Vary your bike training to maximise adaptation and improvement – triathlon coach Garth Fox shows you how

Triathlon Bike Training: Vary Your CyclingMany triathletes do the same bike training week after week and expect to become faster, stronger and fitter. However, research suggests that mixing up your training may lead to bigger gains.

To coax an adaptive response out of the body, each workout needs to have a mildly destabilising effect on at least some of the body’s physiological systems. This triggers a cascade of signals at a molecular level, resulting in a slight remodelling of some of the performance characteristics of those systems.

A recent study by Canadian researchers investigated this, with subjects performing a series of high intensity training sessions. The researchers found that the ‘loudness’ of the signal was reduced with each subsequent workout, even when the intensity was slightly increased. In other words, the value of repeated workouts was subject to the law of diminishing returns. Overcome this effect by continually mixing up your workouts.

The following ideas should help get you started:


The same two sessions performed at different cadences provide different training stimulus. For example a 60-minute effort at 90 revs per minute (rpm) at half-Ironman intensity can be varied to 20 minutes at 90rpm/20 minutes at 80rpm/20 minutes at 100rpm – all at half-Ironman intensity. This changes the demands on muscle fibres, resulting in further adaptation.


One way of improving your maximal aerobic capacity is to perform a series of intervals at around 90 per cent of HR max, each lasting 3-5 minutes with equal periods of recovery. However it has also been shown that performing 30-second maximal sprints with 30-second recoveries in blocks of five minutes does a similar job. It’s better to alternate these two methods in order to achieve the best adaptive response than it is to stick with either one or the other for weeks on end.


Whenever you get into a rhythm during a training ride and start feeling comfortable, mess it up! Throw in some 10- to 30-second maximal sprint efforts with long recoveries. Or increase or decrease cadence for a period by using gears you wouldn’t normally select – speed up on flats, grind slowly up hills. Get out of your comfort zone regularly, not always by going harder, but by going different.


Always do the same session on the same day at the same time? Change something. Rather than the traditional three weeks on and one week off, try a different shape of training, such as 10 days on, four days recovery. This gives you another form of variation that destabilises the body, keeps it guessing and adapting.


Include a range of efforts, from five-second peak-power through to four-minute TT efforts, into the same ride – on a regular basis. One ride should never be identical to another.


A ride performed when fresh offers a different stimulus to when the same ride is done with tired legs. Typically it’s useful to use pre-fatigue to help develop endurance and to use freshness to develop power. So a cycling-specific weights session the night before a long endurance ride can amplify the training stimulus.

Make it work for you:

Cat ‘n’ mouse: a great workout to do with your tri mates.

Rather than always riding steadily, get together with two or three mates of similar ability and take it in turns to lead the group for one minute at a time. You can go as fast or as slowly as you want, but each takes his turn in rotation and the goal is to drop the others in the group by 30 metres to score a point. Most points wins. Constant pace change in this fashion is a superb conditioner.