High Altitude, Low Cadence Preparation

Hi all,

I’m quite new to TR, around 2 months in and enjoying the consistency and lack of thought required on my part - just do what I’m told each week! However as we start to move closer to the spring I’m wondering if I should be more specific in my plan, so looking for any advice / experience as I figure there must be others out there in a similar scenario.

I don’t train to race or get faster. (There, I said it!) I’m a MTB guide in the Alps and so train a low volume plan (along with ski touring and some strength sessions each week) to retain fitness and be ready for the season ahead. I train on Elite quick motion rollers but not the smart version, so have to use bike gearing for everything.

The season involves long slow grinds up steep fire roads leading to technical single track at altitude, quite often a hike-a-bike at around 3000m, then a long descent. Rinse and repeat daily. When I do ride the road bike, it’s long alpine climbs for an hour or more at very low cadences, but again often reasonably high up.

During the workouts, the instructions often say ‘relate your cadence to your real world demands’ or words to that effect, but also advise to keep the cadence high. Personally I find the higher cadence stresses my respiratory system more, (so good prep for working hard at altitude?), but is a long way from my usual pedalling speed. If I try to switch and do the efforts at low cadence, they stress my legs as would be expected, but less so my lungs.

So I guess my questions are: Is there a type of workout that I should be prioritising more as I go through the plan phases? Is it a good idea to simply switch the workout advice from high cadence to low whilst sticking to the prescribed plan? Or, is there a better way of training for long slow grinds and altitude at the same time?

Thanks! (apologies if this is covered elsewhere, please point me in the right direction)

I live in Colorado. I do a lot of riding like this also. Ride uphill for 1-2 hours and then a long descent.

A few thoughts:

  • Be sure to spend enough time on base fitness - I.e. zone 2 rides. TR low volume plans don’t have a lot of these, but pretty easy to add several Zone 2 rides during the week.

  • I prefer longer, lower intensity sweet spot intervals than what are in many of the TR workouts. Eg minimum 2x20 at 85-90% instead of 10 or 12 minute intervals at 94-99%.

My go-to sweet spot workouts now are 60 mins at 85 or 90%, and I often do the last 20 minutes at low cadence. 65-70 rpm vs normal preferred cadence of 85-90.

I find adding low cadence work and doing long intervals really helps in for long grinds uphill.

  • Add VO2max workouts closer to your season. The longer 3-5 min intervals I think are better than the short interval types. And better prepares you for that 15% steep section close to the top!

Regarding altitude acclimatization, there are no shortcuts. You just have to spend a lot of time at altitude for your body to adapt.


Thanks @DaveWh, that’s helpful. So I guess you’re saying to ditch the TR plan and make up my own that’s as relevant as possible…

Agreed that acclimatisation just takes time regardless. what I’m aiming to do this year is train now to be able to recover as quickly as possible after short spikes in effort during a ride, so that the first few weeks don’t hurt so much as they usually do!

So that is training VO2max right? I actually think for me the shorter, sub 1 minute efforts are most relevant if added into the middle of a longer just below threshold interval. They are more representative of a technical section in the middle of a single track climb I think. Will need to dig through the library and see what I can find that looks like that…

Not ditch. More modify.

What plans are you doing/planning to do? Based on what you’re training for, something like the following might make sense:

  • sweet spot base
  • sustained power build
  • cross country marathon

One change I would make in these plans is to sub out the short interval sweet spot workouts for longer interval ones (per my suggestion in my earlier note).

The VO2max workouts in the plan are likely good, and they naturally progress from the shorter intervals to longer (eg Spencer or Kaiser).

I’d also add Z2 workouts to your weeks.

One thing to be mindful of is the Low Volume plans have a lot of intensity. So worth watching your fatigue, and be ready to swap out a high intensity workout for lower if you feel you need to.

VO2max yes. Also over-under workouts e.g. like Mitchel-1 (week 1 of cross country marathon, low volume).

One thing to clarify: are you looking to also improve your anaerobic power during these short efforts? Or more looking to be able to recover from them?

If the former, you may also need to add some sprint-type efforts like some of the workouts in short power build.

Thanks again @DaveWh, very helpful. I’ll adapt the current plan as per your recommends and see what that feels like.

One thing to clarify: are you looking to also improve your anaerobic power during these short efforts? Or more looking to be able to recover from them?

I guess more power on tap equates to less effort required, so while being able to recover and keep going is good, not having to recover from such a hole in the first place is a double bonus, particularly when oxygen is in short supply!

I’ll keep the sprints sprinkled through the plan too…

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