Work off Christmas Dinner with lactate threshold training workouts

Weather too grim to get out there riding on the roads? No problem! Here’s an indoor cycle work out and tracklist to keep you building fitness and burning off the mince pies this holiday season. You’ll need a bike that displays your power output and access to the Spotify tracklist below.

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It’s a nice and simple workout – nothing too confusing to get your holiday-brain head around. But don’t be fooled by its simplicity, it’s certainly not an easy workout. The workouts aim to raise your FTP (see below) meaning that you’ll be able to go harder, for longer, before you get too tired and need to reduce your power.

The workouts – summary

This is a series of workouts that get harder as you go on, so that you continue to build fitness. Judge where you should start (you might be fit enough to start a few workouts in) and then build up each week. If it’s been a hard week with too much eating and drinking and not much training, or you found the last workout too hard, then you might want to repeat a workout before you progress to the next one.

Warm up: 10 min, including some fast sprints on an easy gear

Workout 1: 3 x 7 mins (at 80-95% of FTP) with 3 min recovery between each block.

  • Recovery is just nice gentle spinning, keep your legs moving, but don’t work hard. Do make sure you take the recovery, otherwise you won’t be able to work at the right intensity in the next block (if you can, then the workout is too easy, move on to the next one).
  • Cadence stays at 90 rpm. Set the gear so that when pedalling at 90 rpm you are in the right power zone for your FTP.

Workout 2: 3 x 9 mins (at 80-95% of FTP) with 4 min recovery
3: 3 x 12 mins (at 80-95% of FTP) with 6 min recovery
4: 3 x 15 mins (at 80-95% of FTP) with 7 min recovery
5: 4 x 15 mins (at 80-95% of FTP) with 7 min recovery
6: 3 x 20 mins (at 80-95% of FTP) with 10 min recovery
7: 4 x 20 mins (at 80-95% of FTP) with 10 min recovery 

(NB depending on how you are structuring the rest of your training you’ll probably want to take a rest week where you reduce the intensity at some point, and retest your FTP to check if your zones have changed).

The tracklist:

All the songs in this tracklist are around 90rpm so once you’ve set the gear, so long as you follow the beat and don’t change the gear, then you should be in the right power zone. (they’re not in any order, just stick it on shuffle). – Spotify 90 rpm tracklist

The workout – more detail

You’re going to be holding a cadence (the number of times one pedal turns round each minute) of 90 rpm* for the whole work out. And you’re going to keep the same gear for the whole workout for the whole work out (except recovery). Simples, no?!

Now the hard bit – you’re going to do the whole ride (except for recoveries) at 80-95% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).

Put simply your FTP is a measure of the maximum power you can put out before the lactate (a by-product of exercise at high intensity) begins to accumulate in your blood faster than you can flush it out, and you get that familiar heavy burning feeling that you causes you to slow down. By training at or around your FTP you’ll be able to raise that threshold so that, as your body get more efficient at dealing with the lactate,  you’ll be able to go harder for longer. It’s a crucial key to your training, both so you can ensure you are training at the right level, and so you can track your progress. Read more about FTP and how to test it here.

If you know your FTP, calculate 80-95% of it and line up the tracklist. Jump on a stationary bike (turbo trainer with power meter or indoor training bike) and after your warm up, start pedalling at 90rpm, and work out the right resistance/ level / gear to ensure you are in the target power range of 80-95% of your FTP.

Then press play – the tracklist is made up of songs that are all around 90 rpm (there’s a few just below, and a few more at 92 and 94 rpm) so use beat of the music to keep your cadence steady at around 90rpm, and (so long as you don’t touch the gear!) you should stay in the right zone. Don’t worry too much about the exact rpm, out on the road you wouldn’t hold an exact cadence, it’s just a guide. (You don’t need to hold the cadence on the recoveries).

Don’t know your FTP?

If you want to find your FTP then you’ll need a bike that records your average power for a work out. After a good warm up, pedal as hard as you can at a sustained power for 20 mins (for example see the 20 minute test on a Watt Bike) and then work out 95% of your power average for the 20 mins For more detail, see Joe Friel, the daddy of triathlon training.

If you don’t have the chance to work out your FTP then you want to be riding at around a 6/10 to 7/10 effort. This is a bit harder to judge because what feels easy enough at the beginning of the work out will feel a lot harder by the end. I’d say probably start at (an easy) 6/10, then make sure you stick to the same watts through the workout. By the second interval it should be beginning to feel more like 7/10, or even worse by the end.

Want to spice it up?

If you’re getting bored, or feeling guilty about an extra helping of Christmas dinner, you can throw in a 5 second sprint every 2-3 minutes, then go back to 90rpm for the rest of the interval.

Why 90 rpm?

Firstly, because sticking at one cadence means you don’t have to worry about constantly changing gear and checking you’re in the right zone, meaning you can instead concentrate on the workout and your technique.

But the main reason is to get you used to riding at 90rpm – which is generally recognised as an effective cadence for racing. Many people, especially beginners, tend to ride with quite a low (less than 90) cadence, pushing a heavier gear to get the power. But this will stress the muscles more, meaning that your muscles will fatigue quicker and over the long term, you could be straining vulnerable joints such as your knees. Riding with a higher cadence (around 90) will be working your lungs harder but save your muscles.

That’s not to say that you should stick religiously to 90 rpm the whole time, cadence will obviously vary depending on the gradient, there’s definite advantages to training at different cadences, and there’s always variability between different riders (Google Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and cadence for a famous example). And you don’t have to do all the workouts at 90 rpm, so long as you stick to the watts.

Give it a go, hope you have ‘fun’ with it, let me know how you get on.

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