Steve Trew on turbo training – part 5

Mass turbo trainer session

Steve Trew finishes up his series on turbo training with two sets of sessions that fall at completely opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of training focus: smoothness and raw power!


The first five sessions can be used when you need a slight change in emphasis or to alleviate boredom. Generally the emphasis here is on smoothness and ‘supplesse’. The catch-phrase is ‘smooth as silk’.

Session one

Warm up for ten minutes and then do a pyramid set at five beats below your anaerobic threshold at a cadence of between 100 and 110 rpm. The set goes from 30 seconds effort up to two minutes and then back down to 30 seconds in 10 second increments with a 20 second spin between each step. Finish off with a ten minute warm-down.

Session two

Warm up for ten minutes and then do leg drills: right for 30 seconds, left for 30 seconds, both for a minute, right for 60 seconds, left for 60 seconds and then both for a minute. Repeat the single leg drills for 1½ minutes and then 2 minutes, again with a minute on both legs between each increment. Now go back down the pyramid again until you get back to 30 seconds. Finish off with a ten minute warm-down.

Session three

Warm up for ten minutes and then alternate one minute periods between whatever gear you can hold 130 rpm on and your biggest gear (probably 53 x 13) but you must do both smoothly and sitting down. Take a one minute recovery between reps and repeat six times. Warm down for ten minutes.

Session four

Using your small chainring, start in your smallest gear (probably a 23 or 25) and work for eight minutes at 110rpm, then go straight into next gear up and work for seven minutes, then into the next for six minutes and so on right up to the smallest sprocket. Try to maintain at least 100 rpm right the way through. If you’re feeling like a superstar, come back down again.

Session five

As for session four, start in your smallest gear but work for two minutes only @ 110rpm, then go straight into next gear up and work for two minutes again, then into the next for two minutes and so on right up to the smallest sprocket. Try to maintain at least 100 rpm right the way through. Now change into your big chainring and repeat the process through the gears. Warm down for ten minutes.

Power and sprint

As these turbo sessions are geared (sorry!) towards standard distance triathlon and time trials of up to 50 miles, none of them have included any periods of work for less than one minute. However, there are situations where extreme power and breakaway type sprint speed are required. This may occur in draft legal races where power to get away from the pack is needed; or in similar situations in non-drafting races where the sheer numbers of athletes taking part, or wave starts bunching together, has meant that the draftbusters and race marshalls are casting their eyes towards you, and you need to escape from a potentially precarious situation.

Short sprints

Short sprint sessions will improve the ability and efficiency to quickly increase speed when necessary. After warming up and gradually increasing speed to around 65%/70% of max HR, go into the large chainring and select a big gear (choose as appropriate for individual athlete) and go flat out for five seconds only. Recover for ten seconds only and repeat the effort/recovery ten times. Now recover for one minute and repeat the whole set another three times giving you a total of 40 five second sprints.

After 3 to 4 sprint efforts your heart rate should be at approximately 85% max and will remain constant at this level. However, if your heart rate does rise significantly higher than this, increase the recovery time. Equally, if HR does not reach 85% max, decrease the recovery period. The sprint efforts must remain at five seconds, and under no circumstances should exceed eight seconds. Most accurate efforts and recoveries are achieved by using an pre-set interval timer set to the appropriate values.

Although the efforts are very short, the above is an extremely demanding session as the heart doesn’t have very much time to decrease in the ten second recovery intervals. Beginners may wish to start with 5 x 5 seconds and repeat three times or similar.

Longer sprints

Warm up and then select a gear which is slightly ‘too big’ – you should feel as if you are having to make an effort to handle this gear. Now sprint flat out for 15 seconds and then recover to 70% max HR. Repeat this 5 to 10 times.

For both sprint sessions, as efforts are analactic/anaerobic, the heart rate will continue to rise for a short time after both five and 15 second efforts. This is to be expected and should not be a matter for concern.

To finish on turbo training; I consider that it is one of the most significant tools for both cycling and triathlon and has been an instigator in the rise in standards in the recent past. It is one of the best and most worthwhile investments that the athlete can make.