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Train Less, Cycle Faster: Make Quick Gains with Interval Training

Ben Reeve | 11 months ago

What Is Interval Training?

Interval training is short intense periods of exercise followed by periods of recovery.

Why Should You Do It?

Intervals have been proven to increase fitness and speed, and burn fat at a quicker rate than steady state exercise. There are an incredible exercise to complete if you are short of time as you can make big progress much more quickly.

What Can I Use It For?

Increasing your sprint speed, burning fat and training your legs to clear lactic acid faster are just a few examples of the benefits. There are so many uses for interval training that it’s a great addition to your weekly rides.

Are There Any Downsides?

It’s tough! You are going to be putting your body through the wringer and it is mentally and physically exhausting. I always feel slightly apprehensive before an interval session but I also know the powerful rush of endorphins I’ll get later on, as well as the longer term gains in my physical fitness, are worth it. This is not the kind of training to be starting out with; get a strong base of miles under your belt first and then start incorporating some high intensity sessions. As with everything, you know your body and if you have a history of any medical problems it is best to seek advice before starting any kind of high intensity training.

Do I Need Any Equipment To Start?

On the very simplest level you need nothing more than the bike you ride currently.

You can do interval training based on exertion levels of 1-10:

  • 0-1       No exertion. The only movement you’re getting is pushing buttons on the remote.
  • 2-3       Light exertion. This is how you should feel when you’re warming up, cooling down, and stretching.
  • 4-5       Medium exertion. You’re breathing a little faster. Your heart is pumping a little faster. You’re feeling a little warmer.
  • 6-7       Moderate exertion. You’re breathing pretty hard now, you’re probably sweating. You can talk, but it’s getting tougher.
  • 8-9      Hard exertion. You’re breathing really hard and you can only say a few words at a time. You’re wondering how long you can go on like this.
  • 10        Hardest exertion. You can not keep this pace for more than a minute. Speaking is impossible. This is your limit.

If you want to make it more complicated you can use a heart rate monitor and heart rate zones. There is a great article called ‘Heart Rate Monitor Training for Cyclists’ over at Bike Radar that can help with this.

The most accurate way is a power meter, as power changes instantly, unlike heart rate which can take a while to catch up. You can get some more information on ‘Training With a Power Meter’ at Human Kinetics.

Watch Out

  • Don’t go too hard too early! I have made this mistake so many times. The first couple of intervals don’t feel like they’re stretching you enough so you push on, then you end up limping through the last ones unable to complete them fully.
  • Equally, don’t take it easy. You are more likely to cause yourself fatigue than make decent gains if you don’t push hard. Intervals are designed to push your body harder than it thinks it can go, but this will give you that extra edge on future rides.

SPRINTS

This workout should really help your short range speed and with beating your club mates to the 30 mph signs!

Warm up for 15 minutes.

8 repeats of:

  • 20 seconds at 9-10 on effort scale
  • 10 seconds coasting (barely pedalling)

Followed by:

  • 5 minutes recovery

Repeat this sequence as many times as you can, ideally 4-6.

Cool down for 5 minutes

HIGH INTENSITY

Warm up for 10 minutes

2 repeats of:

  • 7 minutes at 5-6 on effort scale
  • 5 minutes recovery

3 repeats of:

  • 2 minutes at 7-8 on effort scale
  • 3 minutes recovery

4 repeats of:

  • 30 seconds all out
  • 1 minute recovery

Cool down for 5 minutes.

My heart rate data

My heart rate data after doing the ‘High Intensity’ intervals. You can see clearly each individual section and the recovery time in-between.

STACKED

Warm up for 10 minutes

3 repeats of:

  • 30 secs at 120 RPM cadence
  • 30 secs recovery

4 repeats of:

  • 1 minute at 8-9 on effort scale
  • 1 minute at 6-7 on effort scale
  • 1 minute at 4-5 on effort scale
  • 1 minute at 6-7 on effort scale
  • 1 minute at 8- 9 on effort scale
  • 7 minutes recovery

Cool down for 5 minutes

THRESHOLD

This interval session is designed to increase your speed over a longer distance. It is made up of 2 x 20 minute sessions at slightly quicker than you think you’d be able to go for an hour. This will get your body used to holding higher speeds of longer periods of time.

Warm up for 10 minutes

20 minutes at 6-7 exertion. It might be easier to look at speed for this. If you know you can hold 30km/h on the flat, maybe aim for 32-35km/h. This will obviously be dependant on conditions and gradient

10 minutes recovery

20 minutes at 6-7 exertion

Cool down for 10 minutes

Further Reading

High Intensity Training – cptips.com

Interval Training – HIIT or Miss?  – StrengthCoach.com

Jens Voight: Life Lessons From 30+ Years Of Riding – CyclingWeekly.co.uk

Six Training Sessions To Build Form For Summer – RoadCyclingUK.com

Ben Reeve

| 11 months ago

About this author:
Ben Reeve is the founder of Cycling Tips HQ, a site with simple tips to help you learn more about the incredible pastime of cycling. In 2017 Ben stepped down from running his cycling tips site and transferred the content over to the YJ Cycle Hub. Ben now runs leadingonyourfeet, a company working in leadership in retail.
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