Heather Jackson’s “Championship Rounds” Workout

Words by Heather Jackson

I don’t know why I count this workout among my “favorites.” It’s possible my head is still foggy from lactic acid buildup, oxygen deprivation, and delayed onset muscle soreness. This session is HARD, but it will leave you satisfied, knowing you’ve pushed your physical and mental fitness to new heights. If nothing else you will experience new levels of training-related pain, knowing now that—if necessary—you can go to that place on race day and not back down.

The workout itself does not seem that threatening or difficult on paper:

  • Warm-up for around 30 minutes with some short one- to two-minute efforts to above threshold power (FTP) to get the blood flowing and to prepare mentally for the work ahead.
  • Find a super steep one- to two-minute climb that flattens out after the climb to rolling terrain. Got it? OK, let’s begin. The KICKR CLIMB works well for simulating this indoors. 
  • Perform an all-out attack up the hill—pretend you’re attacking in the Tour de France. Once you’ve crested the climb, settle in and hold threshold power for three more minutes. Recover very easily back to your starting point: at least 4-6 minutes of easy spinning. Simple, right?

Now do it five more times.

Essentially this workout is only six times four to five minutes of effort but it is much more difficult than it looks. Trying to hold threshold power after about 90 seconds of all-out, lactic-flooding effort (give or take depending on the hill you’ve chosen) is NOT easy. The first one burns pretty bad. The second one hurts even worse than the first, to the point that you’ll be questioning the possibility you can even do four more. By the third repeat, power has probably sunk a bit on the climb, along with your enthusiasm to attack the hill like a World Tour rider. Once you are through number four, the desperation to finish the day in a respectable fashion consumes your focus.

The last time I did this session, I earnestly doubted I could get through the last two. These are the moments my husband, Wattie, calls “The Championship Rounds,” those later moments of a match that decides which way the win goes. That phrase always makes me think of the late, great Muhammad Ali, and this workout makes me think of this quote of his:

“I don’t count my sit-ups; I only start counting when it starts hurting because they’re the only ones that count”

Muhammad Ali

Even if your power drops during the six efforts, make sure you push through and complete the six rounds. I think only three or four rounds of this wouldn’t be enough. It’s the act of getting through those last few that, if anything, will build your mental strength.

A final little tip as well: do your first round and make note of where you finished the three minutes at threshold—a driveway, memorable tree, or mailbox, for example. Use that landmark as your finish line for the final five rounds. Do NOT stare at your timer for the three minutes of threshold following your all-out climb; try to make it to that spot as quickly as you can holding your threshold power. This real-world focus takes your mind off of checking your clock every two seconds (spoiler: it will have barely gone anywhere). Pretend you are your favorite cyclist going for the Time Trial World Championship. Pretend you are in a race putting in an attack. Pretend whatever you need to pretend in order to get to that landmark as quickly as you can. Once you’re done, enjoy the feeling of pride coursing through your body (along with the aforementioned lactic acid)! I promise this one will leave you in a positive mood with a sense of accomplishment after. Be proud that you got through it. Oh, and make sure to recover well after.

Want more workouts from Heather? Check out her “Ladder of Death” Workout.

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