Steve Trew on turbo training – part 2

Mass turbo trainer session

After the fairly gentle introduction last time, we’re going to step up the level a bit with four key workouts which you can use at any point in a training programme when you’re not able to get out on the road but need to do some quality training. The observant among you will count five workouts — I’ve repeated the lactate threshold set here because it’s really part of these sessions and we slipped it into the last article just as a taster.


Lactate tolerance

This is a ‘classic’ session which every triathlon and cycling coach I know gives to his/her athletes; it is close to a time trial on the roads. It requires great concentration from the athlete and closely relates to a race situation.

  1. Warm up steadily to 80% – 85% of MHR.
  2. Hold this % for 40 minutes with a cadence of between 90 and 110. You will almost certainly need to change gears to maintain this heart rate.

Anaerobic threshold

This is another demanding session, but one which has paid dramatic dividends with athletes who have persevered with it. It teaches you to build up a tolerance to discomfort by repeats of sustained effort and recovery. A drop in time of over ten minutes for a 25 mile time trial has been seen with novice cyclists and triathletes from one season to the next.

  1. Warm up to 75% of MHR
  2. Ease back 10 beats per minute (BPM)
  3. Go into the large chain ring and hold 100 rpm until BPM gets to 85% of MHR
  4. Hold at this rate for 30 seconds
  5. Change into small ring until HR drops to 70% of MHR
  6. Repeat 10 times or until HR will not return to 70% of MHR in less than 3 minutes.

Progressive resistance/Increasing demand

The philosophy here is to hurt… …and then hurt a little bit more. It is similar to the anaerobic threshold session but can be even more demanding.

  1. Warm up to 75% of MHR, ease back to 70%
  2. Change into the large chain ring and select the 20 tooth sprocket
  3. Stay in this gearing at 90 to 100 rpm until HR is 80% of MHR
  4. Change into the small chain ring until HR drops to 70% of MHR
  5. Now change to the big chain ring and select the next smaller (ie ‘harder’) sprocket maintaining 90 – 100 rpm until 80% of MHR is reached
  6. Recover on the small chain ring to 70% of MHR
  7. Now change to the big chain ring and select the next smaller (ie ‘harder’) sprocket maintaining 90 – 100 rpm until 85% of MHR is reached
  8. Recover on the small chain ring to 70% of MHR
  9. Repeat these alternating steps of increasing your effort by another 5% on a progressively harder gear followed by recovery until you either run out of gears (unlikely!) or you cannot maintain the workload.

Speed endurance / increasing demand

This session, perhaps even more than the lactate tolerance session from last time, can simulate the feelings, hurt and discomfort of a road time trial. Many athletes never really dig deep into their reserves; this session can teach that very quickly! It gives an appreciation of just how much more is there when superficial levels of effort have been reached.

  1. Warm up to 70% -75% of MHR
  2. Change into the large chain ring; pedal at 80% of MHR for 25 minutes in the appropriate gear at 90 – 100 rpm
  3. Without resting, change to the next smaller (ie ‘harder’) sprocket and hold for 20 minutes at 85% MHR
  4. Without resting, change to the next smaller (ie ‘harder’) sprocket and hold for 15 minutes at 90% MHR

Hill simulation

I have used this session, and variations upon it, for the last twelve years. For turbo trainers with the facility to add resistance and/or to simulate hills, it may be more appropriate to set the resistance rather than choose the biggest gear. (For instance, on the particular model which I use, the setting is at about 5% gradient with the gearing set at 53 x 19. This gives an rpm of between 60 and 80 for most athletes.)

There are many triathletes and cyclists who are weak on hills. Whether this is because of the terrain where they live or because they do not relish hillwork outside on the road makes no difference. The athlete who is weak on hills is at a distinct disadvantage.

The increasing time spent out of the saddle on each succeeding repetition is far more difficult than working for, for example, ten sets of one minute with a minute recovery.

  1. Warm up
  2. Change into the big chain ring with the rear sprocket on the second smallest, typically 13, and pedal flat out for 1 minute, out of the saddle
  3. Recover for 1 minute in an easy gear
  4. Repeat but for 2 minutes with a 1 minute recovery
  5. Repeat for 3, then 4, then 5 minutes with a 1 minute recovery between each effort

These sessions are just a starting point to a selection of those available. Triathletes will quickly work out their weak and strong points and add or subtract from the training sessions accordingly. Next time around I will be going through a seven stage progression programme. Each stage has four sessions so there is plenty more work to come!!