• Mark Turnbull

Bike training sessions that will help you to reduce the VLamax


For a cycling coach, reducing their clients VLamax can be a game changer for endurance performance. The mechanism is quite easy to understand: reducing the glycolytic power means reducing the maximum ability of the body (muscles) to produce lactate. The actual lactate production rate during and endurance exercise depends – to a significant amount – on the maximum rate of glycolysis (breakdown of glucose) and on the maximum glycolytic power of an athlete (VLamax).

A high VLamax will result in a higher glycolytic rate in endurance exercises, and therefore, in a higher lactate production. Because the origin of lactate is glucose (the only fuel the body can use to produce lactate), a higher lactate production rate means also a higher carbohydrate combustion rates.

A cycling coach may use this knowledge to deliberately reduce the VLamax in their athletes and targeting specific training methods. Here are the three most effective and proven pillars of a training regime to reduce VLamax in cycling.

Medium intensity

At a first glance it may be tempted to prescribe super low intensities to my athletes in order to reduce their VLamax. However, it is a matter of fact that this may not be successful for more than 70% of athletes. The reason is simple: their glycolytic power is related to their fast-twitch muscle fibers. These muscle fibers endure the capacity to produce a lot of energy via glycolysis (anaerobic). Now, we all know the basic principle of training is that you use a structure to train it: you do leg press in the gym to increase strength in your quadriceps, and you may do biceps curls to increase the force in your biceps. The same is true for adapting the fast-twitch muscle fibers: you have to use them in training at least a bit (at tempo) in order for them to adapt to the new set-up. Now, fast twitch-fibers only get recruited at higher intensities and this means intensities below the anaerobic threshold. Long story short: a good training to actively reduce VLamax needs to be at least in the FatMax or in the ‘medio’ zone at minimum.

Consistency, consistency, consistency

Changes in muscles fiber types and subtypes, as well as in the enzymatic content (which actually defines the VLamax), doesn't come overnight and it doesn't come in a short time frame. You may well look for minimum two months, or even better, three to four months to see significant changes in the VLamax of your athletes.

The good thing is that you don’t need to feel bad to “copy-paste” training methods. The blank truth: athletes need to repeat special VLamax training several times per week, and for several weeks and months in order to make it work.

A good guideline is to put into your training programs two to four sessions of ‘special VLamax training’ per week. And this might end up being the majority of the training prescribed. But it’s totally OK.

You may also want to retest the VLamax after six or eight weeks into the training program to see the tendency of adoption and therefore be able to fine-tune your training sessions. Finally, to quantify the full adaptation, you want to test the VLamax once more after three or four months after the beginning of your training block, so approximately two months after the second test.


Nutrition

Another pillar that will ensure to lower the VLamax of your athletes is nutrition, and to be precise the note that trainings will not be performed with the muscles filled 100% with glycogen.

It may be counterintuitive, but think about it: the aim of these training is to reduce the ability of the body to produce lactate from the breakdown of glucose. Now, if you offer glucose in vast amounts (either glycogen already stored in the muscles cell or from nutrition on the bike) that will only increase the lactate production rates. Therefore, the training to reduce VLamax should always be carried out in a slightly carbohydrate depleted state.

But be aware: slightly depleted glycogen store does not mean no carbohydrates. It is dangerous and can be harmful to the performance development to cycle without carbohydrates for a significant amount of time. So it’s not as simple as ‘the less carbohydrates the better!’

How should you to put all these piece of advice this into practice? Here are the two most successful (and proved) ways to reduce VLAmax in cyclists through training and nutrition.


Intervals & Torque

To kill two birds with one stone most of the coaches combine interval training sessions (that target an increase in the VO2max) together with specific work to reduce the VLamax. This method consists of two parts.


Part 1. Plan an interval session of your choice, either a threshold intervals (so-called VO2max intervals), or even a 40/20. Whatever the specific aim of this training may be (for example targeting an increase in the VO2max), in our specific case we actually use this session to reduce the glycogen dependency of your energy pathways. This training may either be carried out the same day, or the day before part 2 (read below). The training intensity of Part 1 aims to reduce the glycogen storage in the muscles, particularly if carbohydrate intake during training is reduced.

Part 2. This part follows part one and has to be executed maximum 24 hours after. But it can be also done 12 hour later, or even less. In Part 2 the athlete carries out several intervals repetitions of 10 to 25 minutes duration each, and they are executed at FatMax/Medio Zone, so a bit below threshold. Because of the lower intensity of the effort, we reduce the cadence to 50-60 rpm (but be cautious: don't start with 50 rpm straight away, you may risk a knee injury). Start with 60-70 rpm and slowly decrease – in few weeks – to 50 to 60 rpm. The lower cadence will result in a greater torque; therefore a greater force will be applied on the pedals and consequently an increased recruitment of fast-twitch fibers. In other words: instead of increasing the intensity to threshold or above, we use an intensity below the threshold, but we increase the torque to get the same recruitment of fast-twitch fibers as we would get at the higher intensity. Finally, because the intensity is now below the threshold, this will allow the athlete to spend more training time in the zone.

Example

Part 1. 6 x 4 minutes at the upper limit of threshold zone

Nutrition. Given that in the beginning of part 1 glycogen is replenished, there should be no need to substitute carbohydrates during this session. Until part 2: stay low in carbohydrates, focus on meals based mostly on fat and proteins with only a small content of carbohydrates.

Part 2. In a 2 to 5 hour ride, do 2 to 4 x 10-25 minutes at medio zone at the prescribed cadence. Use 0-20g of carbohydrate per repetition. The total number of reps and duration per reps depends on the level of your athlete: recreational, professional …)


Prolonged time at FatMax with low cadence

A variation of the above is to lower down the intensity from Medio Zone to the upper FatMax zone. In addition, the cadence for this workout needs to stay at around 65-70 rpm. Because of the lower intensity, the aim here is to increase the time spent in this zone and also the number of sessions per week. This method is especially suited for athletes training more than 14 hours per week.

Example. Plan this session 3-4 times per week and every time plan a 3-4h ride. Each hour include 30 minutes at the upper FatMax zone, and limit the carbohydrate intake to 10-20 g/h. Set the cadence to 65-70 rpm.

This method is especially suited to be done on a hilly or mountainous route as each mountain provides with the possibility to do such the intervals. This said, you don't need to be picky about the duration of each interval: the goal here is to spend a lot of time in the target zone, with the target cadence and with low carbohydrates intake.

Of course you can combine those two methods in the same training program.

What to avoid

Whenever you try to reduce the VLamax in training, make sure that you do not carry out any training which triggers the exact opposite adaptation.

Training to avoid are:

  • Any kind of gym training with the legs, especially leg press and leg curl

  • Lots of super low intensity training (base zone and below)

  • Sprint training and high-intensity intervals: any sprint training or close to maximum efforts and duration of 6 to 60 seconds should be avoided. High-intensity interval session with an intensity not significant above aerobic maximum zone are not relevant, while interval trainings at higher intensities may result with the opposite effect to what you are trying to achieve.

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