How to prepare for your first time trial

WattBike's lead scientist advises you on how to progress

Are you looking to do your first time trial? We've enlisted Wattbike's lead sports scientist Eddie Fletcher to explain what extra training you should do to give it your best.

If you've followed a training plan for a sportive then your baseline training will be the foundation upon which to build. I prefer a 12-week preparation period towards a first time trial: two progressive four-week phases with duration and intensity increasing, then a final four-week phase including tapering.

Training for a time trial: a plan

Each week consists of three road rides and two specific turbo trainer sessions. Two of the road rides are pure base training, and in the first four weeks will range from two to three hours, increasing in the second phase.

Element 1: Road rides

These rides are in training zones 1 to 2 (60-75% of maximum heart rate, see here for details) with an occasional foray into zone 3 (75-82% of maximum heart rate). This is excellent for developing oxygen utilisation and will result in more power for the same effort.

The third road ride is more specific, using flat terrain to sustain riding at zone 3. Be careful on duration in the early weeks, but building these rides from one to two hours will improve your ability to sustain power (speed) over a prolonged period.

Element 2: Turbo trainer sessions

You'll need a turbo trainer for this training plan to work properly
You'll need a turbo trainer for this training plan to work properly

The first turbo trainer session is intervals of 10 to 20 minutes at the transition of zone 3 (75-82% MHR) and zone 4 (82-89% MHR). Over the 12-week phase, move from zone 3/4 into zone 4 and eventually do 20mins at the top of zone 4.

The key to this session is the selection of the correct gear/resistance and cadence (95-100rpm), and the precision of the riding. Zone 4 riding builds sustainable race pace and is useful during tapering or pre-competition periods, but take one of your two rest days after this – recovery is key.

The second indoor session consists of short powerful intervals at zone 4 to 5 (82-94% MHR). The intervals should range from two to five minutes with 50 percent active recovery between intervals.

For example, 10x2mins with 1min rest between intervals in the early weeks through to 6x5mins with 3mins rest between intervals by week 10.

Training for a time trial: an example

A typical week might look like this:

  • Day one: Long ride 2-3hrs at Zone 1-2
  • Day two: First turbo trainer session, long intervals at Zone 3-4
  • Day three: Road ride 1-2hrs at Z3, or a rest day
  • Day four: Reverse of day three
  • Day five: Long ride 2-3hrs at Zone 1-2
  • Day six: Second turbo trainer session, short intervals at Zone 4
  • Day seven: Rest day
As we follow the 12-week plan, the first four-week phase at a lower intensity than the second four-week block, finishing with a four-week tapering phase.

Advanced tip: Taper and recover

Build in recovery time to your training plan
Build in recovery time to your training plan

The transition from spring into summer is sometimes difficult as it assumes that a full winter baseline training plan has been followed.

So often I find that spring has been the start of baseline training where volume is increasing when it should be reducing. Certainly spring to summer tends to be the start of the racing season where taper and recovery sessions become the key priority.

During the transition from spring's baseline training to summer's full-gas racing, taper and recovery sessions become the key priority. The real message of this advice is twofold; first of all it is too late to work on base preparation once you get into spring and summer, and second, make sure taper and recovery is built into your training plan.

Beginner's tip: be realistic, train as hard as you can rest

Make sure you rest and sleep well during your training periods
Make sure you rest and sleep well during your training periods

Don't forget to eat, hydrate and sleep well during training, and adapt your training to match the time you have available because you can only train as hard as you can rest. Take account of your busy work and family life.

Balance is the key to staying fit and healthy, and to avoiding injury, illness and the problem of over-training.

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