A cycle commute is an excellent way to make the most of the time you have available and maximise your fitness gains. To fully reap the benefits of commuting by bike to work, you can turn your commuting miles into a specific cycling workout.
This cycling workout is one that’s designed to be easily incorporated into a commute by bike to – or from – work and does not require any specific equipment such as a power meter or heart rate monitor to be completed properly.
It includes five one-minute efforts at a hard pace (but not maximal) and starting in your largest gear, with around nine minutes rest between efforts.
The efforts within this session help with torque generation, which is important as power is made up of torque (the force pushed through the pedals) and angular velocity (cadence or the speed at which you pedal).
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Although often described as ‘a gym workout on a bike’, big gear efforts and low cycling cadence work isn’t quite the same as the muscle force required is lower than the force generated by doing high weight leg workouts in the gym. However, there is still a place within training to incorporate these big gear sessions and get some useful benefits from them.
On terrain such as steep climbs, where cadence is often limited due to gearing, or in scenarios such as sprints, where maximal force is required to generate maximum power, being able to generate large amounts of force on the bike becomes very important.
Gym workouts can facilitate this by triggering neuromuscular activation and creating new neuron pathways. It’s a very interesting process - essentially, it allows you to use more of your muscle fibres, as we don’t necessarily use 100 per cent of these fibres when doing maximal efforts. Big gear efforts on the bike still generate some neuromuscular activation but, in this scenario, the muscle firing pattern is highly specific to what it needs to be on the bike.
Another big benefit of this session is that it is very easy to complete without requiring any specialist equipment beyond a bike with working gears.
For the efforts, you want to ideally be on a flattish, rolling or very light uphill gradient. Slow down to a walking pace or slow riding pace, making sure that you are in your biggest gear. From that point, you want to remain seated and keep your core strong and stable, while really focusing on pushing down on the pedals with each leg. The effort shouldn’t be maximal but should feel hard by the end of the minute. For the rest periods between efforts, it is a good idea to spin the legs out a bit and keep a higher cadence, 85+ RPM for those with a cadence sensor or power meter.
Keeping seated is very important for this. It can feel easier to do these efforts out of the saddle but keeping seated and maintaining a strong core really helps to assist with delivering power all the way down through every muscle in your legs and not wasting energy by using muscles in your upper body. This helps you become a more efficient rider.
How best to execute this cycling workout outside
A good way of doing this workout on a commute can be to do it at traffic lights from a stationary start, if safe to do so. Make sure that you are in your biggest gear as you come to the lights. When the light goes green, push off. Another benefit of being seated in this scenario is that you are in more control of your bike, making it safer to conduct the efforts on busier roads. Always keep a lookout for other road users and remain vigilant for possible hazards.
If your cycle commute is less than an hour, feel free to drop the recovery time between efforts down a bit so that you can still incorporate all five efforts into the session.
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