competition · cycling

I’m a woman, a cyclist, and I want to get faster, now what?


I’ve written in the past about tips and strategies for beginning cyclists who want to get faster.

Pro-tip: Ride with people who are faster than you! You should ride with the fastest people who are willing to have you along. While we were out riding this week along the Welland Canal Pathway, Tracy asked, not in a mean way, but out of genuine curiosity, why I liked riding with the fast bike club in town. And that’s part of my answer. Those rides pushed me. I got stronger and faster riding with them.

But beyond riding with fast people and spending some time way out of your comfort zone doing intervals, it can be tough to find out what works when it comes to increasing speed. Yes, sprint. But how much? How hard? For how long? It’s a challenge navigating sports research if you’re a woman who wants to get faster. And it’s worse yet again if you’re midlife woman wanting to find out what works.

Almost all the sports performance research is done on young men.

Consider this story from Bicycling Magazine: The Ultimate Interval, All it takes to develop blow-their-legs-off power is one hour—one brutal, agonizing, endless hour of astounding misery and pain. Just one.

It talks about a workout that researchers dubbed T-Max.

Laursen’s findings, which have been backed by other recent studies, show that the workout he dubbed T-Max can, on average, increase maximum power output by 5 to 6 percent, and raise VO2 max sky-high. The T-Max Interval is effective because it tailors work and rest time, and intensity, to your genetic ability and fitness level, rather than prescribing an arbitrary set of conditions. Here’s how it works: T-Max is the length of time you can hold your peak power output before succumbing to exhaustion–or, scientific jargon aside, how long you can ride really, really hard until you feel so much like you’re dying that you stop. For most of us, that’s about four to six minutes.

The results sound pretty promising but when you read the study details you realize that the testing was done only on male university athletes.

Would the same results hold for women? For anyone over 20? Who knows? It’s frustrating.

If anyone knows of a good set of studies on speed training for women cyclists, let me know. Bonus points if it’s been tested on women over the age of 40!