What's Working in Endurance Sport Training for Everyday Cyclists and Runners Simple Endurance Coaching Blog

Interval Training for Cycling: Unlocking Your Full Potential

We talk a lot about different kinds of intervals for cycling training, but we don’t always talk about why we do them!

What is the value of doing intervals in the first place?

Why do we want to make our riding harder?

Well, you don’t really need to do intervals.

But if you want to get faster and stronger on the bike and ride for longer periods of time, you’ll have to buckle up and ride hard.

5 Research-Backed Reasons Intervals Can Unlock Your Cycling Potential

What are intervals and how do they help cyclists?

Interval training is a type of training where you alternate between periods of high-intensity exercise and periods of rest or low-intensity exercise. 

This type of training has been shown to be particularly beneficial for cyclists, as it can help improve their endurance, speed, and overall fitness level. 

While we talk about the different kinds of intervals, it’s important to understand why they work.

Your best intervals depend on your goals

The best type of interval training for cyclists depends on their specific goals, fitness level, and cycling experience.

For example, 

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) involves short bursts of high-intensity effort followed by periods of rest or low-intensity exercise. 

For cyclists, this could involve doing 30-second to 2-minute sprints at maximum effort, followed by a period of rest or low-intensity cycling. 

Tempo or Sweet Spot Training involves sustained efforts at a moderate intensity.

For cyclists, this could involve maintaining a consistent effort above your typical endurance pace but below your FTP. 

Threshold intervals involve riding around 95 to 102 percent of your FTP

Cyclists need to balance intervals with endurance

It's important to note that interval training can be intense and should be incorporated into a training program that also includes recovery, endurance, and strength training. 

It's also a good idea to work with a coach or trainer to design an interval training program that is appropriate for your specific fitness level and goals.

Cyclists need intervals to get faster, improve performance

Research has shown that interval training can be highly beneficial for cyclists. Here are some key findings from studies on the benefits of interval training for cyclists:

  1. Improved aerobic capacity: A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that interval training led to significant improvements in VO2 max, which is a measure of aerobic capacity, compared to steady-state training.
  2. Increased power output: A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance found that cyclists who incorporated interval training into their training program saw significant increases in power output during a 40-minute time trial.
  3. Improved lactate threshold: A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that interval training led to a significant increase in lactate threshold, which is the point at which the body begins to produce lactic acid, compared to steady-state training.
  4. Increased fat burning: A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that interval training led to a greater increase in fat oxidation during exercise compared to steady-state training.
  5. Time efficiency: A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that interval training led to similar improvements in fitness compared to steady-state training but in a shorter amount of time.

Interval training can be an effective and efficient way for cyclists to improve their aerobic capacity, power output, lactate threshold, and fat burning. 

Several different interval training for cycling protocols seem to work

Research suggests the best intervals for cyclists to do to get faster depend on the specific goals and fitness level of the individual. 

However, there are several interval training protocols that have been found to be effective for improving cycling performance. 

Here are three examples:

  1. 4 x 4-minute intervals: This protocol involves cycling at a high intensity (around 85-95% of maximum heart rate) for 4 minutes, followed by 3-4 minutes of recovery cycling at a low intensity (around 60% of maximum heart rate). This protocol has been found to be effective in improving endurance and lactate threshold in well-trained cyclists.
  2. Tabata intervals: This protocol involves cycling at maximum effort for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest, for a total of 8 cycles (4 minutes). This protocol has been found to be effective in improving both aerobic and anaerobic fitness in cyclists.
  3. 30-15 interval training: This protocol involves cycling at maximum effort for 30 seconds, followed by 15 seconds of recovery cycling at low intensity (around 30% of maximum heart rate). This protocol has been found to be effective in improving both aerobic and anaerobic fitness in well-trained cyclists.

Interval training can help with lactate processing

One of the key reasons to do intervals is your body’s increased ability to deal with lactate. 

Interval training, as well as other types of high-intensity exercise, can help improve your body's ability to buffer or tolerate acidity by stimulating adaptations in the muscles, such as an increase in the number and size of mitochondria and an increase in the concentration of enzymes involved in energy metabolism. 

This, in turn, can help delay the onset of fatigue and improve your ability to sustain high-intensity exercise for longer periods.

Hydrogen ions (H+) are also believed to contribute to the burning sensation and muscle fatigue that occurs during high-intensity exercise. 

As lactate accumulates in the muscles and bloodstream, it dissociates into lactate ions (L-) and hydrogen ions (H+), with the latter contributing to the increase in acidity (decrease in pH) within the muscle fibers.

This decrease in pH can interfere with muscle contractions and lead to fatigue, which is why improving your body's ability to buffer or tolerate increased levels of acidity is important for enhancing your athletic performance.

The three most important reasons to do interval training for cycling

  1. Intervals are one of the most effective ways to increase your aerobic capacity or VO2 max. By breaking up your ride into shorter, intense bursts, you challenge your body and force it to adapt to the increased workload. This increased workload over time will lead to an improved ability to use oxygen, which translates to improved endurance and capacity for maintaining a higher sustained pace.
  2. Interval training is an effective way to improve your overall speed and power output. When you perform high-intensity intervals, you stress your body to adapt to more significant changes in intensity, which leads to better utilization of energy and increased muscle fiber recruitment. 
  3. Prevent Plateauing: Doing the same thing repeatedly can lead to a plateau in performance. Intervals provide the necessary variety by introducing challenges that your body must adapt to. This variability in your routine can help prevent boredom and break through potential performance plateaus.

Want to know more about what you can achieve?

If you liked this article, please share it with others.

I support a limited number of cyclists and runners achieve their goals with more strength, endurance, and mobility. 

Contact me or sign up for Virtual Coffee so we can discuss your goals, ask questions, and talk about making your endurance training more effective, fun, and Simple.

You can also opt-in to receive my weekly blog posts about what works in endurance sports. 

Paul Warloski is a: 

  • USA Cycling Level 3 Coach
  • RRCA Running Coach
  • Training Peaks Level 2 Coach
  • RYT-200 Yoga Instructor
  • Certified Personal Trainer
Six Effective Core Strength and Stability Exercises Designed Specifically for Cyclists and Runners

Improve Your Cycling and Running Performance With a Stronger Core

Download my exclusive free training video that includes the six highly effective core strength exercises in a routine specifically designed for cyclists and runners.

This video is only available to subscribers!

Plus you'll be subscribed to a weekly newsletter that brings you the best training advice and information.

Simple Endurance Coaching supports everyday endurance athletes with holistic, personalized coaching to accomplish their adventure and bucket list goals.

Keep Up With Paul

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.