Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Multipurpose, controled stress maintenance workouts: they are important.

Im a firm believer in some very specific type of workouts that will help an athlete maintain some key physical qualities during a period of lower training volume and/or intensity. Being forced to ride the trainer may be good because it allows targeted, specific work to be done in a controlled environement. On the other hand, the nature of riding the trainer is very different from riding outdoors, which means some physical qualities may be forgotten or lost during winter time for athletes who can't ride outdoors. Over the years I have tested some of these workouts and with the accumulated experience and help from others, I can now point out the essential caracteristics of these special workouts.

What do I mean by multipurpose and controled stress? First, these workouts are multipurpose because they help maintain (and maybe improve) several key physical attributes needed to perform in the specific sport; here, we'll be talking about cycling. Second, they are controled stress-wise because they are not intended to induce significant systemic stress first hand. The physiological stress is not high enough for major improvement but could serve for maintenance and minor improvements in some areas. They are sporadically inserted in the training schedule and do not form any particular block or focus during the training period.

So, what are they? I generally make them short supra-maximal efforts with equally short recovery time. The total work volume is generally very low and totalizes 3 to 5 minutes of accumulated time at high intensity.

Here are a few practical exemple:

- 2 x 10 x (20s / 40s)
- 2 x 4 x (30s / 30s)
- 2 x 8 x (15s / 15s)

We could create many other possibilities but you should now get the main point.To help you further understand the purpose of these workouts, here are a few more key elements:

1- Intensity needs to be supra-maximal, i-e. above 150% of FTP or above your Maximal Aerobic Power.

2- Short rests help target the aerobic system more then if you'd use longer rests. Remember the goal is not systemic stress but given cycling is an aerobic sport we're better off targeting the aerobic energy pathway then the anaerobic one. There will be an anaerobic contribution to such workouts but as the workout progresses, the aerobic energy contribution should increase.

3- The low total work volume should contribute to ease the post-workout recovery and not compromise further training sessions during the week.

Why do I believe in those workouts? Here are a few advantages I see.

- The high intensity allows for specific neuromuscular targeting. Muscle recruitment and firing patern can be maintained in a sport specific way especially when using a realistic cadence when doing those high intensity efforts. It is therefore good for overall muscle memory.

- The structure of the workout allows for a secondary goal which is energy system solicitation. Like I previously said, I do not think they play a major role in energy system adaptation but they probably won't hurt. The volume is just too low to induce progressive and continuous energy system adaptations. That being said, there will be an anaerobic and aerobic energy contribution and hence, a certain solicitation of those systems.

If you want to maintain some key muscular sport specific requirements, I suggest you try these fairly hard, yet easy to recover from workouts. It could help you step back more easily into outdoor training when the time comes. It would include some variation in your training plan while targeting several useful sport specific elements.


  1. The SufferFest have some nice workouts that incorporate the above. One of my favourites is called Blender. Some nice efforts right at FTP, interspersed with Vo2 Max efforts. Then you move onto the Neuromuscular Power efforts, rounded off with more LT efforts. You will be cooked at the end but done correctly I feel they offer a lot of benefit. I don't have any association with them, I just use them to complement my other training.

  2. Hi Steve

    thanks for you comment. The workout you describe sounds like a hard workout incorporating a lot of different intensities. Those kind of workouts should be done sporadicaly.

    The workouts I am describing are relatively easy tor ecover from and hence, they can be used pretty much year round to keep those muscular qualities where they should be!

  3. Still in that! They are my favorites now!