In 1983, famed cycling coaches Aldo Sassi and Massimo Testa were looking for an on-the-bike strength training routine that was primarily an aerobic exercise. They came up with SFR, which in Italian stands for Salite-Forza-Resistenza, but most coaches refer to it as Slow Frequency Repetitions. The goal of an SFR workout is to increase muscular strength and efficiency in the pedal stroke.
Back in 2001, I was lucky enough to meet Max Testa. Testa was the head of the Mapei Performance Training Center in Italy for many years and was currently working at the Sports Performance Center of the University of California-Davis. Testa was the first one to introduce me to strength training on the bike, something that I have now been doing consistently for 10 years, and I believe the biggest contributor to my efficiency and strength.
First you have to find a hill. The best hill is one that has a 3-6% grade and last at least 3 min. If you can’t find a hill, you can do this on a trainer and simulate climbing by raising up the front wheel. As a last resort, you can also do this into a headwind to simulate the added resistance of a hill.
This is a LOW cadence workout. Find a gear that enables you to push 35-45rpm at +/- 85% of your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) or threshold heart rate. Most likely, this gear will be the big ring with anywhere from a 14-19 tooth in the back depending on the gradient of the hill.
Since this is primarily an aerobic workout, recovery is fast. Usually no more than 2-3 minutes (more if lacking fitness) is needed. This is often the time it takes to spin lightly back down the hill 100yds past the starting point and turning around to do it again.
This workout is done in the seated position. Try doing them in the drops. Focus on creating a smooth powerful pedal stroke that drops the heel at the bottom of the stroke. I recommend riding in the drops and focus on limiting upper body movement. This is not an exercise in speed, but rather strength and cadence. Of course, if you experience knee or back pain, increase the cadence and decrease the intensity.
Cadel Evans does this workout once a week throughout the entire season, and I recommend the same. It’s a great way to keep your efficiency on the bike. Start with a few reps (3 x 3min) and slowly increase time and reps as you feel more comfortable with the workout (trying working your way up to 6 x 4min).
For some added intensity, try a 10 second jump at the end of your last 2 reps in the same gear that you are doing the SFR in. This is a great exercise in power and muscle recruitment.
SFR’s are not for everyone. It often takes a few weeks to truly see the benefits. Experiment with the best hill to perform these on and the correct cadence for you. Whether you are looking to increase your strength, climbing, or TT, this is a great workout for the cyclist on a training-time budget.
Adam Switters is a former professional cyclist and currently races for Team Mikes Bikes p/b Incase. He is a USA Cycling Certified Coach and works with everyone from professionals to the casual cyclist. You can check him out at his website http://www.switterscoaching.com/. or email him at Switterscoaching@gmail.com. Feel free to comment if you have any ideas for workout or questions.