Time trial training can be an experience in tremendous suffering but it’s not nearly as painful as showing up for a time trial under-prepared. Some tips on positioning on the bike and a few key interval workouts will put you on the right path to flying through the time checks at the top of the classification.
Ride Your Bike
The first and by far the most important step to going fast on your time trial bike is to ride it. A lot of riders have a time trial bike that they dust off a couple of times a year for a time trial in a stage race and then hang them back up. You should be riding the bike a couple of times A WEEK, not year, if you want to be efficient. Some of the days on your time trial bike can be easy and some should be quite hard to simulate the race effort. Time trial training starts with adapting to the equipment; skip that and you can throw your hope for good results out of the window.
Get A Proper Fit
An addendum to riding your time trial bike is that you should get a proper fit from a trained and trusted bike fitter. This is because the geometry of a time trial bike is different than a road bike so the setup will be different. The fit will allow you to use your body to its maximum potential.
A Few Basics If You Can’t Get a Fit
If you cannot get a fit, there are a few things to remember. Try to get your body as low and narrow as possible without having to strain while in that position. Position the saddle so your hips are open enough to allow you to pedal without your knees hitting your abdomen. Make sure you can pick your head up enough to see the road. Tinker with the position until you’re comfortable with it for longer than your longest time trial – this way you should have no trouble with comfort on race day.
Pushing a Big Gear versus a Small One
Some people mash and some people spin, but is there a proper pedal cadence? Yes, there is; and it applies to all sorts of riding, not only time trials. It’s important not to burn your matches too quickly and to make sure that you don’t go too deep into the red at any one time. This allows you to maintain consistently high power throughout the race.
Power is force multiplied by velocity. A higher cadence requires less force. Less force results in a greater reliance on slow twitch muscle fibers, of which you have many more of and rely on oxygen for ATP production (the fuel for muscle cells). This aerobic production of ATP is by far the most efficient metabolic system for producing ATP. With a lower cadence, you are asking fast twitch muscle fibers to take on more of a load because you require more force per revolution. ATP production for fast twitch muscle fiber taps the glycolytic and creatine phosphate systems, both far less efficient than your aerobic system. In short, you will tire quicker. When you are time trial training, or any training really, focus on a higher cadence unless you are doing a specific strength workout.
Speaking of Workouts
Now that you are dialed in on your bike and know how to pedal it efficiently with a higher cadence, you have to put it into practice. The following workouts will work best after you have a bit of a base and are ready to suffer at high intensities.
It is helpful to do a field test to determine your maximal output to establish training zones. The training zones will zero in on the metabolic systems you are training in each workout session. Tests are also an opportunity to track fitness throughout the season.
Using Heart Rate
If you are using a heart rate monitor, warm up well and do a thirty minute all out effort. Take your heart rate from the last twenty minutes of the effort. That will be a very close approximation of your lactate threshold heart rate. Put that number in a heart zone calculator and you now have your proper zones to train in.
To test with a power meter, warm up well and then do the following efforts in order at maximal effort, each separated with ten minutes rest:
- 5 minutes
- 5 seconds,
- 20 minutes
- 1 minute
Take the average power from each of those efforts and put it into a software program such as Golden Cheetah. It will give you your training zones plus a lot more data than you’ll know what to do with. It is a very powerful training tool.
Intervals for Time Trial Training
After riding more, the best way to improve your riding in general is through intervals. They can be hard and painful but are a necessary evil to getting stronger and faster. If you are going to be suffering, make sure you are suffering in the right way.
Lactate Threshold Intervals
Improving your lactate threshold is vital for improving your time trial. Warm up and then do:
- 6 minutes at zone 4 power (or zone 5a heart rate)
- Pedal easy for three minutes.
- Repeat 2 more times.
- Rest 10 to 15 minutes spinning easy.
- Do another set; as you get stronger, extend your work interval until the cumulative working time reaches the time of your target time trial. This goes from a relatively easy workout to quite a hard one if you are looking to smash a forty kilometer time trial.
VO2 Max Intervals
Maximal oxygen uptake (VO2Max) is a critical component of being a good time trialist. The more oxygen you can deliver to your muscles, the faster you can go. It is very difficult to do VO2 Max intervals (zone 5 power) for more than seven minutes and it is even harder to repeat them for that long, even at peak fitness. This workout allows your cardiorespiratory system to function at VO2 Max while your power fluctuates. You are essentially tricking your lungs to keep working at their peak while your legs get a slight respite.
This workout is much easier to do with a power meter. You can try with heart rate only and approximate the effort out of your legs while keeping an eye on your heart rate. Start out with short blocks of four minutes and work your way up to twelve or even fifteen minutes if you can handle it. During the block, you do:
- 30 seconds at zone 4
- 30 seconds at zone 5
- Repeat that for the duration of the block. (Start with 4 minutes.)
- Pedal easy after the block for the duration of the previous block.
- Do two or three sets.
- Note: Remember that if you are not hitting the target power for your individual training zones, you are not getting the full benefit of the interval. Go harder and hit the numbers and if you are not capable, stop and ride home easy. You are fatigued and attempting the intervals will just make you more tired and not faster.
Ready to Go!
Like any other discipline, practice is key; time trial training is no different. It requires a bit of specialization even though it might appear that it is much like training on a road bike. It also requires a bit of a different mindset because it is really only you against yourself. There are less external factors pushing you to success. With this good foundational knowledge, you are ready to go test yourself in a time trial or two.