Time Efficient Totally Effective Cycling Training Program

If you put the lives of us modern athletes on the time-line of humanity's existence, we are but an evolutionary blip. Could we have really changed physiologically in the last 1% of our collective existence? There's no rational need to fight evolution.

This is the theory behind Paleo Diet For Athletes: A Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance by Loren Cordain, PhD and Joe Friel, MS. It's also the theory behind my own training methods.

Let me explain...


Consider how we've survived as a species: you either had phenomenal short-burst power to run away from a predator, or you used the same power burst to pounce on your own kill. That's our genetic heritage.

Now, compare this to your racing experiences. Do you lose because the pace is long and slow and you can't keep up? No, you likely lose because the hammer gets dropped, and you get dropped.

The hammer doesn't get dropped for hours. It gets dropped for minutes. It may be many short multi-minute intervals, interspersed with some slightly easier-paced recovery periods. But it is almost never for extended 30 to 60 minute hard-hitting hammer attacks.

No, the hammer attacks are almost always the same kind of kill-or-be-killed power bursts our evolutionary hunting ancestors were so skillful at executing.

Think about it. Isn't bike racing really a bunch of unstructured intervals all strung together?

Focus Your Energy & Focus Your Results

On this basis, last year I threw away the anchors that were many long, long, hours riding my bike. Instead, I began adapting my cycling training to focused interval training, designed to put me at the TETE de la Course ("Head of the Race" for all my non-French-speaking readers).

In my cycling training program "TETE" means: Time Efficient, Totally Effective.

It's not that I'm saying any other approach to training doesn't work. It's just that I believe other approaches are neither time efficient, nor totally effective.

Much of the success with other training approaches relies on the genetic abnormalities of outliers - those athletes whose genetics are different. Throw a dozen eggs at the wall, and keep those that don't crack - some athletes do thrive on crazy volume. But those athletes are likely genetically different from the rest of us average guys. We're not all Lance-Armstrongs-in-waiting.

But apply focused intensity and focused volume in a well structured interval based training program, and I think most of us everyday cyclists will start seeing the bike racing results we'd like to see. We can get to that place physically where mental games and tactical approaches will finally make the difference.

But I must warn you - this type of training isn't for everyone. It is hard work. It never gets easy, but it does get easier if you stick with it.

Besides the research backing it up1, it is also supported by 2 key facts about us busy, everyday cyclists:
  1. Time is the biggest barrier to achieving fitness success - you should only do what's needed to stimulate maximum improvement.
  2. Focus your mind and it will take you where you want to go.
Maximum Performance For Cyclists

I began designing my TETE de la Course Cycling Training Program based on Maximum Performance for Cyclists by Michael J. Ross, M.D. As a physician, Dr. Ross has done a thorough job of digging into the research going on in the field of athletic training. It's a fairly well written book, with extensive reference citations - the most complete list of references I've seen in a book not aimed at researchers.

But I've found the real-world application of his approaches needed some tweaking based on my own 15+ years of concentrated cycling experience. And over the last year I've continued with my own reviews of the continuing research and believe I've come up with a more complete program.

But this is not the end of the line for any of us coaches trying to get maximum performance from ourselves or our clients. The process is on-going.

Stay tuned to my blog and I'll start revealing what I've learned and put into the TETE de la Course Program. I'll help you apply the same to your own training. Make sure you're subscribed so you don't miss a pedal stroke!

In the meantime, check out your muscle physiology if you haven't already done so. And make sure you understand the paramount importance of recovery.


  1. http://jp.physoc.org/cgi/content/short/575/3/901.


  1. Thanks for this informative post! As a cyclist, I found this really helpful.

  2. Interesting indeed. Would you say that the "background" effort is the baseline "jogging" and the "dropping the hammer" parts are the sprints? Then to improve performance, you add more frequent and longer duration sprints? At the same time, raising the baseline rate?

