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Review: The Time Crunched Cyclist book by Chris Carmichael

3 Oct 2017

Short, sharp training regime for busy cyclists

Cyclist Rating: 
Easy to follow
Could be slimmed down

Race-fast in six hours a week. That’s the promise of Chris Carmichael’s book The Time Crunched Cyclist. Most training programmes rely on large quantities of baseline endurance work to build fitness slowly, before trying to add top-end capacity.

However, the realities of most people's lives prohibit spending endless hours on the bike. Taking this as its starting point The Time Crunched Cyclist flips this model on its head by cutting volume but upping intensity.

At its core is a pretty simple set of 8-11 week training programmes. These consist of different combinations of eight fairly basic drills.

Designed to provide enough training stress to provoke your body’s adaptive response to build power and endurance they’ll see riders completing efforts close to, or above, their lactate threshold, roughly the sort of maximum pace a motivated rider can sustain for an hour.

Prescribing four days of work a week most sessions comprise 60-90 minute rides with around half an hour of high-intensity work, including the rest periods between efforts.

Using the same basic building blocks there are specific programmes covering preparing for road racing, cyclocross, century rides, gran fondos and gravel grinders.

Why high intensity?

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been generating lots of interest recently, but it’s not a particularly new concept.

The idea is that by using short, sharp repeat efforts you’ll trigger many of the adaptations normally built using more traditional endurance training.

The Time Crunched plan strips out most of the moderate-intensity riding found in traditional programmes but retains, or even increases, the volume-at-intensity, especially the volume at high-intensity.

So while the overall number of hours ridden may be low, the amount of time you spend riding hard is relatively high.

These taxing efforts require a lot of recovery time off the bike, luckily this is something the time crunched athlete has plenty of.

However, upping difficulty but cutting time means there’s no room for slacking and you’ll require resolve and a degree of existing ability to get the most out of the work.

The drills need to be ridden correctly and they’re tough even in the first weeks.

Anyone who’s done maximal efforts will know that they leave you dizzy, gasping, and with a smell like burning in your nostrils.

They’ll also likely have you weaving all over the road. This is one problem with the programme.

It’s quite difficult to accomplish the sort of efforts it prescribes on road. This means many sessions are better suited to being carried out on a turbo trainer.

In general even trying to achieve the narrow prescribed power or heart rate outputs required of the non-maximal efforts can be difficult on anything other than quiet, flat, straight roads and in the first weeks you’ll probably spend time hunting out terrain that will allow you to match the book’s prescriptions.

While the programme is easily achievable using just a heartrate monitor, you’ll get better results, and more insight by employing a power meter.

When it comes to doing maximal outputs you just hammer away as hard as you can. A heartrate monitor will show you’re trying your hardest, but power will show how your legs are responding.

But does it work?

There’s a wealth of evidence to suggest it does. There are caveats though, which Carmichael readily admits.

First off you’ll need to start with a some degree of fitness, although most regular cyclists should be fine.

Secondly, as the program cuts the traditional endurance training its effects are best suited to performing in events shorter than three hours.

Also, due to its high workload the programme can’t be run continuously.

You’ll likely see the best results around week eight, and might be able to stretch your fitness out another month.

Although some of the performance gains will roll over, after this you’ll need to take at least a month off.

Along with the programme itself the book contains a sizable serving of advice on diet and nutrition, some general and some specific to powering high-intensity workouts.

It’s all well reasoned and fad-free, if somewhat unrevolutionary.

There’s even several pages of recipes, although people who get their food inspiration from training manuals should probably re-evaluate their life choices.

There's also race tips and a section on strength training. Still the heart of the book remains the programme.

In reality there’s not much here that couldn’t be gleaned from those pull-out-and-keep training programmes you get in geekier running and cycling magazines.

In fact it’s a safe bet that a few writers have probably cribbed some of Carmichael’s work over the years.

However, if you’re going to invest time and effort in the programme you might as well get the information at source, along with an in-depth explanation of its intentions and methods.

Designed to be run two or three times a year with at least a month in between for recovery giving the programme a try doesn't require much of an initial commitment.

In fact assuming you can deal with the high-intensity drills, if you can’t stick to this regime you’re probably not going to adhere to any structured performance plan.

Science aside, most amature training plans get abandoned because they clash with busy lives.

If the amount of time you can dedicate to cycling is limiting your ability to get fast The Time Crunched Cyclist could be the solution.

Clearly written it explains much of the thinking behind the high-intensity interval training method, is easy to follow, and if stuck to, likely to provide results.

Gotta be worth a try.

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