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Coach's Column: Maximizing Power and Fitness on the Singlespeed

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |May 8, 2013 1:28 AM
Coach's Column with Lynda Wallenfels - Singlespeed Training: Maximizing Power and Fitness for Singlespeed Riding

Question: I’m a cat 1 cross country racer who up until recently rides/races mainly single-speed 29ers, even in geared events. Recently, I built up a 1 x 6 using 32T chain ring and 12 -23 range out back on SS specific hub. I plan on doing more geared events this year using this setup. I understand that training for SS events is different than geared. Would you consider my 1 x 6 to be more like a SS or a fully geared bike? My racing will be mainly in New England where the terrain can be hilly with very few long sustained climbs, mostly the short punchy type. Race duration is generally up to 2.5 hours in length. How would you structure a training program around this type of setup?  I have both a SS and my 1 x 6 to train with.


Answer: Training for racing with a 32 tooth chain ring matched up to a 1 x 6-speed, 12-23T cassette will be more like training on a single-speed than a geared bike due to the limited gear ratio range. With the 32 x 12-23T set-up you will "run out of gears” at high and low speeds forcing you to ride single-speed style. The ability to ride at high force/low cadence (standing climbing, seated mashing) and low force/high cadence (rap and coast) must be trained like a single-speeder.

My first suggestion is to upgrade your 1 x 6-speed to 1 x 11-speed. With a 1 x 6-speed you have added the complexity and weight of a rear derailleur, cable and shifter without reaping the benefits of the wide range 11-speed 10-42T cassette. A 1 x 11-speed 10-42T set-up matched up to a 32 tooth front chain ring provides a wide enough gear ratio for normal geared type training.

I recommend structuring your program around a 12 week general preparation or base period early in the season followed by a 12 week specific preparation or build, peak and race period ending at your peak race.

Base training for single-speeders (and for 1 x 6-speed) should include aerobic base training and tempo training at high, medium and low cadence both in and out of the saddle plus strength training. Here are two sample training sessions for single-speeders in the base training period.

Aerobic base/low force/high cadence:   Session goal is to train the ability to rap and coast flat sections of a race course. Ride single-speed with a gear ratio designed to spend most of the ride on the high end to spun-out range of cadences when riding in heart rate zone 2 (power guidelines are not applicable to pace this workout). Warm up then ride a 30 minute interval with heart rate in zone 2. During this 30 min interval, repeatedly rap cadence up until you are spun-out, coast for a few seconds then rap again. Rap 'n coast continuously in heart rate zone 2 for 30 minutes without a break. Finish the ride time at an easy pace. 

Tempo/standing/low cadence:   Session goal is to train the ability to climb at low cadence while standing. This workout can be done with gears or single-speed. Warm up then ride 2 X 20 minutes in heart rate zone 3 or power level 3 standing out of the saddle, 40-60 rpm. The best course for the 20 min standing segment is a steady grade climb or a flat road into a headwind. Recover for about 10 minutes between intervals. Finish the ride time at an easy pace.

Build, peak and race training for single-speeders (and for 1 x 6-speed) should include race pace sessions in race specific terrain, high force VO2 max interval sessions uphill, threshold training uphill and neuromuscular power. Here are three sample training sessions for single-speeders in the base training period. 

Race pace practice:   Session goal is to train the ability to ride at race pace. Ride single-speed. Gradually warm up for 30 minutes, then ride hard and fast at cross country race pace on a hilly course for 90 minutes. You should see all power levels and lots of heart rate zone 3-5 time. You can enter a low priority cross-country race or a fast spirited group ride in place of this 90 min effort. Finish the ride time at an easy pace.

Power and strength:   Session goal is to drill and chill. Ride single-speed on a course with many small climbs. Warm up with steady heart rate zone 1-3 or power level 1-3 pedaling for 30 minutes. Then for the next 45 minutes ride easy on the flat and downhill segments in heart rate zone 1 or power level 1-2 and fast uphill. Drill it and ride powerfully up the climbs spiking power and heart rate. Challenge yourself with short steep hills. Put in some strong level 6 power efforts and work your legs hard. Be sure to take plenty recovery time and chill in between the hard efforts. Heart rate should drop to zone 1 on the flat and downhill segments. Finish the ride time at an easy pace.

Neuromuscular power:   Session goal is to train the ability to recover from power spikes while racing. Ride a geared bike. Warm up well then ride up a moderate grade 15 minute climb in heart rate zone 3 or power level 3 at 80-90 rpm cadence. At the top of every minute, shift to a gear that puts cadence under 40. Then, stand and hammer at near maximum effort. Get in the saddle as cadence rises and continue at max effort until cadence is 95 RPM or the effort has lasted 10 seconds - whichever comes first. If cadence hits 95 in under 5 seconds you'll need to shift up a gear. Continue this for 15 minutes for a total of 15 all out efforts. Do two of these 15 minute climbs with 10 + minutes recovery between. Finish the ride time at an easy pace.

Lynda Wallenfels is a Category 1 certified USA Cycling coach. She coaches mountain bike, cross country and endurance athletes to personal bests and national championships. Lynda has been coaching off-road athletes for 16 years and racing professionally for 18 years. Contact her through her website for information on mountain bike training plans, coaching and consulting at

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