Cycling Interval Training Workouts: Boost Your Speed and Power

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Serious training for cycling takes more than just going for a pedal for a couple of hours at the weekend. If you want to start making some progress, you need a training plan.

Training plans consist of several different sessions; these may include gym workouts, a cycling workout, and even yoga. But the most efficient way to build bike fitness is to have cycle interval training in your workout plan.

In this post, we will:

  • Go into the details of what interval training is
  • Explain how interval training can improve cycling performance
  • Talk about when you should do a cycling interval training session
  • Give you 4 examples of cycling interval training workouts

Are you ready to feel the burn?

Let’s go!

Cycling Interval Training Workouts Boost Your Speed And Power

What is interval training?

Interval training consists of alternating sets of high-intensity exercises with low-intensity exercises. So you can see how this method lends itself to a cycling workout.

For example, cycling interval training could range from short hill repeats and cadence drills.

Alternatively, a bike interval workout could last a couple of hours, with lots of different intensities throughout.

A good cycling workout is based on three variables, your intensity, the duration of the cycling workout and how often you do it. Cycling interval training focuses on these variables but at dramatically different levels.

You don’t have to complete intervals at 100% of your effort. How you do your cycling workout depends on your long-term goals.

How Can Cycling Interval Training Improve Performance?

Cycling interval training will give you noticeable results when focusing on a particular goal. A goal could be to improve your climbingride faster, or hold a certain power level for longer.

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You will reach your goal more quickly with cycling interval training than just riding at a low to medium intensity. 

When you integrate cycling interval training into your schedule, you will see improvements in your VO2 max, power output and cardiac response.

The other benefit of cycling interval training over a more traditional cycling workout is that it takes less time. If you can’t ride your bike for several hours every week, you might still be able to squeeze in a quality high-intensity bike interval workout.

People often dismiss cycling interval training as they think it is for professional or dedicated cyclists. But it’s just as effective for people with limited time.

When Should You Do A Cycling Interval Training Session?

If you are training for an event, you will likely split your training into two or three short rides and a longer ride at the weekend.

The issue with cycling interval training is that it is very hard work, which can be off-putting for some people. However, it is worth the effort and doesn’t take too long.

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Hard work aside, a bike interval workout isn’t as sociable as a nice weekend ride to a cafe. It is all about balance, so you may have to compromise if you are short on time and want to make some progress.

It would be best to add two cycling interval training sessions per week to your training plan. But, in the final month leading up to your event, you should ideally do three bike interval workouts.

In addition to this, as you get closer to your goal, you need to mix up your cycling interval training. For example, increase the number of intervals, or increase the time you stay at high intensity.

You don’t have to always go at a pace that completely tires you out. You need to be able to complete all the intervals within your bike interval workout with proper technique.

If you can’t complete the whole session, starting it is pointless. In this case, it is much safer to just do a general ride than an intense cycling interval training.

4 Examples Of Cycling Interval Training Workouts

If you haven’t done any cycling interval training, you can get started with any of the options below. All of them will improve your cycling performance, so just choose the one you like the look of and add it to your training plan. You can also pick two and alternate them for your short training sessions.

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As we mentioned earlier, do two sessions of cycling interval training per week. But make sure you have at least one rest day after a bike interval workout.

The rest will allow you to recover and improve. If you follow this pattern, you will see positive results within just a few weeks.

You may already be doing cycling interval training. But you still may want to check out the options below to see if they can get you to your goal quicker, whatever it may be.

1. T-Max Intervals

T-Max Intervals are renowned for being very effective in enhancing your cycling performance.

This cycling interval training method is based on the fact that a reasonably fit cyclist can ride at 100% effort for somewhere between 4 and 6 minutes. 

Bicycling Magazine did a study on T-Max intervals and determined that if you ride intervals at your maximum effort for 60% of the length of time that you can sustain a maximum effort, you will know how long you need to train to increase your fitness.

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You can work out the precise details using a power meter, but there is another more straightforward way.

Ride at maximum effort for 2 and a half minutes, and then rest for 5 minutes. Repeat this 6 to 8 times twice a week.

If you ride at 60% of your T-max (maximum time) with double the amount of time for recovery between efforts, you will see significant fitness improvements.

Just beware you don’t experience the speed wobble!


2. Pyramid Intervals

Pyramid intervals consist of a 1-minute interval followed by 1 minute of rest. And then a 2-minute interval followed by 2 minutes of rest. And then a 3-minute interval followed by 3 minutes of rest. 

Don’t go silly and try to squeeze in lots of pyramids on your first ride. Pyramid intervals are something you should ease into due to their intensity.

You should start out with just one Pyramid on a ride, once a week. When you start to feel fitter, add in a second pyramid.

Pyramid cycling interval training is effective as it helps build short-term explosive power. This can give you the edge at the end of a race or power over a rocky section of a mountain bike trail.

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The lower intensity parts of the Pyramid build longer-term muscular endurance. This is what you need for sustained climbs, windy road races or time trials. 

Pyramid cycling interval training makes you train over various zones during your workout, which gets results.

3. Threshold Ladders

According to Chris Carmichael from Carmichael Training SystemsThreshold Ladders are excellent for preparing for getting some distance between you and the rest of the pack in a race.

But be prepared to suffer for this, as threshold ladders require you to go for it for 12-minute intervals. 

For the first 2 minutes, you ride at your maximum effort; this simulates your initial attack on the leaders in a race.

Then you reduce your effort to what feels like 80% for 4 minutes. But, for the last 6 minutes, go for a perceived exertion of 70%

Once your 12 minutes is up, take an active rest of 6 minutes to keep your legs going. Then do it all again!

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Most people will only manage 2 sets, but if you are particularly fit, you may be able to squeeze in a third set.

4. Sprint Power Intervals

For cycling interval training that will improve your sprinting performance, try sprint power intervals. 

According to Jo Friel, these 6 to 12-second intervals will get your legs powering when you need it the most.

The concept of sprint power intervals sees you pedal at your maximum for 6 to 12 seconds. This burst is then followed by a 3 to 5-minute rest.

It is best to do sprint power intervals with a power meter. This is because you need to keep doing them until your power during the sprint reduces by 5%.

You would add sprint power intervals into a cycling workout plan if you ride in events that require brief, maximal efforts. Therefore, they are only really useful for road cyclists but are not suitable for endurance events.

You can do this type of all-out cycling workout on varying terrain, including straight road sections and acceleration out of corners.

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The long recovery time between sprints allows you to pedal as hard as you physically can for the high-intensity parts.

When you start to get tired, you stop benefiting from this type of cycling workout. So when your power drops 5%, it is time to call it a day.

If you decide to carry on, you face the risk of injury, deep fatigue and burnout.

Now You Know Everything You Need To Know About Cycling Interval Training

As you can see, cycling interval training has many benefits, namely, fast results. But don’t expect it to be easy; the whole point is to maximise your potential, which only comes with maximum effort.

Planning on tackling hill repeats for your next interval session?

Get ahead of the game and check this out: How To Bike Uphill Effectively: 10 Uphill Cycling Tips

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Tom is an experienced freelance cycling journalist and mountain biking expert who competed nationally in the junior ranks. Now based in the world-famous mountain biking destination of Morzine in the French Alps, Tom spends his summers shredding off-road trails by bike and his winters on the same mountains on a snowboard.

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