is very on and off with the power so you need to replicate this in training.

I would recommend making your training sessions similar to this by including lots of little on/off bursts. Sweet spot or threshold work is good but throw in a 15-second burst every 3-4 minutes to make it variable and slightly more specific to cross racing. Another classic session is 15 seconds on, 15 off for a total of 10 minutes. Two or three blocks should be plenty.

I would also reduce your total daily/weekly volume as the sessions are likely to be more intensive. It is easy to fall into a trap of continuing to do a larger volume as you may normally do in the off season and keep a high intensity for the cross racing. This will soon lead to lots of fatigue.

Hope this helps!

Answer by Dan Fleeman


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