Answer: To build up toughness, get accustomed to uncomfortable positioning and ultimately get faster, time trialists must effectively train the ability to pace their highest sustainable power over time trial distances.


Think about it like this: It’s about the software, not the hardware. You can put a lackluster rider on the very best equipment and it won’t yield an outcome anywhere near optimal. But couple a well-conditioned rider with less than stellar gear and you’re likely to see an impressive performance. It’s the rider that matters most, so place your conditioning at the top of your list of priorities.

General Time Trial Conditioning

Perfecting the art of time trialing begins with increasingly specific forms of conditioning. Conditioning is systematically addressed via time-trial-general conditioning found in a properly designed Base Phase training plan.

  • First: A necessary emphasis is placed on elevating aerobic capacity. Through short, intense intervals well above FTP, long, lower-intensity blocks of steady effort, or sometimes a combination of the two, the ability to work aerobically at higher and higher levels of power output is targeted.
  • Second: A concurrent and no less important focus is placed on gradually lifting FTP via the use of moderately suprathreshold efforts such as over-unders. Workouts like this stress the mind and muscles in such a way as to hint at the level of effort and discomfort necessary to time trial at your highest level. They effectively set that stage.
  • Last: A hefty measure of muscle endurance work is layered throughout this phase of training. By working at high but subthreshold percentages of FTP for gradually increasing durations, stamina is incrementally enhanced. This is the ideal time to weave in work done in your aerodynamic TT position and begin the process of refining your fit.

More Specific TT Training

Lifting the specificity of your time trial training further, a well-constructed Build Phase training plan takes each of these three TT-centric forms of fitness to a higher level.

Aerobic capacity efforts grow longer, whether they’re short bursts of max-aerobic power or long, low-intensity sessions. Your slightly-suprathreshold work never strays far from its over-under roots and adds some longer durations spent slightly above your FTP. And that utterly vital muscle endurance work nudges the intensity ever closer to your FTP as you adapt to power output closer to your intended time trial wattage.

All the while, time in your sustainable position increases and starts to trickle into more and more of your weekly training.

Event-Specific Maximization

Optimal time trialing is only possible following a meticulous build-up of stamina, time in position, and high-end muscle endurance. Check, check aaaand check. So now it’s time to hone your high-level time trial capabilities to near-perfection during a properly progressed event-specialization phase.

Unlike the previous training phases, specialized conditioning is built around familiarization, event-specific stamina, and last-minute improvements in FTP.

Very specific physical conditioning is necessary to continuously go fast for 10 miles, 40 kilometers, and certainly 50-100 miles. But nothing familiarizes the mind with an event’s actual demands as well as event simulations. So during any well-designed Specialty Phase training plan, some form of practice time trial should find its way into each and every week.

This familiarity goes hand in hand with the benefit of riding for durations that approach, and where feasible, meet the duration of your most important event. This is not to say that a 100-mile time trialist needs to include a weekly century in TT-position. But, for competitors in shorter events where anticipated durations are more manageable (and won’t hamper recovery), performing a dress rehearsal or two can prove highly productive.

Performing weekly time trial workouts in the 40k TT Specialty training plan integrate the principle of specificity to enhance a rider’s familiarity with the demands of time trialing.

Conclusion

While the quality of your equipment matters, more so as your capabilities improve and your competition narrows, don’t worry too much about that aero bike and multi-thousand dollar wheelset. Devote most of your time, attention, and concern to maximizing your body’s physical capabilities and your mind’s capacity to forge onward. Nail that down, then you can reward yourself with some hard-earned excesses.

For more answers to your cycling training questions, listen to our podcast Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly. Yes, we know that’s addiction territory 😉 



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Chad Timmerman

Chad Timmerman is the Head Coach and Co-Founder of TrainerRoad — cycling’s most effective training system. He has nearly 10 years of coaching experience as a Level I USA certified Cycling and Triathlon coach. When he’s not developing structured training plans for TrainerRoad, you can catch him sharing his coaching advice on the Ask a Cycling Coach podcast. To get Chad’s best cycling knowledge delivered to your inbox, sign up for his free 6-part email course Train Smart, Get Fast.

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