Case Study: Using Intervals to Correct Deficiencies

The idea of “threshold power” or any one of its analogous titles has been seen as an end-all, be-all by too many athletes, coaches, and competitors in endurance based sports, particularly cycling. However, at the elite level, many of these general fitness and performance markers fall to the wayside, and for good reason. When examining performance at the elite level, the small differences at the extreme are the key to success no endurance event can be won with a steady paced output. The reason is simple. You have to cross the finish line first to win and at the end of the day, there’s a mad dash at some point that far exceeds the moderate intensity of “threshold.” Combine that concept with an understanding that at the elite level, fitness can largely be considered a constant as athletes are now among their elite peers. Suddenly any differentiator becomes strikingly advantageous, which leads to the development of specialists in the sport (sprinters, TT-ers, climbers, etc).

Figure 1: Redlands Crit, Early

Figure 1: Redlands Crit, Early

Whitney Allison is a case of an athlete who has seen success for years at the elite level. However, during her 2015 season evaluation, she expressed a need to improve her explosiveness in races. Particularly to increase her effectiveness at the business end of criterium events, necessitated by the rejoining of the NRC and NCC schedules to create the PRT series in the US.
So back in the fall we set about doing just that. We began by implementing a condensed strength and plyometric program to begin at the end of October that would set her up for the major events on the ever earlier US PRT calendar. The US professional races have been creeping earlier over the last few years and the training must now account for the fact that May is now the “halfway” mark for major road events in the US. This means, being fit early and going fast for Redlands in early April.
Figure 2: Redlands Crit, Late

Figure 2: Redlands Crit, Late

Myself and the other coaches I consulted with at Source Endurance knew it would help her, but the extent of the improvement wouldn’t be realized until the Redlands Bicycle Classic, Criterium. There are two images here, one from the first 15 minutes of the stage (Early) and one from the last 15 minutes (Late). You’ll see two dotted lines, one at 300W, her Functional Threshold Power (FTP) at sea level and one at 500W, a good benchmark for “hard” jumps in a professional race. The two trends here to notice are 1. Consistent frequency of +500W efforts in the beginning and end of the stage. 2. The peaks from the explosive efforts remain solidly above 500W. This type of performance is something we haven’t seen yet from Whitney. But how did we get there?
Figure 3: Snapshot of Whitney's Grumpy Workout

Figure 3: Snapshot of Whitney’s Grumpy Workout

After identifying that we needed to improve, Whitney’s ability to accumulate training at Functional Reserve Capacity (FRC) and Pmax intensities, we went to work. Some work was done at FTP / FRC (Vo2 work) just to ensure there was sufficient fitness at those intensities but not nearly what most would expect. Then, using the data from her past 2 years of training and racing to specifically target interval durations, set durations, rest times and number of sets, I built what would infamously be called “Whitney’s Grumpy Workout.”
Whitney’s Grumpy Workout is aptly named because it embodies all the types of efforts that she had deficiencies with. That is, they are short and explosive with just barely enough recovery to repeat. We did a couple different interval times of 16sec and 7sec and we did lots of them. Here’s a picture of one set of each. Notice how much they resemble the criterium stage images from the Redlands Bicycle Classic.
The results of this focused work were significant as shown in the image here, to scale and referencing the same time span in 2016 and 2015. Whitney saw improvement in her peak 5sec (red), 60sec (orange) and 5min (green) powers.
Figure 4: Whitney's early 2016 (left) versus early 2015 (right)

Figure 4: Whitney’s early 2016 (left) versus early 2015 (right)

Whitney says: “As an athlete, I’ve likened myself to being more a semi-truck than a sports car: I can motor along forever at a pretty high intensity but the jump to get there has always been a challenge. My role on Colavita-Bianchi Women’s Pro Cycling, usually as a super-domestique, requires me to follow moves, get in breaks, and keep my sprinters happy and that is harder to do without a jump. I call this workout my ‘grumpy workout’ because it hits my deficiencies and leaves me exhausted…much like a sprinter doing threshold intervals which I can do all day with a smile on my face. I really appreciate the benefits of the workout and am always sure to complete it to the best of my ability because I know how important it is to my success. Seeing the results year after year from working with Adam makes it worth it.
These added physical attributes has thus far enabled her to be more effective at the sharp end of races and helped her secure a spot on Team Colavita-Bianchi’s Women’s Tour of California roster. Come and try this workout with Whitney at the Source Endurance Training Center of the Rockies, Thursday May 12th. Spots are limited. Tickets available.
BioPic-AdamMillsAbout Adam Mills: Adam’s true talent comes with his ability to combine his vast experience with his knowledge of sport. He is indeed a student of science, sport, athletic performance, strategy, and tactics. He continuously educates himself by keeping up to date with current trends and methods in sport. Adam is able to incorporate these attributes to help his clients reach and exceed their goals whether they are a beginner or a seasoned professional. Learn more about Adam and Source Endurance here.