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How To Build And Develop Cycling Power

Updated on October 18, 2013
CyclingFitness profile image

Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. A keen cyclist, runner, and obstacle racer who ran his first ultra-marathon in 2016.

Build cycling power to improve your road cycling performance
Build cycling power to improve your road cycling performance | Source

The importance of power for cycling

Cycling power output is a key indicator to cycling performance. When you can generate more power for cycling you can increase your speed and subsequently improve your cycling performance. Whether you’re aiming to win a bunch sprint, knock a few seconds off a triathlon bike leg, or simply be able to keep up with your mates on a local chain-gang ride.

Do all cyclists need to target power in their training?

Many cyclists confuse training for power with training for optimal muscular endurance and speed endurance.

Power is the ability to apply maximal force to the pedals while cycling for an extremely short amount of time. That time is over in a matter of seconds. Power is required in short road sprints and short steep hills for a cyclist to 'power' over them.

Muscular endurance is the ability to maintain a high power output over a sustained period of time and is a combination of both aspects of strength and endurance. Within cycling it corresponds to the ability to turn a relatively large gear at a relatively high cadence and therefore has implications within both road cycling and time trial events such as the bike leg of a triathlon.

Speed endurance is the ability to resist fatigue at high cycling speeds. It also involves developing a high power output for an extended period of time while being a blending of the abilities of speed and endurance. A good example of a situation where speed endurance is shown is within a rider like Mark Cavendish's sprint lead out train as a cyclist will speed a relatively short period of time working on the front of a bunch for several hundred meters or more.

Threshold power is a key determinant of time trial success

Develop your cycling threshold power to improve your time trial and triathlon performance.
Develop your cycling threshold power to improve your time trial and triathlon performance. | Source

What is threshold power for cycling?

A key determinant of road cycling, time trial and triathlon performance is the point at which your body begins to accumulate lactic acid within the working muscles. Many sports physiologists refer to this point as your Lactate Threshold and it can be determined in many cyclists through the use of specific performance tests such as the Conconi Test for Anaerobic threshold. Your threshold power is the relative power (in Watts) which this lactate threshold occurs. Threshold power is often referred to within cycling as your FTP- Functional Threshold Power.

To develop your threshold power for cycling you need to target both muscular endurance and speed endurance.

Developing your cycling threshold power output and cycling power

It's likely you have come across this article through looking at how to build your cycling power. Hopefully from the above definitions you know which aspect of developing power for cycling your wish to address your threshold power or your cycling power

Below are a selection of workouts to target both aspects of power for cycling.

Cycling Workouts to build Power

Workouts for instantaneous cycling power output development

These workouts will enhance your ability to exert maximal power to the pedals for an extremely short space of time and therefore enhance ability to react to an attack at the front of a bunch race or be able to finish off that sprint in the last 100-200 meters of a road race.

Improve your cycling power for short sprints and climbs in road cycling events
Improve your cycling power for short sprints and climbs in road cycling events | Source

Power workout 1- Jumps

Jumps are a short 10-15 pedal revolution blast at or near top maximal effort. They help a cyclist improve their explosive power and reaction to attacks within race situations.

Perform three to five sets of five jumps in arelatively large gear. Ideally on a turbo trainer although they can be performed on the road to mimic race situations.

Make sure you allow at least a minute between repetitions and allow 5-10 minutes recover between sets.

Power workout 2- Hill sprints

We all know a local hill of around 10% gradient (or close) which lasts for around 20-30 seconds or longer. You'll need such a hill for this workout although if you don't have one available use the resistance settings on a turbo trainer to mimic such a workload.

Take around 10 seconds to build speed on the approach to such a climb and then while standing on the pedals hit the climb as hard as you possibly can for a further 10-15 seconds. You should be applying maximal force to the pedals during the hill sprint segment of this cycling power workout.

Complete between 5-10 repetitions allowing 3-5 minutes recovery between each repetition

This workout will hurt- be assured of it!

Cycling Workouts for improving threshold power

Time trialling requires a well developed threshold power for improved performance
Time trialling requires a well developed threshold power for improved performance | Source

Threshold Power Workout 1- Long Intervals

Using a local time trial course with relatively flat sections, a long flat-ish section of road or a turbo trainer/ cycling training rollers complete five work intervals of between 5 and 10 minutes. These should be performed at your usual 10 mile time trial pace which will be at or slightly above your anaerobic threshold heart rate. Allow 3 minutes recover between intervals.

Ideally perform this workout on your specific race bike to accustom yourself to the rigours of racing and performance under pressure and ensure your muscles fire in the right pattern come race day.

Threshold Power Workout 2- Tempo workout

A tempo workout is a high pace steady state cycling workout that accustoms the body to working at a high rate for an extended period of time. Temp workouts are extremely effective for road riders, triathletes and time trial cyclists as the help prepare the body for the demands of competition.

Tempo workout for threshold power

On an indoor cycling trainer (turbo trainer or cycling rollers) or on a relatively flat course ride around 30 minutes at just below your threshold heart rate. Extend this by 5 minutes each workout to help build muscular endurance.

This is a great workout that can be incorporated into your early season training as well as slotted in between race events during your racing season as it does not place excessive stress on your cardiovascular system allowing for effective recover post workout.

Good luck building your cycling power



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    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 4 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Apologies Jane- you've spotted one of my spelling errors.

      A jump is 10- 15 turns of your cranks at close to the hardest you can pedal. They're like a controlled short sprint and are great to perform on a turbo trainer if you have one.

      Thanks for your comment

    • profile image

      Jane 4 years ago

      Sorry I don't know English very well so I didn't get the workout Jumps.. Could someone explain this sentence "Jumps are a short 10-15 pedal revolution blast at or near top maximal effort"

    • dobo700 profile image

      dobo700 4 years ago from Australia

      Thanks - I will get out on some of the local hills and give it a go.

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 5 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks Jason. Cycling training can be a minefield so finding the right workout is often a challenge in itself. The selections above should help you begin to develop your own workout schedules too. Good luck CF

    • Jason Matthews profile image

      Jason Matthews 5 years ago from North Carolina

      These are great training exercises. I like the way you provide detailed instructions for power building workouts. I look forward to reading more of your hubs!

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 5 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Thanks internpete, please let me know how you get on and if they help improve your cycling power. CF

    • internpete profile image

      Peter V 5 years ago from At the Beach in Florida

      Although I don't compete in any cycling events (yet!), I have been working on building my power when attacking hill etc. so this is both timely and useful! The workouts you outlined look very useful and I will have to use some of them. Thanks, and voted up!