If you want to improve your cycling, interval training is a must. While a beginner can ‘just ride’ and see improvements, there will inevitably be a plateau. You could try riding more but who has time for that? You could also start riding harder each ride, but you will run out of energy, risk overtraining and might start hating riding because you are suffering the whole time. To progress your fitness, you need only mix some steady endurance rides with a couple of interval sessions each week.
Get started with interval training by following these five rules:
SUFFER FOR SHORT PERIODS, NOT ENTIRE RIDES
While you may be aiming to race hard in a century or crit, that doesn’t mean each workout should be exactly like the race. Training this way is very hard on your body and difficult to get adaptations from because it’s so taxing, it’s difficult to replicate and long-intensity generally does not hit the critical durations and intensities required to boost your fitness.
Intervals, on the other hand, can target a specific element of your fitness. You will hear about concepts like anaerobic, Vo2 max and threshold, but for simplicity, think about 2–5 minute hill efforts and 10–20-minute threshold efforts as your key interval sessions.
WHEN IN DOUBT DO LESS AND FOCUS MORE
Too often we think more is better and make interval sessions a full hour of effort with very little rest. It is very hard for most cyclists to put high levels of exertion into a long duration and high number of reps. For hill efforts keep it to less than 5 reps and under 5 minutes. For threshold aim for 30–40 minutes of work total.
Start with 3 x 10 and progress toward a 2 x 20 over many weeks. For all intervals do less in the first week and slowly progress by adding a little time, or an extra rep or more wattage to each session. If you’re tired, do less or skip the session and do a recovery ride.
Take at least the same time as the work interval to recover from hill reps and a quarter to a half the interval time to recover from threshold efforts. That comes to 3–6 minutes between 3-minute hill-efforts and 3–5 minutes between 10-minute threshold intervals.
Between interval days, make sure you take a recovery day. I like to have athletes do a hard day, then a long, steady endurance day then an off day to keep workout quality high. Watch that your endurance days are lower intensity without sprinting or hard hills that will affect recovery.