The average pro cyclist trains 20 to 30 hours a week and logs 20,000 to 25,000 miles each year--farther than the average American drives in that time. Too many of us mere mortals mistakenly believe we need to approach that sort of volume to reach our peak. But if you work 40 or more hours per week, cramming in another 20 on the bike may wear you down rather than speed you up. The best results come from a smart blend of rides of all lengths and durations. Long, steady efforts are still important for boosting your circulatory system's network of capillaries, which enables you to deliver more nutrient-and oxygen-rich blood to your cells and increases your body's fat-burning ability. But don't turn up your nose at outings that last less than two hours. Exercise science shows that you can build speed, raise your sustainable pace and even ratchet up your endurance with rides that last between 30 and 75 minutes. To meet your cycling goals, mix it up: Each week clock one long ride--three hours will do for most riders--and take at least one day off. On the other days, choose from among the following workouts.
If You Have...30 to 45 minutes:
30-SECOND BLASTS Warm up for 10 minutes, sprint all out for 30 seconds, then spin easy for 21/2 minutes. Do this 12 times, then spin easy to cool down. Don't perform this workout on back-to-back days or more than twice a week. The Benefit Research shows that all-out 30-second intervals can improve your VO2 max--the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during extreme exertion. One study found that seasoned cyclists improved VO2 max by 3 percent and 40k time-trial speed by more than 4 percent in four weeks thanks to sets of these intervals.
SPIN-UPS Warm up for five minutes, then shift into a small gear and spin up to as fast a cadence as possible while maintaining a quiet upper body and smooth pedal stroke for one minute. Recover for three minutes. Do six to eight intervals, then cool down. As the efforts become easier, increase the duration of the fast spins and decrease recovery. The Benefit You'll improve your efficiency by shifting some effort from your easily fatigued legs to your more resilient cardiovascular system. If you typically push big gears, it will take some time before the higher cadence feels right.
THE MEANDER When is the last time you totally unplugged, tossed a leg over your bike and rode like a kid? Yeah, we thought so. Leave the bike computers and agendas behind, jump on a bike--any bike--and ride around. Enjoy the breeze, the lawn ornaments in your neighborhood and the sights and sounds of your local rec path. The Benefit Easy movement will loosen your legs, help your body recover from previous hard efforts and make you feel happy and recharged.
If You Have...45 to 60 minutes:
THE TRIPLE THREAT Warm up for 15 minutes. Then boost your intensity until you're working very hard (a 9 on a rate of perceived exertion, or RPE, scale of 1 to 10). Hold that intensity for three minutes. Recover for three minutes. Repeat two more times. Finish your ride at a moderate pace, including a cooldown. The Benefit Your VO2 max is your fitness ceiling. To raise that roof, you need to do lung-searing efforts like this one that force your body to find ways to increase VO2 capacity.
HILL ATTACKS There are two ways to do these. One: standard hill repeats. Warm up for 10 to 15 minutes. Find a hill that takes about five minutes to climb and ascend it hard, staying at your max sustainable pace, or threshold (RPE of 7). Descend for three minutes to recover. Repeat for a total of five intervals. Cool down. Or, take a more organic approach and map a 10- to 15-mile route that includes four to six good climbs. Hit the hills hard and ride moderately between efforts. The Benefit You know the saying: Hills make you stronger.
CROSS THE THRESHOLD Warm up for 10 to 15 minutes. Increase your effort to beyond your comfort zone (about an RPE of 8) and hold it five to six minutes. Back off and ride just below your threshold point (RPE of 6) for five minutes. Do three or four sets. You won't feel fully recovered between them. Cool down. The Benefit Your threshold, the point at which you produce more lactate than you can absorb, is your max sustainable effort. A high threshold lets you ride hard and long before your legs scream; this workout raises it.
If You Have...60 to 75 minutes:
TEMPO TRAINING Warm up for 10 minutes. Reach a pace that feels like hard work but is sustainable for a 40k race (an RPE of about 7). Ride for 15 minutes, then pedal easy for three. Repeat twice more. Cool down. As you gain fitness, increase the tempo time and decrease recovery until you are at tempo for an hour. The Benefit You will gain power to climb or bridge a gap—and be able to sustain such efforts. Tempo intervals train your cells to be efficient at producing energy, which improves your threshold and boosts your sustainable race pace.