  3. Yes, certainly that's more or less the essence. "Jogging" is all about Type I muscle fibre use - and those guys have lots of endurance because the are really good at burning fat and glycogen for fuel. The real key to keep going for a long time at a low effort level is simply to keep yourself fueled with incoming glycogen - thing about carbohydrate drinks and gels for that (your body converts those to glycogen for ultimate use by your muscles). Your basic stored fat levels really take care of most energy needs, with the incoming carbohydrate simply "topping things up."

    "Sprinting" requires the use of Type II fibres, and those guys aren't so good at using fat - in fact the Type IIb fibres really can only use glycogen. The IIa's can use fat (besides their preferred glycogen), but must be trained to do so. Get those guys working when you haven't much glycogen left available, and they start to adapt to using fat.

    Incidentally, while raising your effort level to use the Type IIa fibres, the Type I's don't turn off, but continue to be fully utilized. So every workout effort is always training those Type I's. You need sprint intervals of some form to work on the Type II fibres, and that's the only way you'll ever train to go appreciably faster.

    Your "baseline" effort will ultimately increase because you are now trained to go faster using all of your Type I muscle fibres as well as the increased power available from your Type IIa fibres.

    The Type IIb fibres only come into play during absolute all-out efforts. Be careful with them, because once the stored glycogen is gone, the IIb's are done until you've recovered.

  4. In your experience, how long does it take for Type II fibres to recover their glycogen? Can it be done during a baseline rest phase (that is, refueling while still jogging?). Along a similar vein (no pun intended) how about training versus muscle growth? Or has it already been established that one's body has a set number of muscles fibres and you don't really grow new ones through exercise, you can only train the ones you have (genetics)?

  5. Usually, recovery from a hard effort will take between the same amount of time you were working hard, up to about twice the amount of time. If you are structuring intervals, a good rule of thumb is to simply double the time of your interval and use that for your recovery.

    You have glycogen stored not only in your muscles but in your liver as well. Your blood circulation needs some time to get it out to your working muscles. Refueling during your rest will continue to help you add more intervals. The ultimate bottleneck in the refueling is how long your digestion process will take.

    Incidentally, high-end efforts recruiting Type IIa and ultimately Type IIb fibres create not simply lactic acid, but the energy-cycle process also spews off hydrogen atoms. Those increase the pH of your blood, and it's that rise in pH that ultimately causes the fatigue that stops you from going hard any longer. Your body needs to buffer out the acid, which is also part of the recovery process.

    Studies have shown some athletes can withstand an extremely acidotic blood profile (levels so high, if they showed up in an Emergency Room you'd expect them to be dead!), which has led many physiologists to believe this is the limiter to athletic performance, and not simply an athlete's raw VO2Max number.

    Training doesn't add muscle fibres; it either makes what you have bigger, or converts them from one type to the other. So yes, genetics determine the number of fibres you have; training will determine what you can do with them.

    Too much low intensity training will increase your population of Type I fibres at the expense of your Type II fibre population, meaning you'll have endurance, but no high-end "snap".

    Strength training (be it resistance training with weights, or low cadence/high resistance training on the bike, or uphill running or running with a weight dragging on the ground behind you) will increase the size of the Type II fibres, convert some of your Type I fibres to Type II, and simply train bundles of your Type II fibres to work better in a more coordinated fashion to handle the load. All good things if you want to go faster. In the end, specificity of the motions are important. Train with weights to get things going, but on bike/on run training is ultimately needed to get things working right for you.

    Really, to go fast for long, you need to develop the Type IIa fibres. They have the most versatile use of energy, and are capable of very strong force contractions.

  6. My opinion on all cyclist that want to enhance their ability is that an effective strength training program should be as important as time on the bike. VO2max and Wmax are the two frequently used measures of athletic endurance ability. Bike Reviews

  7. VO2max and Wmax are the two frequently used measures of athletic endurance ability. A good spotter should conduct him or herself at all times as though the lifter is on the verge of total failure. Your training partner can also lend a gentle touch that allows you to complete a rep you'd normally miss. Athletic endurance is a very essential factor for a professional cyclist.
    Cycling Mind