For the athletes reading this whether you’re a cyclist, runner, skier, when was the last time you completed one maximal to exhaustion effort from 30 second to 5 minutes long? If the answer is “I can’t remember” or “never that sounds awful”. Then you may be missing some puzzle pieces.
This mental skill should be included and practiced at several times and over different duration's throughout the training season. The ability for an athlete to go right to their physical limit over a somewhat fixed duration or a fixed distance is something I sometimes see lacking in athletes and training programs.
After a few decades in sport I believe it can be the most important skill to posses when it comes to competition and it can be improved with deliberate efforts targeting a variety of time frames. All things being equal the athlete who can dig the deepest and empty the tank at the line has a good chance of coming out on top.
I emphasize different duration's or lengths because athletes who do one set testing protocol will become accustomed to that duration. An example being a cyclist only doing a 20 or 30 minute FTP test. That protocol may work well for setting training levels around threshold. A one minute all out effort to exhaustion feels drastically different. And extend that out to 4 or 5 minutes and it again is a much different “feel”. And knowing what those each feel like can help when it comes to pacing such as an attack or driving a break in a road race, or pacing a solo effort in a cross or mountain bike race.
There can also be some confusion between one maximal effort and difficult high intensity interval session. Typically, an interval session will always include some sort of pacing even if subconsciously. If I ask an athlete to do 7 x 3 minutes on, 3 minutes off. And ask that they all be maximal efforts, 9/10 athletes will still pace them to a degree. Now ask the athlete to warmup well and conduct 1 x 3 minute all out effort hopefully that athlete, with practice, will perform a higher intensity effort. That could be measured by power or even by distance. Over time an athlete will be able to intuitively pace their race efforts more effectively. That one all out effort also provides a good benchmark to work backwards from for designing interval workouts. If an athlete can do 400 watts for 3 minutes once. That can be reduced 5-10% and for a nice repeatable target to work towards.
Another route to take for a little extra motivation is to pick a few short Strava or Zwift segments to go after. This gives you a set distance and an approximate time. A great option for someone who may not be quite as structured with their training.
Another benefit to these maximal efforts is getting a nice power profile built which can provide more insights into an athlete’s abilities and limiters with different energy systems. Which I feel is also often lacking in many online (not all) programs as they tend to base everything off aerobic tests. But I’ll leave that as a topic for another post.
Now for the warning, do not do a max effort on every ride or workout! Space them out well and variety is good. 1 maximal effort every 14-20 days is a good start during your late base period and build periods. And if you’re under doctors orders to avoid efforts like this or have any health concerns that may be a reason to omit these and seek more personal advice.
random ramblings from the corner