The Truth About Cross

by Adam Pulford, CTS Pro Level Coach - featuring SRM


Let’s start with the obvious: Cyclocross is fun. For anyone who loves bikes, training, competition, all in gnarly weather conditions, this sport is for you. As a seasoned athlete, or a novice, Cross has much to offer. There are drawbacks, however. It is hard. It’s intimidating, and training for this goofy sport can be confusing. That’s the truth.

Over the next few months, I’ll be walking you through a series of short articles that will help shake those drawbacks, allow you to train properly, and orient you in the proper direction so that the fun-factor is maximized. Whether you’re in the hunt for that gold medal or just want to cross the finish line for the first time, if you have prepared well, you’ll come closer to performing at your best while having a darn good time doing it. 

When You Are Fit, Everything is More Fun

You know what I am talking about: when you’ve got a few months of solid training under your cleats, you’re leading the front pack on the group rides and catching breaks at the races – you’re fit. You nail workouts, you climb fast, you go fast…that’s fun. Racing is more fun because you can tolerate the intensity better. You’re also sleeping soundly; you have extra energy throughout the day. All of a sudden, so many other aspects of life become more fun when you’re fit. I tell my athletes this often, and it’s in part to frame “why” we are doing what we are doing. It’s not just for the races, it goes beyond that. Simply put, life is fun when you are fit. How do we get there? We train for it.

Energy System Training:

If you have any interest in training, you’ve probably read that there are 3 main energy systems in the human body. Whether on a recovery ride or out on the race course, you’re using all three at the same time, no matter how hard or easy of an effort you are exerting. Even as you sit, reading this fascinating article, you are using all three. However, when training or racing, you’ll use these systems much more readily, and it pays to have them prepared for it. Therefore, it’s important to have a general understanding of bioenergetics to help construct our training mind-set. The three Energy Systems are:

1.     ATP-PC System – short, hard durations; 10s or less.

2.     Glycolytic System – moderate power/durations; 10-90s

3.     Oxidative System – Low power, longer durations; 90s or longer

The Oxidative System is the primary contributor for efforts lasting 90s or longer. This is why training VO2 Max & Lactate Threshold are the two most important aspects of physiological training in Cyclocross, a sport that is 40-60min in duration.

By properly training each of these systems, we become more resilient, more fit. And remember: when you are fit, everything is more fun.

Specificity of Training:

Here starts the fun part. Cyclocross puts a heavy load on all 3 systems, and when done properly, you’re able to use the glycolytic and ATP-PC System when it matters most. Understanding that element is crucial. If we can boil the specificity of Cyclocross down to two elements (I know, rudimentary, but please bear with me), it’s this:

1.     Physiological – Getting the body as fit as possible

2.     Technical – honing your bike handling skills, specific to Cross

If you’ve ever done or watched a cross race, you know the two elements above are challenging. The gun goes off, everyone sprints to get the hole-shot, then it’s a 40-60min grueling battle of twisty-turny, on-the-bike, off-the-bike, remount, sprint, time-trial, up-and-down, muddy, sandy, rainy, snowy chaos that we all love. Not easy. It’s challenging. That’s why we love it. But we love it more when we’re better equipped to handle it. So how can we be better equipped? Train wisely… train right. 

Power-Based Training:

Training with power is the most precise way to monitor exercise intensity on a bicycle. Power is a product of the force you’re producing and angular velocity (cadence) at which you are producing it. This is what I use as the primary performance marker for pros and joes as it’s the most reliable method to train athletes and track progress. Enter SRM, the originators and leaders in power measurement. The SRM Training System is a power meter (spider based), head unit (handlebar-mounted computer that receives data from the power meter) and software (used to analyze training and racing, as well as fitness changes). When used together, it’s the most powerful system out there. Personally, I use this system, in conjunction with SRMX, Training Peaks online and WKO4 software, to train athletes and monitor data. I haven’t seen anything better on the market for accuracy, consistency, and ease of use.

Where To Start:

By establishing training zones with a sound methodology and an accurate training system, you’ll be on the right trail to having fun with your training. I suggest using Andy Coggan’s methods from Training Peaks & the SRM Training System. To create training zones, simply find your peak 20 minute effort in historical data for past 90 days or do one of those fun 20 minute field tests. If you’ve been using the new SRM PC8 head unit, your FTP will be automatically stored and set into the head unit, looking like this:

For those of you who just bought your new head unit or will be doing your field test for the first time, I’d like to give you some homework. Below is a fantastic write up from the authors of Training Peaks of how to perform your 20min field test so we can calculate your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) and create your training zones:

Now that you have done your field test or looked at previous data, your highest sustainable 20min power is in hand and you’re ready calculate those zones. Go ahead and launch your SRM Device Agent application on your desktop, plug in your PC8 to your computer. Click on “Training Zones” on the top of the application and enter your 20min max power into the text box where it says “FTP”. It will look like this:

Where it asks for ‘Calculation based on,’ click on %FTP and select “Coggan”:

Voila! Training Zones! Next up: key workouts. Don’t worry, I’ll get those to you soon; these will not only get you fit, but they will verify the training zones we’ve just established and start making sense out of this whole Cyclocross training thing.   


We know the truth: cross is hard; but it’s also really fun. It’s even more fun when you have the fitness to pin it off the line, hop over the obstacles as the fans do their heckling, then sprint for the finish with good snap still in the legs. But to get that fitness, you need to know the truth behind training. All of the information I’ve provided sets the groundwork for that, and for the fitness to come.

Check back for your workouts, and let’s have a ton of fun this Cyclocross season!

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