Last week we discussed keeping sprint work during a transition period can help maintain fitness with little risk for mental fatigue. The same group just published another study looking at the same idea. What did they find?
Winter training doesn’t have to be like this
As we slowly approach the end of the competitive road season, many cyclists are considering an end-of-season transition period before starting up with their base training over the colder winter months. However, none of us want to forfeit our hard-earned fitness.
Perhaps you have asked yourself before: “What is the best way to maintain your fitness while still allowing your body to recover?” In this week’s Toolbox article, we will investigate a recently published paper published from Brent Ronnestad’s research group. The researchers investigated the use of sprints during Low Intensity Training (LIT) sessions to increase cycling performance during a 3-week transition period following the competitive season. Let’s get started!
Who did they study?
Eleven male cyclists completed the study. These athletes were certainly elite, with relative VO2max (maximal rate of oxygen uptake) values above 71 mL/kg/min.
What did they do?
At the start and end of the study, the cyclists completed a series of tests to identify the blood lactate threshold, VO2max, as well as 30 s sprint power and their 20 min power output, like a 20 min FTP test. By performing the tests before and after the intervention, the authors could then determine how changes in performance were affected by the training intervention. The exercise test protocol is outlined from the authors below:
Figure 1. Exercise test protocol. Taken from Taylor et al. 2021.
After the first training test, the cyclists were placed into either the sprint training group (SPR) or a low-intensity control group (CON). Both groups were instructed to perform LIT (classified as ~60% VO2peak), while the SPR group would include sprints in one LIT session per week. For the sprinters, this meant performing 3 sets of 3 x 30 seconds all-out sprints, with 4 min recovery between maximal effort sprints and 10 min recovery between sets.
After the 3-week training intervention, the athletes returned to their self-selected training strategy for 6 weeks. Following those 6 weeks of self-selected training the final exercise test was performed and the researchers could determine which 3-week transition period was more effective.
Sprints in the winter
What did they find?
After the 3-week training intervention (CON vs. SPR), what did the researchers find? Interestingly, the authors showed an increase in absolute 20 min power output (W), but this was not seen in their relative 20 min power output (W/kg). This could be attributed to a 7.0% increase in VO2 recorded during the 20 min test for SPR athletes (comparing the initial test to the final test), whereas the CON athletes saw only a 0.7% increase in VO2 during the final 20 min test.
Interestingly, there was no significant effect on the maximal 30 s sprint power between the CON and SPR group, despite a trend for an increase in the SPR group. Furthermore, no significant changes were seen between CON and SPR groups in terms of VO2max or power output at 4 mmol·L−1 blood lactate (another measure of FTP).
What can you do with this information?
The authors highlighted the significant increase in 20 min power as justification for including some all-out 30 s sprints into your weekly Low-Intensity Training. It is worth noting that the explanation for the SPR athletes increased 20 min power could be a significant increase in VO2 during the 20 min effort, which was not observed in the CON group. Therefore, some notable advice to take from the study would be to include some all-out sprints into your low-intensity training sessions. Even just once a week made a difference for these elite athletes!
For myself, I use Xert to track my training and perform my workouts. I take advantage of the Mixed Mode feature with the Xert EBC app to complete effective sprinting workouts indoors. Mixed Mode workouts allow me to complete some intervals of the workout in trainer control mode (ERG mode), while other intervals within the workout can be completed against a fixed resistance (Slope/Sim mode). The Xert EBC app will automatically switch back and forth between ERG and Slope modes for me. By doing my LIT efforts in ERG mode, I can stay disciplined on the low-intensity sections, while the Slope mode sprints allow me to go all-out during those 30 s intervals. I don’t have to worry about the dreaded ‘ERG mode spiral of death’, where the resistance on a smart trainer continues to increase beyond the point where you can pedal. The automatic transition between the two modes makes for a very smooth and effective workout.
In fact, I was able to recreate a workout like the workout used in the present study, which I will be testing out over the next couple of weeks. In the screenshot below, I’ve set all the low-intensity intervals (in blue/grey) to be controlled automatically by my trainer in ERG mode, while the sprint intervals (in red) are performed in Slope mode so I can go all-out:
Figure 2. Xert SMART low-intensity workout with sprints.
That’s all for this month! Stay safe, ride fast, and I’ll see you next month!
Taylor, M., Almquist, N., Rønnestad, B., Tjønna, A. E., Kristoffersen, M., Spencer, M., Sandbakk, Ø., & Skovereng, K. (2021). The Inclusion of Sprints in Low-Intensity Sessions During the Transition Period of Elite Cyclists Improves Endurance Performance 6 Weeks Into the Subsequent Preparatory Period, International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 16(10), 1502-1509.