When you upgrade to Strava Premium, one of the many benefits you receive is access to 10 Premium Cycling Training Plans at no additional cost. Each four-week program is specifically geared towards making you faster for a specific segment length. Workouts get emailed to you every day that tell exactly what to do. Every week, you can come here for a free workout that gives you a taste of the Cycling Training Plans you’ll get when you become a Strava Premium member. The same coaches who created the plans are providing the Workouts of the Week.
The WoW this week comes from Coach Jason Siegle. In addition to being a pro coach who works with athletes at the highest level of the sport across disciplines, he’s also a pro mountain biker and cyclocross racer. Coach Siegle considers himself a nerd when it comes to cycling and science and has a real thirst for learning as much as possible about the science behind training, racing and equipment. Read on for Coach Siegle’s deep dive into Descending Intervals.
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Why This Workout is Awesome:
Descending Intervals can help you get faster at your favorite segments and they’re also excellent preparation for races like criteriums and cyclocross that have many short, high-power efforts with little or no recovery between them. You have to accelerate hard, surge to cover a gap, sit on a wheel for a few seconds, and then go again. They are also great for developing the agility for short hill sprints, which is why you’ll find this workout in the 45 Second Sprint Segment Training Plan.
Descending Intervals can be a fun addition to a workout because that they keep you engaged. The efforts are short and both the effort and recovery duration change as the workout progresses. You’ve got to keep track of what you’re doing, which makes this a much more enjoyable workout.
What are Descending Intervals?
When you’re doing a Descending Interval you’re doing a series of maximal efforts that get shorter as the interval goes on. You start with a 60-second effort at the maximum power you can sustain for the full minute. Then you spin easy for 60 seconds. After that you power up for another max effort, this time 45 seconds in length. Take 45 seconds easy spinning, then proceed with a 30-second maximal effort. Take 30 seconds easy and then finish up with a 15-second hard acceleration (some people sprint like the end of a race, others rev the pedals to accelerate seated for this final effort). A Descending Interval workout would consist of 4-5 of these progressions, separated by 5 minutes of easy spinning.
I use Descending Intervals a lot with athletes who are preparing for criteriums and cyclocross races, and even for non-competitive athletes they are a great way to add some variety to winter indoor cycling while still doing something really effective.
It’s the diminishing work and recovery time that makes Descending Intervals so effective.
You generate a lot of lactate during the maximal efforts, and your body is busy processing and transporting that lactate so you can get it back into normal aerobic metabolism and continue to generate high power outputs at the same time. The recovery period after each effort is not long enough to completely process the lactate you’ve generated, and then you start another maximal effort and generate even more. As the individual efforts get shorter you want to see if you can increase your power output, or at least match the output from the previous effort.
When you generate a lot of lactate and then continue working at a high intensity level, the adaptation you’re looking for is an increase in the rate at which you can process that lactate. Remember, lactate isn’t the enemy. It’s a partially-burned fuel source that your muscles can break down into usable energy. The faster you can do that, the more power you can generate before you reach lactate threshold and the faster you can recover from efforts at and above lactate threshold.
Get moving, here’s the workout:
60 Minute workouts: 15 minute warmup, Interval Set: 4 Descending Intervals with 60-, 45-, 30-, 15-second max efforts. After each effort recover with easy spinning for the same time as the previous effort (60 seconds easy following 60-second max effort). Spin easy for 5 minutes between intervals. (31 minutes for interval set) Click here for Descending Intervals description and intensity calculations. Cool Down: 14 minutes.
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