Training for Speed and Power: Avoid This One Big Build Phase Mistake

Categories: Strength Training, Training Programs, Training Tips, Training with Heart Rate, Training with Power, and Uncategorized.
You’ve built yourself an impressive aerobic engine from a solid Base Training program. But that’s not all you need to do. Now it’s time to turn up the wick and convert that endurance into speed and power. That’s what the Build Phase is meant to do. In this blog post we teach you how to do it.

Base Phase

You’ve been working on acquiring general fitness which includes aerobic endurance, muscular force and speed, and have started working on muscular endurance. Base Phase focuses on building the foundation applicable to biking events generally. That changes significantly in the build period.

What’s different in the Build Phase?

Build Phase takes the general purpose aerobic engine you’ve built in the Base Phase and turbocharges it by targeting your training to meet the specific demands of your target events.
However, it’s not just about working harder and longer. That can easily be a recipe for burnout, leading to injury and illness. When training for road races, time trials and mountain bike events, intensity of training increases to improve speed and power as volume decreases slightly, to keep training stress manageable. For ultra-endurance events the opposite may occur.
So what should training look like in the build phase? That will depend on the demands of the target events compared with your personal strengths and weaknesses.

Avoid this one big Build Phase mistake

The number one mistake people make in their preparation is failing to assess their strengths and weaknesses against the demands of the race.
It sounds obvious, but it is surprising how many fail to devote enough time in their training to being prepared for the most difficult or decisive part of the event.
Build Phase

During your Build Phase you may need to be a little antisocial for a few weeks

It’s not much having good anaerobic endurance from the rolling climbs on the weekend group ride, when the course is dominated by three steep 10%+ grades that take 20 minutes to climb. Even if the total altitude gain is the same you’ll soon blow up and be deep in the hurt box.

The converse is also true. If you train for long climbs and the course has rolling climbs you will get dropped when everyone goes anaerobic on the bergs. If the course is flat or you’re crit racing you will be either miss the decisive breakaway or be left behind in the sprint at the end.

This means you may just need to be a little bit anti-social for a few weeks and direct your attention to plugging those gaps. You can return to being more social when your target event is done.

Cross training, if you are still doing some, yields to bike-specific training. Weight training continues, but is modified substantially and falls into strength maintenance mode.

Equipment

If you are starting completely from scratch I recommend purchasing a GPS bike computer that records altitude If you don’t already have one. This will enable you to record your own rides for uploading to Strava and Training Peaks.

A power meter is extremely beneficial if the budget can stretch that far.

First steps to designing your Build Phase program

The first thing to do is to get hold of the course elevation profile and compare it with your recent riding. If one is not available and the course is unchanged from previous years, searching on Strava for the previous edition will be informative.

How does the course compare to your normal riding and training diet?

* Does the course have short, punchy rolling climbs? Do your regular weekend rides look like this? If not you may need to focus more on building anaerobic endurance.

* Does it have long steady climbs? Have you been including these in your recent riding? If not, muscular endurance might need more emphasis.

* Is it mostly flat? You might need to work on boosting steady-state functional threshold power if there are no downhills on which to recover.  If it’s a mountain bike course, cornering skills to stay off the brakes become more critical, and the ability to reel off repeated medium length sprints out of corners may need work. You might also need to work on anaerobic endurance to force a selection, or to stay with the group when someone else tries to force a selection on you.

Basic Athletic Abilities

Joe Fiel’s Training Bible series talks about six major physical abilities that apply to training and racing, and they are aerobic endurance, muscular force, speed skills, muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance and sprint power. For mountain bikers, bike handling skills are vital and sit over the basic six, while for road bike racers, bunch riding and racecraft likewise likewise become critical. They will be the subject of future articles.

Below are the typical physical abilities to focus on the build period by discipline

Roadies:

  • Muscular endurance
  • Anerobic endurance
  • Sprint power

Time Trial

  • Muscular endurance
  • Anaerobic endurance

Mountain Bike

  • Muscular endurance
  • Anaerobic endurance
You will also need to do maintenance workouts for the aerobic endurance and muscular force capabilities you built in the Base phases so they are not lost. These are typically done once a week or so, sometimes during cool-down (eg, pedalling speed drills) combined with other workouts to maintain and retain those abilities.
Build Phase workouts will frequently combine multiple abilities, such as anaerobic endurance intervals, followed by muscular endurance workouts. Mountain bikers can also venture out on the road bike.

Recovery

Many of these workouts become quite tough, both physically and psychologically, so it is important therefore to allow proper recovery to put you in a state to hit the next workout with the required intensity.
A common mistake, and I have done it too, is to go too hard in the easy workouts thinking that more is better. It isn’t. The workout provides the training stress but the fitness gains are crystallised as the body adapts during recovery. The harder the tough workouts the easier the easy ones must be, otherwise the intense workouts can’t be done intensely enough and improvement plateaus.

