Interval Training Tips


A basic principle of cycle training is that what you focus onm you will improve

Interval training is essential for increasing your speed and power. At the moment I am doing a lot of interval training for the hill climb season that is starting soon. In a perverse way, I kind of enjoy it gives a feeling of satisfaction.

Base Fitness

If you are new to cycling, especially if overweight or you haven’t done any exercise for a long time, you will be relieved to know interval training is not for you. It is vital to have a base level of aerobic fitness. If you are younger you may get away with less, but, you still need a certain base fitness before stretching your body to its limits.

Turbo or Road?

Some people swear by an indoor turbo trainer as a means to do intervals. It means you are:

  • Insulated from bad weather,
  • Protected from accidents.
  • Have greater control of your effort.
  • You don’t have to worry about stopping for traffic.
  • Don’t get punctures

However, despite these many advantages I have never seen the attraction of doing intervals on turbos. Usually when I get on a turbo, time seems to pass slowly and painfully. Somehow I prefer training on roads, even if it means getting wet. I will spend longer training up hills and on the road than on a turbo. If you have the patience to train on a turbo, good luck.

See also: Tips for turbo training

Hill Intervals.


I think hills make a great place to do intervals on. It is a definite target to aim for the top of the hill. During most of the year, I am doing intervals of duration 4 -10 minutes. For these I tend to find long hills with a gradual gradient. My favourite hills are around the chilterns. For the hill climb season I am also using some hills of 2-3 minute duration. (Boars Hill and Shotover). These hill intervals are more intense than the longer intervals.

How Long Between Intervals?

Many training manuals may suggest a 5 minute interval followed by a 5 minute rest. However, I often take a long break between intervals. This is partly out of necessity; e.g. it will take 20 minutes to cycle from hill to the next. However, my theory is that by giving a longer recovery period, the interval is of a higher quality because you can give it more effort. It depends on what you are training for. For time trials, you need the ability to cope with lactic acid, therefore, intervals close to each other will help develop this – even if they are more painful.

How Many Intervals in One Session?

I always look forward to the first interval. The body is fresh and it is possible to give it everything. However, by the second interval the legs can already feel dead. It is also psychologically more difficult to motivate yourself to give the same effort a second or third time. Generally, I don’t have any target for the number of intervals, I just do them until I can’t do anymore. You can always cycle up a hill; but, if you can’t get a certain effort level and heart rate, you know you are not doing intervals anymore. On long training sessions, I may cycle somewhere else for 30-40 minutes and then you can do another one.

The most likely number is between 3-6 intervals.

How Many Interval Sessions in A Week?

One important principle of training is the idea of stress and recovery. Therefore, it makes sense to do an interval session and then have a light day. However, sometimes, I will do intervals on consecutive days. Perhaps on the first day, I will just sprint up one hill. The next day, the legs don’t feel too tired so you can do more. However, if it is a really intense interval session of 5-6 times @ 5 minutes, I will definitely have a recovery day.

  • It is a difficult balance. More intervals doesn’t necessarily mean higher fitness. You have to listen to your body and make sure you get enough rest as well stretching the body.

How To Motivate Yourself?

It may sound silly, but, by the second or third interval session, I try to imagine I am in a race. I’m in a breakaway and if I can hang on for this hill, I will win the ‘imaginary’ stage. You wouldn’t believe how many times I have won the Tour de France with solo breakaways… But, the point is you have to work really hard to be able to get the mind to cooperate and give it everything. Another thing is seeing another cyclist on the hill. It gives you something to chase and show off as you sprint past. Sad, but effective!

  • You have to be really motivated to do interval training. It is not something to be done half heartedly. If you heart isn’t in the interval training, don’t force it but try another day.

What Intensity for Intervals?

When doing interval training, I am cycling at an effort level that is difficult to maintain for more than 5-10 minutes. It is harder than in a 10 mile time trail. But, at the same time it is nto completely all out. You wont to be able to do more than one.

At the present moment, I am also trying to train for the national hill climb which is only 2 minutes long. This requires interval training where you really aim to reach your maximum effort level. In these intervals which last for 2 minutes, you get a tingling feeling in your arm, as all the blood drains away to your legs. They are great fun!

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13 Responses to Interval Training Tips

  1. Chris June 9, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    Very good blog and one that seems to talk sense and make sense. I am 59 and took up cycling 3 yrs ago as running caused to many aches and pains, now I haven’t the guts to go downhill fast and the “skinny” boys leave me standing on the flat, however I found that in our Sunday club ride I could stay in the middle or near the front going up hill.

    So with that in mind I decided to train for hills and with a training manual and some advice from a “so called” expert I set out and sprinted up a short hill (0.25 mile x 4%) by me for 40 seconds (nearly threw up) rested 30 seconds and carried on like this for 6 reps, result, from the second one on my speed was so slow through not recovering enough, that it was worthless.

    Now this article by Tejvan makes far more sense and pleasanter to do (if that makes sense) as I found it takes even more guts to take yourself to your limit.

  2. Joo Mong March 13, 2013 at 11:37 pm #

    When the weather permits, I just make do with 3 minutes uphill and 2 minutes downhill routine.

  3. Liam H October 4, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    Interesting article. I’d like to say I hate riding the turbo but over the years have adjusted to all it’s positive points with regardings to working on things like developing muscular endurance. I still love to get out and do some intervals on the roads howeverit seems alot harder standardise them in the same way you can on the turbo trainer!

  4. Bike Training July 29, 2009 at 10:26 am #

    Nice Tips Thanks a Tons. Interval method is to alternate with intense and moderate level exercises for little interval of time.

  5. Dan H September 22, 2008 at 5:30 pm #

    Two chaps from the University cycling team used to live just around the corner from here. On my way home from work of an evening I would often see them sitting on turbos in their garage with the door open to let the heat out, pedalling away and sweating cobs. From observation I guess there are two other advantages to staying at home to train: (1) you can watch TV or listen to the radio while you do it; (2) you don’t have to wear a jersey.

  6. tejvan September 22, 2008 at 9:52 am #

    Thanks Satanswheels, glad you enjoy blog!

  7. satanswheels September 22, 2008 at 9:36 am #

    great article mate!

    Only discovered your blog a couple of weeks ago but i’m addicted!

    keep up the good writing!


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