Interval Training for Cycling 3.23.04

Let’s talk about getting faster! If there was a nutritional supplement out there guaranteed to make you a faster cyclist (there’s not), you’d take it right? Heck, if I thought writing “I will be a faster bike racer” on the blackboard and thousand bizzillion times I’d be all all over it. What I’d like to present to you here, today, is a way that will transform you into a supa’ fast cyclist!

Intervals are your ticket. Work hard on a consistent basis and intervals will be the cheapest most effective way for you to get the results you want. Forget the gizmazoo wheels, supplements, doo-hick this new-fangled that. Get out there, find you favorite hill and go up and down it as hard as you can! And suffer! Don’t just do it once, work at it on a consistent basis, every week. Custom tailor the types of intervals you perform based on the events you race and want to do well in.

So how do you get started? Gradually! How long and for what reasons? Well first let’s run down exercise intensity in order to rationalize this plan of attack. After all, these intervals are gonna hurt a little bit, it’d be nice to know they work! Uhummm, they do, guaranteed.

How do you set your zones? Well, that is a great question for another training tip! (See the FasCat preferred method, the Field Test) There are as many ways to find your threshold as there are definitions for threshold. If you have a powermeter you can identify virtually the same number laboratory physiological testing would.

Back to the table, you can see there are more checks under some training zones than others. And the most check falls under the zone that (gulp!) is the hardest. But that’s not to say that aerobic endurance work is not important; it is! However, with the race season upon us, your training, presuming you have some aerobic work under “the hood”, would be best spent at intensities you will encounter in your races.

Now a further refinement: specializing your interval training to your types of events. Say you are a time trialist. Well then your “money” zone is going to be your threshold power. Therefore it would be prudent (insert Dana Carvey George Bush SNL imitation) to spend a lot of time working on raising your threshold power, i.e Zone 4 and Zone 5. Threshold intervals of 8-20 minutes in length or more and VO2MAX efforts of 3-6 minutes. Additionally, tempo workouts, as you can see from the table above force many of the same physiological adaptations as threshold workouts, and are therefore a nice alternative on days following threshold intervals or VO2 workouts.

Example Workouts:

Sweet Spot: 3 x 15 min ON 10 min OFF  – excellent for building aerobic endurance

Zone 4/ Threshold: 2 x 20 min ON (FULL GAS) 5 min OFF – specific for time trialing or hill climbing

Zone 5/ VO2: 2 sets of 2 x 4 min ON (FULL GAS) 4 min OFF; 8 min inbetween sets

Zone 6/ Anaerobic Capacity: 2 sets of 3 x 1 min ON (FULL GAS) 1 min OFF; 5 min inbetween sets
Conversely, say you are an ace sprinter and criteriums are your thing. The power dynamics of your race are much more variable and therefore should be addressed in your training. Lots of anaerobic capacity and neuromuscular work. Short sprint intervals 5-30 seconds in length and 60 second anaerobic capacity work. Additionally you’ll still need to throw in some VO2 work and tempo/threshold work. After all, you gotta get in the break first before you can sprint for the win. Ahhh, lactic acid, your new best friend!

Frank Overton 3/23/04 Frank is a Level 1 USA Cycling certified coach, former Mountain Bike NORBA NCS racer, and current category 1 road racer. On more than one occasion he has been known to do a few intervals. He can be reached at


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