Fitness Q&A: interval training

I have a query regarding interval training. I’m a junior and race short, local circuit races and crits. I know that bouts of hard work with rest periods are good for improving my racing, but how long should the high-intensity periods and the recoveries be?
Josh Macready

Josh, what you have to consider with interval training – indeed, what makes it so useful – is that it can be tailored to suit each rider’s event-specific and physiological needs.

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In other words, whether you’re a distance TT rider or a pure sprinter, there are intervals to suit you. These can be done in training, using specific interval sets to develop the kind of physiology you need for your events. Put simply, there’s no hard and fast rule as to how long/hard the interval should be and how long/easy the recovery should be, because it entirely depends on what training adaptations you’re aiming for.

Altering the work, recovery, intensity and duration relationship of the intervals dictates the training adaptations gained from the session. A set of moderately hard two-minute work intervals with five minutes of easy spinning recovery is going to have an entirely different effect than a series of 20-second intervals at absolute maximum effort followed by recovery intervals of just 10 seconds.
So identify what you want from an interval session and formulate a plan to achieve it.

Space dictates that we can’t go into too much detail on the specific physiological effects of interval training, so instead consider these two scenarios: A rider does a series of very hard efforts of 90 per cent max effort for 20-30 seconds followed by short recovery intervals of similar length.

These are very good for lactate tolerance and developing psychological courage, crucial when you need to keep digging deep to stay with a group of riders that are constantly upping the pace and attacking. The rider does these intervals in sets of 10 minutes, increasing the duration and number of sets as they gain in experience.

In a different session, our rider does much shorter but harder efforts of only around 10 seconds. These are 100 per cent efforts, so only a small number are completed, this time with several minutes of recovery intervals between each one.

These are more suited to training ‘peak’ power, the highest number of watts a rider can generate, for sprinting and improving the ‘jump’. For each interval, the rider needs full recovery in order to be able to go again at maximal effort.

Sound familiar? These are two of the key elements when doing your short circuit races. Being able to repeatedly go hard, to fire out of bends and respond to constant attacks from the other riders and also to be able to finish it off with a killer sprint. Hopefully you can see how the varying work/recovery intervals in each session specifically mimic what happens in your event.

Huw Williams, BC level three coach

This article was first published in the January 17 issue of Cycling Weekly. You can also read our magazines on Zinio, download from the Apple store and also through Kindle Fire.