Alison Dunlap is a certified Level II USAC Coach and has been working with athletes for five years. She runs a coaching business called Alison Dunlap Coaching, and has mountain bike camps in Moab, UT through the Alison Dunlap Adventure Camps. Alison is also a two-time Olympian, MTB World Champion, and 13-time National Champion. www.alisondunlap.com
Question: I am a good climber but I have a hard
time holding people off on the flats and open road sections. How do I get
faster and more powerful on the flats?
Answer: As we all know, being good at all parts of cycling is a challenge
and involves many hours on the bike doing a multitude of different
workouts. A really good climber is
typically not a great sprinter and vice versa. But a good climber can be strong and powerful on the flats
with some specific training.
To improve your
ability to ride on the flats, you have to improve your maximum sustainable
power output. If two cyclists of the same height and
weight ride from point A to point B, the rider that can generate more power over
that distance will be the faster rider.
It isnít just producing a lot of power that is important, it is being
able to sustain that power that makes you faster.
So how do you
improve your maximum sustainable power output? There are two good types of intervals that will accomplish
just this. First are maximal
steady state or maximum sustainable power intervals.
Maximal steady state is the
highest workload a person can maintain while his or her lactate levels remain
consistent, or in a steady state. On the bike this might be the highest
power you could sustain for an hour long race-pace effort. It isnít the absolute highest amount of
power you can generate at once, but the highest amount of power you can produce
over an extended period of time without blowing up. These intervals should be at least 10min to 30min in length,
with the same or greater amount of recovery. They are best done on a gradual climb, or a long flat
stretch of road with no interruptions.
The intensity level is considered Zone 4 or your lactate threshold heart
rate. These intervals can be 2-3
times a week for 4-6 weeks. Be
sure to give yourself ample recovery after these workouts. They are long and hard and take a lot
out of you.
What if you
donít know what Zone 4 is or your lactate threshold heart rate or power? Before doing any kind of training youíll
need to do a field test. Find a
long flat stretch of road without interruptions. Youíll need to do a good warm up before performing a field
test. Have a heart rate monitor
and/or power meter. You will be
doing a 30 minute time trial race pace effort. The goal of the test isnít to see the highest heart rate or
power you can achieve in 30 minutes, but to instead determine the highest average heart rate or power you can
sustain for the effort. Start your
timer at the beginning of the effort.
After the first 10 minutes start your heart rate monitor or power
meter. Make sure you are recording
data for the next 20 minutes.
After your test is finished you can go back and look at the average
heart rate and power for the 20 minute effort. That number is your lactate threshold. Zone 4 is a range of heart rates/power
a little below and above your lactate threshold. If your LT heart rate was 173bpm. Then Zone 4 might be 169-175 for example.
The second type
of interval youíll need to do to improve your power on the flats is called a
supermaximum sustainable power interval, or more simply a Vo2/Zone 5 interval. These are short and very intense and
are the kind of intervals that make your arms go numb and your stomach feel
like it might throw-up. The goal
of these intervals is to improve your ability to ride at nonsustainable work
rates or at a power level you normally couldnít tolerate for very long.
The efforts are
1-6 minutes in length with the same amount of recovery. The intensity level is as hard as you
can go. Itís a super hard race
pace effort. If your lactate
threshold heart rate was 173 you would do these efforts between a HR of
179-184. If your lactate threshold
power was 225 watts for example, your Zone 5/Vo2 efforts would be done between
250-350 watts. If youíve never
trained with power or heart rate and donít have any intention of doing so, then
look at the lactate threshold or MSP intervals as a "fairly hardĒ effort or on
a scale of 1-10, they would be an 8.
If you want to improve your strength on the flats, then do these efforts
on a flat road. If youíre looking
to improve your hill climbing, then do these up a long gradual climb. When doing these intervals you should
not be able to talk and you will be uncomfortable the entire time. It is an intensity level you could
maintain for a long climb. The Vo2
or SMSP intervals are considered "super hard I think Iím going to pukeĒ efforts
or on a scale of 1-10, they would be a 10. Again, chose flatter terrain to improve strength on the
flats. Go as hard as you possibly
can for 1-6 minutes and then recover.
Do a bunch of these during each workout and do the workout maybe 2-3 times a week.
As your training
progresses, you will want to increase the difficulty of these two types of intervals. To do that you can make each effort
longer, shorten the recovery in between, or increase the HR or power you do
each effort at. The only way you
get stronger is to force your body to make adaptations to a given stress. If the stress never changes, your body
will never get stronger. Push
yourself to make the intervals slightly harder each week you do them. With plenty of recovery in between
workouts your body will make the needed changes and come back stronger and
faster than when you started.
How do these fit
into a training plan? You will
need to have a good solid aerobic base before starting these intervals. Spend a few months doing long endurance
rides with some intensity thrown in on the weekends when you ride with friends
or do the local group ride. When
you have a decent level of fitness, do the MSP or lactate threshold/Zone 4
training first and it should last between 4-6 weeks. Then do the SMSP or Vo2/Zone 5 training next and it should
also last between 4-6 weeks.
goal of all of this is to improve your ability to ride hard on the flats. To do that you must improve your power
output. Doing these two types of
intervals will increase your power output making you stronger and faster on the
bike. It is a painful investment
but the reward is well worth it!