This article was produced in partnership with Zwift
It’s barely February, but road racing season is upon us. It’s time to start tuning your body and mind to work longer and further around the threshold. In other words, it’s time to get used to suffering.
Interval sessions are often frowned upon because of the pain they bring, but they also provide you with focused fitness gains like no other…the question you have to ask yourself is, how big do you want the gains?
In the third in this series of articles on the best structured workouts on Zwift, coach Deena Blacking of Transmission.cc focuses our attention on the classic unpleasant but efficient threshold: training below. This type of training is available in various forms on Zwift, but Deena put the GravelBikes.Online staff at Ben Bathurst through one of the most interesting versions: a 40-minute interval session called “The Bernal” of the training ground virtual of Ineos Grenadiers.
Before you take a closer look at training, here’s a quick reminder for your own training selection process: Whenever you’re looking for a training session, ask yourself four key questions:
(1) What is the fitness goal?
(2) How much time do you have?
(3) How much variety do you need in a workout to stay motivated?
(4) How hard do you want it to be?
What is training? in detail
Overtraining is an interval session that keeps you working hard around your functional threshold power (FTP) for reasonably long intervals, either “above” or below your FTP. ‘The Bernal’ is an excellent workout underneath because it develops your endurance around the FTP as well as improves leg strength with low cadence work.
Read more: What is FTP and how do I use it?
After a 12-minute warm-up, he takes on two 9-minute blocks of over-under. Each 9 minute block is split into 3 sets of 2 minutes under and 1 minute over FTP. Every 1 minute is a double stroke, as well as for FTP, it is also at a lower cadence (75 rpm). Don’t be fooled: 3 x 1 minute may not seem like much, but over the course of the 9 minute block, but your legs say
otherwise as the pain builds up. According to Ben: “It was a tough workout, especially not having done many intervals this year. You definitely need a sweat towel handy!”
If you decide to try this training, you can guarantee these three advantages:
Increased ability to sustain threshold efforts
When you do the Zwift FTP Ramp Review, it uses your best one-minute power to calculate your theoretical FTP. Theory is one thing; unfortunately, the reality is different. You have to spend time working around that uncomfortable zone, your anaerobic threshold, to be able to sustain that kind of effort.
The intervals below are an excellent method to develop this. They pull and push your body around the limits of its capacity, giving you just a little “below” threshold relief when you start to think that the “above” threshold range is unsustainable. This type of training is strenuous and should be saved for a maximum of one or two days a week when you feel fresher. Ben learned this the hard way, having to DNF his first attempt. “I tried to do this workout last week,” Ben explained. “But I was at the end of several words of practice and it was the day after a night… I barely got through the first set!”
High strength production – good for climbing, attacks, time trials and off-road
The power you produce is the product of two key inputs: how hard you push the pedals (force) and how fast you turn the pedals (cadence). This means you can often increase your cadence to increase your power. Easy! Except when it isn’t. When you’re climbing on a bike, for example, increasing your cadence can only take you so far. This is where having strong legs is crucial to your cycling fitness. So it’s important to make sure some aspect of your training addresses leg strength. The Bernal gives you exactly that.
The over-geared parts of this work also take place at a high intensity (‘over’ FTP), which means that a greater proportion of the leg muscles will be switched to deliver the required power than if it were at a level of ‘inferior effort.
Excellent return on investment for your effort; good if you don’t have the time of a professional
The Bernal is a great workout because it incorporates high torque efforts into an already demanding session. do this, while working on the threshold. It’s only 40 minutes long, but you’re pedaling the whole time and working hard and with specificity for more than half of the workout. For anyone who is not a pro, time efficiency should be a key consideration in your plans to improve your endurance fitness. Also, the power levels specific to lower interval training are much easier to achieve in the controllable environment of an indoor training session. The added twist of low-cadence work is the cherry on top of an already excellent workout.
One last pro tip: stretch and strengthen to prevent knee pain
Low cadence work is effective for developing strong legs, but it can also lead to knee pain if your body isn’t robust enough to tolerate the higher forces. As a conscientious trainer, I gave Ben a health warning: “The Bernal has low cadence work, so it should only be performed if you (and your knees!) are comfortable with it.”
Low-cadence work on an indoor stationary trainer can also exacerbate potential knee problems, since the position is more static than going outdoors. For many athletes, knee pain comes from a variety of causes. Fortunately, it can also be prevented with a complementary strength and conditioning program.
Make sure you regularly stretch your quads, hips and lower back muscles before and after cycling.