How to get faster on the bike triathlon – 2020 – Updated
Triathletes are often asking how to get faster on the bike? Whether this is the Olympic or Ironman bike leg. It is a common question a lot of amateurs and professional triathletes have. Because the desire to continually improve is an inherent attribute of riding a bike and especially for those that are racing.
As a coach, I need to understand the fundamentals of what the triathlete needs to progress on the bike. Improving your performance on the bike comes from consistency and smart training. This means from a training standpoint I need to know what their past bike training has been, current bike fitness, and any progression they have made.
This means a large part of improving your bike is consistency. This is the number one fundamental for improving performance. Riding for one hour a day is better than cramming bike workouts into one or two days. Focusing on consistency provides a progressive training load that requires the body to adapt and get stronger.
While consistency plays a large role, there are many other ways for the triathlete to get faster on the bike. Below we talk about some of the most important bike workouts for triathletes. Both for the Olympic and Ironman distances.
Olympic triathlon bike workouts
There are some critical components when completing Olympic triathlon bike workouts. First, you need to understand the intensity you are working at and the duration of the recovery period. The second important component is the total duration of work and recovery combined. These components plan a crucial role in how the workout will benefit you.
Not understanding the basis behind the workouts often sees self-coached triathletes riding too hard or implementing too much recovery. So it’s important to understand these factors because they plan a major role in improving your triathlon bike leg.
It’s worth noting before we list some key Olympic triathlon bike workouts that you shouldn’t try to target more than two to three sessions per week. Training too much at your threshold or above (depending on your background) can lead to fatigue because it is very demanding on the body.
Olympic Threshold bike workout
One of the key areas to improving your Olympic bike time relies on intervals at threshold. This helps increase sustainable power at lactate threshold. This, in turn, teaches the body to buffer lactate better and decrease the amount of lactate accumulated at increased efforts.
Your threshold bike session should incorporate 25-60 minutes of total work time. This can be broken up into 5 to 10-minute intervals with a recovery period of 3-5 minutes.
Below are some examples:
5×5 minutes @ 92-100% of threshold wattage with 3 minutes recovery between
4×10 minutes @ 192-100% of threshold wattage with 4 minutes recovery between
3×15 minutes @ 92-100% of threshold wattage with 5 minutes recovery between
20k Time trial
Incorporating a 20k time trial once a month is also another Olympic bike training workout you should implement once a month. if you include this early on in your training you will be able to record your data and evaluate your progress as you move through your program.
Below is an example:
After a solid warm-up focus on completing the 20k at your 40k race pace. Followed then by an easy warm down. This type of workout focuses on a sustained effort that you will ride during race day.
Increasing your V02 max is an important part of the Olympic distance bike leg and every other triathlon distance for that matter.
Intense bursts of effort ranging from 15 seconds to eight minutes throughout your training plan can help increase your V02. Thus increasing the maximum volume of oxygen that the body can deliver to the working muscles.
Start short in the beginning and do 6×15 seconds with 3-4 minutes of active recovery between. As your training progresses, increase the duration of the interval and decrease the recovery time.
Below are some examples:
6×6 minutes @ 105-120% of Threshold Wattage with 1.5 minutes recovery between
6×8 minutes @ 105-120% of Threshold Wattage with 2 minutes recovery between
Ironman Bike Workouts
Implementing the correct Ironman bike workouts into your training play a major role in the overall success of your race. Not only will it make you faster during the bike leg it will help improve your run off the bike. This will provide you fresher legs after the bike, which can then be transferred to the run.
If you are looking to break the sub-5-hour barrier or even finish your first Ironman bike under 6 hours, the bike workouts you do leading up to the event play a substantial role. Here are some key Ironman bike workouts that you can implement into your training plan.
While sweet spot training for triathlon is not that important for an Ironman event, it still can provide some benefits. It will help build your base during the early season when indoors. Replacing long indoor rides with 60-90 minutes at 90 – 99 % of your threshold heart rate can help increase your overall FTP (functional threshold power).
During the later stages of your ironman preparation, you can include these sweet spot intervals into the middle of the long ride. Thus including 60-90 minutes above Ironman pace while doing a long ride.
Threshold bike workout
As mentioned with the Olympic distance bike workouts, threshold intervals are important in any bike training. Including these into the later stages of your Ironman preparation will help increase your power at the threshold and improve your Ironman bike split. Focus on building up to 20 minutes and gradually reduce the recovery time.
Below are some examples:
4×15 minutes @ 92-100% of Threshold Wattage with 4-6 minutes recovery between
3×20 mins @ 92-100% of Threshold Wattage with 4-6 minutes recovery between
Ironman Long ride
The long ride is essential in any Ironman training plan, although not all long rides are the same. There are many variations of the long ride you can implement into your program. With all achieving different results.
The long easy rides build endurance and increase your fat-burning ability. Ridden at an easy effort (Zone 1–2), the can be implemented early season to build your endurance or midseason after a hard block of training.
The variable long ride includes inconstant intensities (Zones 1–5) and usually features lots of climbing. These types of long rides are usually ridden in groups. With the flats being ridden easy and the climbs are ridden harder. The variable long ride isn’t aren’t super beneficial to your ironman training but it can break up the monotony and provide some variation to the long ride.
Another one of the most popular Ironman bike workouts is the Ironman specific ride. This is a longer ride targeted at your race pace intensity. This not only helps combine nutrition and pacing practice but simulates the race if ridden over a similar course.
During this ride, you will focus riding for a period at 70-73% of your FTP (functional threshold power) for two to five hours at Ironman race pace.
Below is an example:
Warm-up 30-60 minutes followed by 2-5 hours @ 70-73% of your FTP. Then 30-60 minutes warm down.
Stationary bike training for triathlon
If you don’t have access to a bike or indoor trainer, you are most likely a first-time Ironman athlete. This may mean you are testing the waters and seeing if triathlon is a sport for you.
If this is the case you may have no option but use a stationary bike trainer until you purchase a bike. While this isn’t the best long term solution, the bike workouts can still be completed on them.