Sample Build Phase workout plan for a mountain biker

Day
Build 1
Base 2
Recovery
Monday
Recovery ride (optional)
Recovery ride (optional)
Recovery ride (optional)
Tuesday
Explosive Jumps
Hill Sprints
Explosive Jumps
Hill Sprints
Crit Sprints
Recovery ride
Wednesday
Endurance ride 2.5-4 hrs zone 2
Endurance ride 2-3 hrs zone 2
Spin-ups,
Single leg drills
Fixie
Technique Sprints
MTB skills
Thursday
Low Cadence Hill Rpts
Cruise Intervals
Hill Cruise Intervals
Cruise Intervals
Hill Cruise Intervals
Unders and Overs
Threshold
Recovery ride
Friday
Recovery ride
MTB Skills
Recovery ride
MTB Skills
Recovery ride
Saturday
Anaerobic Endurance Intervals,
Pyramid Intervals
Hill Intervals, or
Race/Race Simulation
Anaerobic Endurance Intervals,
Pyramid Intervals
Hill Intervals, or
Race/Race Simulation
Sunday
Endurance ride 2.5-4 hours
Hilly Endurance* ride 2.5-4 hours
Endurance ride 2.5-4 hours

Build Phase Workout Descriptions

Anaerobic Endurance Intervals

On a mostly flat road or fire trail with no stops and light traffic, complete 4 to 6 intervals of three to five minutes at a high cadence – 100 or more. Intensity is in the VO2 Max zone, meaning as much power as you can normally sustain for six minutes, except we are not going that long. Recovery is at the lowest effort you can do while keeping the legs turning over. Recovery length is the same as the work interval.

Pyramid Intervals

As for Anerobic Endurance, except the intervals are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 minute long. Intensity is in the VO2 Max zone (zone 5). Recovery time is the same as the previous work interval.

Hill Intervals

After a thorough warmup, find a steep preferably off-road ascent that takes around 3 minutes. Do 4-6 climbs and stay seated using a higher cadence than you would normally use for a climb. Recover by spinning down the hill and at the bottom for 3 minutes. 9 to 18 minutes of total climbing per workout. Power output is in the high threshold to mid-high VO2 Max.

Low Cadence Hill Repeats

Find a hill with steep grades (8% or more) that takes one to 2 minutes to climb. Stay seated and select gears that are slightly higher than you would normally use so that cadence is between 50 and 60rpm.

Cruise Intervals

On a relatively flat road course, fire trail or indoor trainer, complete 3 to 5 intervals that are each 6 to 12 minutes long. Intensity should be in zone 4 and cadence around 100rpm. Recover for 2 to 3 minutes between each work interval at a very low heart rate or power output. Coasting while recovering is fine.
The first cruise interval workout of the program should total between 20 and 30 minutes of effort (eg, 4 x 6 minutes). Increase weekly.

Hill Cruise Intervals

These are the same as Cruise Intervals, but done on a long 2 to 4% climb.  Prepare your body by completing two or three Cruise Interval sessions on the flat before starting on the hills.

Unders and Overs

This is the same as Cruise Intervals except you switch between high zone 4 and high zone 5 (Threshold and Anerobic Endurance) every 30 seconds.

Hilly Endurance

Select a route that includes several moderate hills that take several minutes to climb. Stay seated on all climbs, pedalling from the hips at 60rpm or greater. Select gears that keep you in the high tempo to mid-threshold output range (High zone 4 to mid-zone 5)

Hill Sprints

Early in the workout ofter being thoroughly warmed up,, go to a moderate hill and do 8-12 sprins of 8-10 seconds each. Use a flyig start and take about 5 seconds ro so to build power on the flat approach while standing. Climb by applying maximal force to the pedals with a high cadence. Heart rate is irrelevant. Recover for 5 minutes between sprints at a very low intensity. Focus on good form.

Crit Sprints

After a thorough warm-up, find an off-road short loop course with several tight corners and do six to nine sprints of 25 to 30 seconds duration. You should include one or more corners on each spring and concentrate on powerful pedalling while taking the most effective line through each corner. Power exertion is what you can maximally sustain for one minute, except we’re doing it for a shorter period. Recover by spinning easily for 5 minutes.

Technique sprints

After a thorough warmup and early in the ride, find a slight downhill and do 6-10 sprints with several minutes recovery in between each. These are done only for practicing technique, so choose a low gear and ensure no bouncing on the saddle. Go up a gear if you start to bounce. Power output is what you would normally exert for a maximal effort for 1 minute, except we’re only doing it for 10 seconds. Heart rate is irrelevant because the intervals are so short: the heart doesn’t have time to respond until the work period is over. Do this workout on your own away from other riders.

Single Leg Drills.

These are best done with an indoor trainer. Pedal with one leg at a cadence of 80-100rpm with your other foot rested on a chair, while focussing on smoothing out the dead spots in your stroke. Change legs when you start to fatigue. Power output is low and not really important for this workout. Do several repetitions.

Spin-Ups

Do these while coasting on a downhill, with a tailwind, or the indoor trainer with low load. Every 5 minutes gradually increase cadence to maximum over a period of 30 seconds or so. Maximum means the highest cadence you can sustain without bouncing in the saddle. Allow lower legs, feet and toes to relax. Cadence monitoring is helpful. Don’t worry about power or heart rate.

Endurance

Use a rolling route with grades that allow you to stay at zone 2. Stay seated seated on the uphills at the high end of your normal cadence range. Can be done with a disciplined group or on an indoor trainer using gears to mimic the effect of rolling hills.

Recovery

Ride on a flat course, or in a trainer on rollers if you live in a hilly area, at zone 1 using the small chainring. Spinning for 15-30 minutes hastens recovery for most experienced riders. New riders are better taking time off the bike and resting.

Sources:

The Mountain Biker’s Training Bible, Joe Friel.

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