Jargon Buster - Cycling

Active recovery sessions are a highly effective way of encouraging more rapid recovery on a rest days as they help flush waste products out of your muscles and promote muscle repair.

We do not provide active recovery sessions at the RIAK Fitness studio because it would not be worth your money to come in and sit on a turbo at less than 55% of FTP, even though we would love to see you!

With active recovery sessions it is super important that you maintain a very relaxed effort otherwise, you will be working too hard to allow your body to rid your muscles of waste products but also be working too easily to provoke physiological adaptations (i.e. improve your fitness).

Anaerobic capacity is your muscles’ ability to work in the absence of oxygen and rely on your lactic acid and/or creatine phosphate systems for energy production. 

All this means is it is an extremely hard effort or longer sprint lasting 30 seconds to 3 minutes at around 121 to 150% of FTP.

Higher intensity work such as anaerobic capacity or neuromuscular power (see below) focused efforts should not be neglected even if your cycling focus is more endurance based.  All cyclists need to develop their fast twitch muscle fibres as they become increasingly key towards the end of long events because as your slow twitch muscle fibres (endurance fibres) begin to fatigue, your fast twitch fibres must pick up the slack.

You will hear people refer to how tough a chosen gear is in several ways.

A ‘big’ or ‘small’ gear simply refers to the size of the sprocket or cog on the rear cassette that the rider has chosen (see below re sprocket and cassette).

Annoyingly, it is the opposite to how it might sound.  So, a small cog on the cassette is actually a bigger or harder gear than a larger cog further up the cassette. 

For instance, you might hear a commentator during the Tour de France refer to a rider riding up a climb in an inhumanly big gear.  This means the rider is still in a tough gear and able to turn his legs over quickly or the chain is on one of the smaller rings on the cassette.

Cadence is referred to a lot in the studio and relates to how quickly your legs are turning over.

It means how many pedal strokes per minute you are performing and is expressed as rpm or revolutions per minute.

Generally, a cadence of about 80-100rpm is ideal.

A cassette refers to the gears on the back wheel.

In a nut shell, the further up the chain is on the cassette, the easier (smaller) the gear is.  So, if you are climbing a steep hill, you want the chain further up on the cassette, so you can hopefully keep within that ideal cadence described above.

The software we use runs in either ‘course’ mode or ‘ERG’ mode (see below).

Course mode could be considered the freestyle mode.  It is when the software controls the trainers according to a simulated gradient and the rider is required to choose a gear to suit.

In ERG mode a rider won’t need to change gear very much as the software we use controls the level of resistance the trainer provides.

A normal road bike will have two derailleurs.  These are responsible for moving the chain up and down the gears.

A rear derailleur (often called the rear mech), which shifts the chain up and down the cassette and a front derailleur which shifts the chain on and off the front chain rings (see below).

A turbo trainer which requires the rear wheel of the bike to be removed. The bike is then mounted on to the trainer, which is then driven directly by the bike’s chain via the trainer’s own cassette.

This is riding close to a rider in front of you and benefitting from the hole they are punching through the air.  By staying in their wake, you will use less energy to travel at the same speed.

Different figures are often used to quantify the benefit of drafting, but it could be as much as a 20-30% energy saving.

In the studio, drafting will only be relevant during a race when riding within about a second of the rider in front of you and will give you a simulated energy saving which translates to less resistance on the trainer.

Classically known as ‘base’ training or ‘zone 2’.  Endurance training generally consists of lower intensity efforts for longer periods.  Endurance sets tend to be set at between 56 and 75% of FTP. 

In London, the greatest challenge for a cyclist can often be getting in adequate endurance training without having to cycle out of the city, stopping every 30 seconds at lights to do so.  Our endurance sessions enable athletes to hit this training zone whilst keeping the session interesting and dynamic. 

The easiest way to think about your different energy systems is to think of them as your body’s gears.  Roughly speaking, the easier you are working and the lower the gear you are in, the more your body burns fat as opposed to carbohydrate and protein for fuel.  However, it is important to remember that your body utilises fat, carbohydrate and protein for energy simultaneously.  It is just the level of effort that determines which energy source is in the ascendancy.

There is always debate on how exactly to define the different energy systems and at which point your body switches from one to another.  Our bodies are not machines though and each of us is individual with our individual muscle make-up and therefore a unique inclination to move up or down through the gears.  This is why some are great sprinters, whilst others are phenomenal time trialists.

Nonetheless, at RIAK Fitness, we use the following descriptions in order of intensity to define the different energy systems.  Elsewhere in this Jargon Buster page, you will find a fuller explanation of each:

  1. Active recovery
  2. Endurance
  3. Tempo
  4. Sweet spot
  5. Threshold
  6. Vo2max
  7. Anaerobic capacity
  8. Neuromuscular power

ERG mode refers to a way the studio software controls the trainers.

Put simply, the software controls the resistance so that you are required to put out a certain percentage of your FTP (see below) and perhaps pedal within a certain cadence range to drive the trainer comfortably.

For instance, you might be required to work at 90% of your FTP with a cadence of around 90rpm.  This means the trainer will set a resistance where you will need to put out a power equivalent to 90% of your FTP and spin your legs at around 90rpm to drive the trainer.

In short, you won’t need to change gear much as the software knows how hard to set the resistance to provoke the requisite level of power from you.

The front chain rings are the gears at the front that are turned by the pedals.  On most road bikes there are two front chain rings – although some women’s bikes, tour bikes and mountain bikes will run three front chain rings.

The bigger the front ring used, the harder (tougher) the gear.  So, generally you want to use the big ring if you are going downhill or on a nice flat road and can pedal within the ideal 80-100 rpm range.

