For many cyclists, the daily ride to and from work is the best – and sometimes only – riding opportunity of the day. So why not use it for training, too?
- 10 steps to becoming a fitter, faster, better cyclist
- 5 steps to recover faster from a hard ride
- What's the best bike for cycle commuting?
We’re not suggesting you take risks on the road, but by mixing up the pace, effort and intensity of your ride, while keeping safety paramount, you can turn a commute into a great training session.
Riding through urban traffic is inevitably stop-start, so use this to your training advantage with high-intensity speed and power intervals. Don’t ride through red lights - use them and other forced stops for trackstand practice and sprint starts.
All interval repetitions improve lactic acid tolerance and will recruit and train your fast-twitch, glycolytic muscle fibres – the ones that don’t need oxygen from the lungs to function.
Raising your lactate threshold will help you go harder and further before lactate builds up in the muscles quicker than you can clear it and tiredness sets in. Fast twitch muscle fibres are not just for sprinting but also for when you’re exhausted and digging deep on those big one-day challenge rides.
Here are five workouts you can do on your daily bicycle commute.
1. Sprint training
While interval ‘reps’ will increase your ability to rise to tough challenges, sprint repetitions increase flat-out speed. The difference is in the length of recovery between efforts – with the sprints you should leave between five and 20 minutes between bursts, whether that’s a sprint up through the gears from the lights, or chasing down that fakenger on a singlespeed up ahead. But as intervals are a series of all-out efforts with short recovery periods in between, this could be a series of lights or junctions that you sprint away from.
2. Fartlek intervals
Alternatively, let the traffic and road conditions dictate the timing and duration of your sprints. Translating as ‘speed play’, the fartlek interval workout relies on randomly occurring and lasting efforts at about 80 percent of your maximum (where safe) and works your body’s aerobic and anaerobic systems.
On a commute, this might mean sprinting away from lights or junctions, trying to keep up with traffic for 30 seconds before backing off and sitting up, or until the next red light or jam makes you stop. Repeat this in series of three to five sprints, varying the length of sprint and the length of recovery in between.
3. Cadence intervals
In any of the above sprint exercises, stop changing up the gears early as you speed up and add the extra pace with extra pedalling speed. Stay seated and concentrate on keeping your upper body stable to avoid rocking or bouncing.
Spin up to above 100rpm, or about 10 percent higher than your normal pedalling cadence. This workout improves your core strength, pedalling technique and cadence at all speeds. It’ll improve your endurance and acceleration, too.
4. Big gear intervals
Pushing high-resistance gears for repeated intervals, even at lower speeds and on the flat, will build leg strength, but beware of how your manoeuvrability will be affected in traffic.
5. The Food Chain Number game
Be honest, no one likes being overtaken or ‘dropped’, and this is the origin of the Food Chain Number game. According to ChrisLS on the now 3061-page-long thread Silly Commuting Racing in the Commuting section of our forum, the FCN game is defined as this: "Dropping/pulling anyone higher in the Food Chain Number makes you stronger and more attractive. Getting dropped or trying and failing to keep up with anyone lower means your soul hires a kudos remover to lower your self worth."
The full ranking system is on the thread, from scooters at the top to shopping bikes with baskets at the bottom. There are also FCN adjusters which add shame or kudos points to your ranking such as being overtaken by a beard, or overtaking someone with aerobars or Lycra.