If the weather for your November has been anything like the weather that has afflicted your author, then you will have certainly been doing less riding.
Winter has a way of closing in shockingly fast. Add in three weeks of constant rainfall and training time has been next to zero. Eschewing an indoor trainer means the only option for saddle time is to tackle the cold, rain, and the dark. Frankly, it is not worth it.
Not being able to keep up a stock of base miles is a source of constant stress for cyclists. Regular riding is required to keep that basic level of fitness, which is the building block for the top-end speed that is stacked on top of it.
Crunching the time
Chris Carmichael’s latest book from VeloPress turns this idea on its head. (VeloPress provided your author with a complimentary copy.) Carmichael is apparently selling stacks of these books and the title immediately explains why. The Time-Crunched Cyclist: Fit, Fast and Powerful in 6 Hours a Week offers the panacea to the second most precious commodity for the vast majority of cyclists behind good weather: time.
Basically, the message from Carmichael is ride less now. If you can put in the base miles, that’s well and good. But six hours a week is all you need to get, er, fit, fast and powerful. And you can start in on this plan, the Time-Crunched Training Program (TCTP) just a couple of months out from your season – whether that be racing or just aiming for a personal best on your local hillclimb.
There is a trade-off, however. You might be riding less, but you will be riding a lot harder. The plan is based on the principle of working your top end hard – there are plenty of tough-looking and strict sprinting drills to complete, and a high number of the workouts are at over 80% intensity. This has the effect, according to Carmichael, of pulling up all of a rider’s fitness. Working the anaerobic will still benefit the aerobic. And with plenty of time to rest, recovery from hard workouts won’t be a problem.
But there are other trade-offs as well. The fitness from this plan will give you a fast finish but, in the absence of a solid long-riding base, will only be good for hard rides of up to 3 hours. Still, as Carmichael points out, this covers most of the racing/competitive situations that a high number of amateur riders will face.
Another trade-off is that the fitness will not last as long. Having a solid base will allow top-end speed to be added on at various points in the season. Carmichael’s plan allows for a couple of peaks in a season, but you have to taper off and build up again. You get some pretty bright-burning matches to light up your riding, but you’ve only a handful to use over a couple of months in the season. Carmichael describes it as “time-crunched training leads to time-crunched fitness”; it’s in blocks of 12 weeks, which is how long your ‘fitness’ will last (minus 4 weeks at the start to work into it – gains come quickly, apparently) with two blocks a year realistic.
Carmichael has no qualms in pointing out the limitations of his training plan. It won’t work for everyone. But for riders targeting specific goals or events, say over a short summer racing season, a high degree of fitness can be achieved in limited time. If this is the sort of riding that you do, or you need a plan for a special ride, then this is the plan to follow.
Ride less now: ride harder later
Like any training plan, though, you have to be disciplined. And with only six hours a week on this plan you will have to be super disciplined. The work rate heads upwards pretty quickly once you’re on the program. If you want the gains you have to do the drills – and they are plenty tough.
This raises the question of whether the plan is too strict and too reliant on intensity. Some coaches have suggested that amateur riders often train too hard on the light days and not hard enough on the heavy days. With the TCTP stacked with heavy days, this could be a problem.
Still this could be a good plan for a well-disciplined solo rider, or for two or more riding buddies all training together. As Carmichael points out, it’s well suited for an indoor trainer. If you want to get fit, fast and powerful, forget about those cafe rides while you’re in training – or do them outside the six hours. And to get the most out of the TCTP, you’ll need to get set up right with a HR monitor (almost essential) and, ideally, a power meter.
If you like a structured training plan and want to see the benefits of working hard, then this could be the book for you. If you’ve even less time for charting heart rates and downloading power outputs, and your preferred training is to sprint for traffic lights when the mood takes you, or chase your friends up the steepest hills you can find, the TCTP will be too strict and too technical.
But does it work? The debate is ongoing about when and for how long to work at particular intensities, and Carmichael’s book is a useful contribution. Will it make you fit, fast and powerful? Well, there’s only one way to find out!