Inevitably or eternally, #CrossIsComing, so when you decide it’s time to get ready for CX season what workouts are best for you to do?
The best workouts for one athlete may not be the best ones for you. Your friend, or your favorite pro, may be very good at high power, sprints and spend the summer racing road while you may be a time-trialist all summer with limited time to train. You may be much older or younger, or you may have a background in BMX-racing or no cycling background at all! We need to consider many factors when choosing our key workouts to get ready for cyclocross to ensure we have worked on our limiters.
Below are three general scenarios that athlete ‘types’ that you may fit into. I have included some workout ideas that you may want to include as cyclocross season approaches. I am not suggesting all of these be done in a single week, but you may very well find yourself spending a month on each of these ‘scenarios’ as you go through the cross season and your abilities and strengths evolve.
1) Technically limited, struggle with continuous but undulating efforts of cross
If you haven’t spent much time off-road, especially racing off-road than cross practice will be your friend, and getting skill coaching will also be valuable. If you can get riding on a cross course frequently, or setup some obstacles around your house, this will be very helpful.
Workouts that require you to alternate your output and skills will also be great. Micro-intervals where you ride hard and easy (15 seconds hard /15 seconds easy and 30/30 are most common). Most often these are done for 10-30 minutes and should feel very much like the unrelenting hard work of cyclocross!
Including running in these micro-intervals can be another way to simulate race situations and improve technique (once you have the basics down at slow speed with low fatigue). Try building a short loop that makes you ride hard for ~30 seconds, recover on a descent or set of corners, then dismount for a barrier and do a run up a steep hill, then do a bunch of corners back to the start of the short loop for a 1-3 minute repetition.
I usually do 1-5 x 1-2 min rounds together, take a 5-10 minute break then do another 2 sets. Mix very short and maximal efforts with longer efforts in another session in the week to get really fun and specific workout.
2) Struggle with ‘going all in’, starts, attacks, sprints
This is common in endurance mountain bikers, gravel-grinders, Fondo-riders or time-trialists. Putting yourself into some criteriums, hard group rides or short cyclocross practice races will be helpful in developing the love of going hard!
Many times cross practices will include some start repetitions, which really help develop your ‘starting routine’ and your starting power. On your own, you can do this by practicing 6-10 short (10-20sec) start efforts from standing at the beginning of a few workouts each week.
If you are not a sprinter or struggle with maximal short efforts, it is worth putting a focus on this by doing a focused workout on sprinting or very short efforts with full recoveries (8+ minutes). It is quite valuable to get skill-coaching for standing and sprinting as your power can increase simply by learning the technique of sprinting.
These start efforts might be paired a workout that puts you on your limit and then makes you attack over that intensity. These might be called ‘over-unders’ or ‘threshold with bursts’ depending on the coach but basically, we want to ride at a hard pace and then surge for 15-60seconds before returning to that hard pace.
Start at 2-3 reps of 11 minutes (1 minute hard/4 min threshold/1 minute hard/4min threshold/1min hard). Use longer recoveries 5-10 minutes of light pedaling to ensure you will push the pace. While it is tempting to do this on cyclocross course it is best done on the road to ensure your power output is hard alternated with very hard, and to track your progress.
3) Great technical skills, low fitness, or tired/sick from a lot of summer racing
Did you spend the summer in the bike park, racing BMX, winning every criterium, or were you off the bike a lot for injury or vacation? If you believe you will be limited by your engine more than your driving skills then bias towards extended road-endurance sessions 2-3x a week. If your technical ability is sufficient this can be polished or maintained around the focused intensity days and/or at a weekly cross practice, which could be included after intervals, or for fit athletes with a lot of cyclocross skills, after some endurance road riding.
*If you are racing twice on a weekend during the cross season this can also be a nice way to spend your weekdays to provide enough recovery between weekends while maintaining some training load.
Once you are back to feeling good on the bike during these endurance sessions you can start to include 1-2 sessions of threshold intervals per week. Progress a set of 3 x 10 minutes towards a burly 2 x 20-minute session over 4 – 8 weeks keeping an eye on your intensity (more is not more). Recovery is 5-10 minutes typically.
In all of these scenarios, the focus/interval days will vary but these in all cases these couple of days should be surrounded by sufficient rest, cross-training and low end, steady endurance. 1-2 days of focused training (intervals/skills) with lower intensity and recovery will ensure you make progress in the desired areas. Work hard on the hard days then recover and allow yourself to improve!
Have a great cyclocross season!