According to Chris Carmichael, coach to Lance Armstrong and author of The Time-Crunched Cyclist (Velo Press), endurance and race ﬁtness can be achieved with as few as four intense workouts a week, plus an hour-or-so weekend ride.
“In the absence of time, intensity is the key to performance,” says Carmichael, whose latest training program for the time-pressed is based on only six hours of training per week.
Carmichael’s high-intensity, low volume training programme concentrates on workouts between your lactate threshold – the limit at which your demand for energy outstrips your aerobic system’s ability to deliver it – and at your VO2 max – the exercise intensity at which your body can no longer absorb and burn any more oxygen.
Intervals in their many forms are the key to high intensity, low volume training, with as many sets performed as you can manage, roughly every other lunchtime, separated by endurance pace riding – also known as active recovery. This equates to about 65-75% of your max HR and is the kind of group riding intensity where you could still hold a conversation (if you weren’t recovering from an almost all-out interval effort).
Steady state intervals
Warm up, then gradually pick up pace to LT HR (see below) and hold for 5mins. Rest for 2mins at endurance pace. Keep a good pedalling cadence of 85-95rpm throughout but prioritise a steady intensity over cadence during the interval. Repeat this pattern four times.
Set the lower zone alarm on your heart rate monitor 8bpm below your LT HR and the upper alarm 5bpm above it. Warm up, then increase speed and intensity until the upper alarm sounds, then gradually slow down until the lower alarm sounds (about 2mins per ascent and descent). Do sets of five, increasing the length of the interval and repetitions as you get ﬁtter or until you run out of lunchtime.
Sub-lactate tempo Warm up, then build your effort until within 5-10% of LT HR and maintain for 5-10 miles, depending on your ﬁtness. Push a slightly bigger gear than usual, so your cadence is roughly 70-75rpm. Recover at endurance pace and cadence.
Eating for your workouts
Eat a low-fat, high-carb snack a good hour before your lunchtime session: a fruit ﬂapjack with whole rolled oats, or a low-fat sandwich. Ideally, it will be completely digested by the time you start training. Sip a litre of water over the morning at your desk.
Ingest roughly 1g of carbohydrate per minute of exercise to maintain normal blood glucose levels. So sip a 600ml energy drink of roughly 10% carbohydrate concentration, as this will keep you properly hydrated too.
As soon as you’re off your bike, bolt a flapjack or a banana. It’s vital you get easily-absorbed carbs into your body in this 15-minute ‘window’ when your body is most efﬁcient at replenishing glycogen stores. Back at your desk, eat a pasta or couscous salad. A sandwich with meat or cheese and salad will see you right to dinner, too. Sip a litre of water throughout the afternoon.
Glossary of terms
In practice, lactate threshold (LT) is the intensity you can maintain during a long climb, a breakaway or a time-trial effort; the point at which conversation with other riders becomes very difficult. Beyond your LT, your muscles start to work anaerobically, and the by-product of this is lactic acid. As this accumulates in your muscles, it starts to shut down the metabolic mechanisms within the muscle cells themselves, at which point you’re on a one-way street to exhaustion.
LT self test
Warm up, then record your time and average heart rate over a 10m time trial at the fastest pace and intensity you can sustain. This is a good approximation for your lactate threshold heart rate (LT HR).