You will hear FTP referred to a lot, so it is useful to understand what it means.

Your Functional Threshold Power is a measure of your cycling fitness and refers to the maximum average power you can sustain for a full hour.

The best way of gauging your FTP is to come to the studio and attend a performance test session.  The data from this test will then be plugged into the studio software and used to control the resistance of the trainer.

You’ll be pleased to know that we do not require you to cycle flat out for an hour to determine your FTP.  We use a few different tests to determine an athlete’s FTP.  During the induction session for first timers we use a ramp test as it is relatively quick and less physiologically costly than the standard 20-minute FTP test or our power profile test, which provides a detailed appraisal of a cyclist’s strengths and weaknesses as well as a more accurate FTP.

u will often see the gradient or steepness of a road expressed as a percentage. All this means in cycling terms is how tough that section of road is and it’s important to remember that it is the average gradient for a given section rather than at that exact point.

For instance, a 10% gradient still might have sections of 11-12% balanced by lower gradients of 8-9% giving you a 10% average.

In the studio we often run course based (see above) sessions or sections of sessions which are course based. This means a certain gradient is simulated and you need to pick your gear wisely to adapt to the changing resistance to ride at a specific power or speed.

This sort of work is aimed at increasing or maintaining your natural cadence.  It involves requiring you to turn your legs over at a faster than normal rate with control.

Often, we find that those relatively new to cycling and many triathletes, may have a lower than ideal cadence.  The ideal cadence is somewhere between 80-100rpm.

Notwithstanding the above, high cadence work is something we can all benefit from as it encourages us to spin at a higher cadence rather than feeling the need to be working on the limit all the time and churning out a hard gear.

Power training is simple, it’s all out sprinting.  Power efforts rely heavily on your fast twitch muscle fibres and the phosphate creatine system to produce energy for those fibres.

Power intervals last less than 30 seconds and require everything you have or at least 150% of FTP.

The peloton or the bunch is not strictly defined but in a race such as the Tour de France, it will be used to describe the group with the largest number of riders or the group containing most of the pre-race favourites.

This might seem like it doesn’t need explaining but if you’re interested, power is defined as: work / time.  It is measured in watts.

In the RIAK Fitness studio our trainers measure the amount of power you put through the pedals, which is then transmitted to the drivetrain and through the trainer.

Generally, when someone talks about sprockets, they are talking about the gears on the cassette (the gears on the back wheel). They are also known as cogs.

So, if someone says, ‘go up a sprocket or two’, this means move up a gear or two on the back gears.

Working in a tough gear whilst seated with a lower cadence of about 40-60rpm (see above re cadence).

The point of such training is to build strength and your tolerance for steeper gradients.  It’s importance to mix big gear work with higher cadence work (see below) to prevent you from inadvertently adopting a lower cadence.

There is debate over the effectiveness of this type of training but let’s face it, a bit of lower cadence work to prepare for those steep humbling climbs that you just want to survive seems objectively sensible.

Sweet spot training refers to the region just under FTP (around 88-95% of your FTP).  Being so close to your threshold, it is a hard effort but one you can sustain for longer than were you at 100% of FTP.

Training in this power range normally involves longer intervals with short bursts above threshold and some recovery.  It is a great way of building endurance and lifting your FTP without requiring an athlete to sit on the edge for too long.

Tempo training is a step up from endurance efforts and can be described as strong efforts during which you would struggle to be able to chat. 

Tempo work is often mixed with endurance sets and tends to be set at 76-90% of FTP.  During these efforts, your body will begin to shift to from burning primarily fat to burning an increasing amount of carbohydrate for energy.

Your lactate threshold is more commonly associated with running, but it can be described quite simply as the point at which your body shifts from working predominantly aerobically to anaerobically.

At this point your body is no longer able to consume enough oxygen to recycle the lactate that begins to accumulate in your blood.  Fatigue will begin to set in as there isn’t enough oxygen to buffer the lactic acid build up and the increased concentration of hydrogen ions that are believed to be the source of the pain you feel when fatiguing.

A rider’s FTP (see above) is generally used to determine their aerobic threshold and above this threshold the rider will be relying much more heavily on their carbohydrate stores and less on fat for a source of energy.

Threshold training can be described as hard efforts working on the edge of fatigue.  You cannot hold a conversation at this intensity.

Unless you were competing in something like a 40km time trial, training sets would usually last between 8 and 30 minutes with plenty of recovery.

A threshold interval in the studio would be set at between 91 and 105% of FTP depending on its length.

Threshold training is crucial for triathletes and time trialists as improvements in FTP can be a big determinant in race performance.

A turbo trainer is a piece of equipment that allows you to mount your bike and turn it into an indoor static trainer.

Ours are great!

Your Vo2max is your maximal rate of oxygen consumption.

Put simply, a Vo2max effort is a very hard effort that you know you cannot sustain for long.  At between 106 and 120% of FTP, 3 to 8-minute sets is all you will likely be able to manage.

As an increasingly anaerobic effort, the athlete will now predominantly be relying on carbohydrate as an energy source, which limits the amount of work that can be done at this intensity.

Vo2max training is key for criterium racers, cyclo-cross riders and road racers.

This is a metric defined as your power output divided by your bodyweight.

It is often used in conjunction with your FTP to determine your level of fitness or cycling ability.

Essentially, if a lighter rider’s FTP once interpreted as watts/kg is higher than a heavier rider’s watts/kg, the lighter rider should be considered the stronger of the two.

For this type of trainer, the rear wheel stays on and it is contact between the tyre of the rear wheel and the resistance unit of the trainer that drives the trainer.