What is Interval Training, and will it improve your cycling?
Interval training is a great way to improve your cycling performance. But whilst many road cycling beginners have heard about it fewer know what it is and why they should consider doing interval training if they wish to improve their road cycling performance.
The article is contributed by Rebecca Ramsay, with thanks. You can find an extended biography of Rebecca below, together with information about her recent book.
Feel intimidated with starting interval training?
Interval training is not reserved for experienced cyclists. In fact, interval training is a great way to boost your cycling fitness and keep you from hitting a fitness plateau. Any level of rider can start interval training. As long as you are cleared medically to ride at higher intensities, then you are good to start.
Interval training is simply taking a workout and breaking it up into intervals of hard cycling, followed by intervals of easy cycling. The idea is to cycle the hard bouts of exercise harder than you would if you were riding at an easy, continuous pace.
When you start interval training, it is a mistake to think you have to go ‘all out’ from the word go. Instead, think of ‘interval training’ as simply ‘lifting the pace’.
All you need to do is ‘lift your pace’ a little above what you normally would do on an easy, continuous bike ride. Then, on the easy interval bouts, simply lower your intensity (heart rate and/or gearing) back down to a comfortable riding pace. You then repeat the intervals over a set number of times, before warming down and finishing the workout.
Here’s an example of a basic interval workout you can start on the road or on the turbo trainer after a good 20 minute warm up:
Lift your pace or click-up one gear higher and hold this new pace for 5 minutes, (say up to 80-85 max heart rate, so it feels slightly harder than usual), then recover by riding back at your normal easy bike ride pace or click back down to your starting gear. Repeat this 3 times, then warm down for 10 minutes.
Here are 7 reasons why intervals are good to implement into your week from now on:
1. Helps fat burning: cycling at a higher intensity than usual will help increase your metabolism i.e. the rate at which you burn calories. The higher the intensity, the more calories get burned. But remember, the harder you go, the shorter the work interval should be. Start easy and look to progress over time with the intensity
2. Saves you time: cycling at a higher intensity with intervals, usually means the workout is shorter. Don’t be fooled by this! The quality is in the ‘intensity’ of the workout, not the length. However, this means then you get fitter quicker – and this saves you time.
3. Make workouts more interesting: getting bored with one paced rides? Break it up with interval training. Not only are the workouts more interesting, but you’ll find it a great challenge to look forward to!
4. Gets you faster all-round: interval training helps to get you cycling faster and kick-starts your training again out of a rut. You need pace variation to keep progressing with your fitness, and intervals is one great way to do that.
5. Easy to implement: you don’t need high tech equipment or ‘special’ anything to start interval training. You can start with monitoring ‘how you feel’ and using your gears. If you have a heart rate monitor, then this can help, but really it’s a case of just ‘go ride’.
6. Good for your heart: research has shown that interval training helps drop your heart rate, increase stroke volume (the amount of blood your heart pumps each beat). The more blood pumped, the less the heart needs to beat each minute! Yes, interval training is good for you!
7. Feel amazing: after doing interval training you are more likely to feel even better than having done one long continuous bike ride. Endorphins are produced in your brain in response to strenuous exercise. Interval training – due to its short bursts of intense activity – really get the endorphins flowing, and you feel fantastic.
Once you get used to interval style training, you can begin to increase the intensity, or increase the length of the hard interval bout. This really depends specifically on what you are training for, but in the beginning, you want to keep it simple. If you do the above example, then the next step is to add perhaps one or two more hard intervals, so you total 25 minutes of harder cycling before upping the pace of the harder interval.
You see how we increase just one variable at a time here? If you try to do more repeats AND up the pace, AND decrease the rest interval…you end up ‘overtraining’. Go easy – the body responds best to small changes.
If you feel tired beforehand, never do interval training…you want your body to be fully rested to respond best to interval training. As the saying goes, “if in doubt..leave it out”! Similarly, after interval training take a few days easy cycling to reap the fitness benefits, or you’ll over do it. Usually, one interval workout a week is enough to get started.
About Rebecca Ramsay
Rebecca Ramsay is a former professional cyclist and certified personal trainer. She seeks, through her website Easy Cycling to help others improve their cycling to help them be the best they can be on a bike and in life.
You’ll find more fascinating articles about cycling on her website. Visit her website with plenty of time on your hands, there’s plenty there.
She is also the author of 2 Kindle books, The Time Starved Cyclist’s Training Formula: how to find TIME to train for 100 miles and NOT get divorced!, just released on Amazon and well worth the read, and Cycling Turbo Training for Beginners: a quick start guide to indoor cycling to explode your fitness fast. Includes 20 interval workouts.”
Following on from Rebecca’s article, a new study just released in the Journal of Physiology has emphasised the benefits of interval training. You can read a good summary of that study here. Remember however that interval training is high intensity training, and you should first check with your doctor that high intensity training is right for you. It is certainly more strenuous than regular paced cycling.