How to structure your training – the 80/20 rule

A simple guide to structuring your training – the 80/20 rule.

Training on a bike can be as simple or as complex as you wish to make it, but there is wisdom in keeping it simple as such an approach can pay greater rewards.  You should aim to structure your training using the 80/20 rule, incorporating three different types of training. 

Here are the three types of training to be aware of:

  1. Endurance training – you need this for any cycling event in the real world or in e-sports. Without a strong endurance engine, you cannot get to the end of the event or tour. This is all about fitness and staying the course.
  2. High Intensity Training – you need this to change from a slow person who can just ride a bike into one that has the power to get up hills, sprint into finishes and stay with the other riders. This is about pushing yourself into moments and bursts of exertion that ordinarily you might avoid.
  3. Strength Training – this goes beyond the high intensity work and is designed to make your muscles stronger, not just faster.
  1. Endurance Training

You should aim to follow the 80/20 rule when structuring your training. Endurance training should be at least 80% of your training measured by time and in fact it delivers more than 80% of the results. In other words, just by riding at a talking pace you will get fitter and stronger over time.

If you decide to ride faster for that 80%, it does not necessarily mean that you will get faster or even much fitter. To understand why is a complex issue, but suffice to say training must be strategic and have a purpose. Goals must be set and worked towards – pushing yourself 80% of the time in an unstructured way risks physical burnout, mental depletion and self-limiting progress.

In cycling, there is a term sometimes called FTP or Functional Threshold Power, which is a power measurement. Your FTP is the maximum sustainable power at which you can ride for an hour and it is useful to have an idea what it is when you start. Your InfoCrank can help you to monitor this and here’s how to figure out what it is.

Your FTP can be used to determine the pace at which you ride when endurance training, however for now, we will refer to your Aerobic Threshold (AT).  This is the level at which you can still breathe steadily even if laboured and ride for the hour.

About 70 to 80% effort of that Aerobic Threshold is another important level. This is the pace at which you could theoretically ride ‘all day’. More technically, it is the pace at which your body replaces what you are using more or less at the same rate as you use it. This is Endurance Pace. We often call it ‘Talking Pace’, because it is as fast as you can ride and still talk in proper sentences.

Another level below your endurance pace is what we call Recovery Pace.  This is the pace at which the body actually replenishes while you are riding. The Recovery Pace is great because it drives fresh blood into the muscles, without creating any further damage, and as the name implies actually speeds up your recovery. It is simply one of the best ways to recover from a grueling session. It’s important to have days like this every so often as recovery is enhanced and muscular soreness reduced.

So now we have a box that looks like this for your Endurance Training. In any given week of training, 80% of the time should be below Aerobic Threshold with nearly all of it at an effort that is between Recovery Pace and Endurance Pace.

         2. High Intensity Training (HIT)

Now we come to HIT, which should be around 20% of your time training. If the endurance training builds the house, the HIT is the roof. The best way to understand HIT is to use the analogy of a rechargeable battery when it is in use and connected to the charger.

We are just like that – the system is being used and then regenerating. The shorter the maximal effort in a training session, the more the anaerobic portion of your system is being used (anaerobic exercise is short, fast, high-intensity exercise that doesn’t require the body to utilize oxygen as its energy source). 

So, a five second High Intensity maximal effort can put out a lot of energy, but in a 10-minute maximal effort, the rate at which the output is delivered (the battery discharge in our analogy) needs to be slower. Interestingly, discharging regularly actually makes your endurance capacity grow and also makes you more efficient at the High Intensity activity. So, you get a double bang for your buck. You get faster and can also ride faster longer.

The rule with HIT is that it is ‘all out’.  But remember that this is ‘all out’ across the entire set of all intervals, if you truly go all out over the first couple of intervals you may not complete the set. 

Judging these efforts takes a little practice, but it’s no more difficult than going to the gym and figuring out how much you can bench press for 5 sets of 10 repetitions – the practice is identical. And as with the bench press in the gym, you are aiming to get through each set in perfect form but exhaust all your energy in doing so.

Remember that this is how you train for 20% of your time including the recovery between efforts. For those at the top of their game, such as Olympic champion cyclists, spending as low as 4-5% of their time in the actual HIT is sufficient.

  • 20% of your time at maximum
  • Always ‘all out’
  • Never on back to back days
  • Done as intervals

        3. STRENGTH

So now we’ve used 100% of the training time and seem to have forgotten the third section. The reason for this bad mathematical construct is that the actual time taken for strength is really very short, but still very important. Cycling is a non-load bearing exercise to a large extent. Humans are active creatures and naturally designed to take load, so we need to do some load bearing exercises.

This is why astronauts work-out in space, because the low levels of gravity cause muscle mass to atrophy (reduce) as everything is effectively lighter. In our case, we don’t need to use weights because on earth, body weight is sufficient. One of the best weights is the human body.

There are many different strength exercises you could do and isometric exercises in particular are easy to fit into your training (exercises where the muscles are tensioned but not contracting). 

A favourite of ours is an isometric exercise done when your bike is fixed on a trainer:

  • Lock the bike down safely so the cranks can’t move.
  • Position your cranks at around 30 degrees and then apply all the pressure you can till you lose form.
  • Stop, perform the same exercise on the other leg, then rest and repeat.
  • Build up both time and pressure.

You can measure the instantaneous torque with your InfoCrank (via the VINC app available from the Google Play store) and then strive for new records every week. It’s likely you can probably only hold the max torque for 15 seconds, so doing a couple of sets is not a real time issue – but the payback is huge.

So, in summary, what have we got?

Most of your training should be at talking pace – often called endurance pace – which is about 70 to 80% of your threshold.

And then 15 to 20% of your training needs to be High Intensity. It can be part of the Endurance Ride or separate – your choice. This might be 10 x 1 minute, it might be 3 x 5 minutes.

And then starting once a week, do some strength work. Increase it in time and pressure. You could carry weights for the glute exercises or do more of them or both. For the isometrics, you also increase the time and the torque. Both of these can get fun and competitive – because you can be beating records every week.

And then you will start to reap the rewards of getting your training spot on.

Pair your training routine with an InfoCrank power meter and it will support you to ensure you are riding at exactly the right level. Find out more here.

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