Pyramid Intervals Cycling


The logic of pyramid intervals is to try and train at very high intensity for short periods of time.  The effort / duration of the intervals are increased to a crescendo before reducing the effort level or duration. Hence the idea of ‘pyramid’ – you build up to peak effort.

This frequent high intensity intervals enables you to train the fast-twitch muscles as well as slower twitch muscles. Essentially it’s training your capacity at all ends of the fitness spectrum and not just endurance muscles.

The logic is that improving different muscle fibres will help increase overall strength and power which can be utilised even in endurance events.

The second theory is that by doing short periods, you can train at a maximum intensity for a longer overall period. Therefore, the cardio-vascular system gets opportunity to train at a highest intensity for a long time. You also train the anaerobic capacity which can have spill over benefits to endurance events.

The third advantage is that it improves lactic tolerance. The repeated efforts at maximum intensity with little recovery, mean your legs get used to racing full of lactic acid.

There are many different varieties of Pyramid sessions which all share this philosophy of short intervals followed by rest.


Gordon Wright’s Pyramid – Long Recovery sessions

  • The main feature of this pyramid session is the longer than usual recovery phase between each interval.
  • Also, there are some very short 15 second intervals.
  • All intervals are done at maximum intensity.

Phase 1
Between 8 and 10 flat out sprints of up to 15sec on a gear large enough for full power development but small enough to keep up good cadence [120+ rpm]. There should be a long recovery period (at least three minutes) between each interval.

Ride easy for 10 minutes for full recovery before Phase two.

Phase 2
Between 6 and 10 one minute very intense intervals are undertaken at level 3 to 4. Recovery period between each one should be 5 to 6 minutes of easy riding. Gearing should be as in phase one – a gear large enough to keep the power on for the full minute, but small enough to keep up a good cadence for the whole one minute effort [110+ rpm].

Ride easy for 10 to 15 minutes for full recovery before Phase three.

Phase 3
Three to four 2.5 mile endurance intervals are undertaken at 10-mile TT pace at least – higher if possible. The gearing should be that used in a 10 mile TT. Fast leg speed throughout each interval is important [100+ rpm]. The recovery periods should be at least 6 minutes to allow for full recovery.

Each interval must be ridden with full commitment and very high motivation. Distance is strongly preferred to time, as it is more motivational. Each one of these endurance intervals should be treated as a mini-time-trial. Originally published in Cycle Coaching 2001, ABCC

Theses training sessions were done by Stuart Dangerfield during his successful 2001 season.

Pyramid Intervals and Hill Climbs

The next target for me is the National Hill climb championship on the Rake.

Essentially, it is a 2 and half minutes race. It is at that in between point between a sprint and an endurance event. If it was on the track, it would be a 2Km pursuit.

In track terms, I think that counts as an endurance ride, but it will require that highest end of fitness. The race will be done at pretty close to maximum effort the whole way up. I see it as a long sprint. Therefore, I feel the best way to train is to move away from long 4-5 minute intervals and improve that short intense effort levels. This kind of 2 minute hill climb is often won by short powerful sprinter types as much as the classic ‘lightweight hill climber’


An important criteria for this kind of race is improve my sprinting speed and pure power. Therefore, Gordon Wright’s pyramid session  appeals because it includes  training those ‘fast twitch muscles’ I don’t usually train. I might miss out the third phase because I don’t need those 5 minute level 3 efforts.

I also like the idea of long recovery sessions. Training manuals tend to stress low recovery time. (e.g. if interval is 1 minute, recovery should be 1 minute) But, with these low recovery time, it’s harder to train in your target zone. Though with short recovery time, you do train the lactic tolerance.

Pyramid Intervals on a Turbo

I’m not a great fan of training on a turbo, but with this very specific intervals, I might end up doing it on there. It’s harder to concentrate on both surviving British roads and those effort levels. But,a key thing about intervals of this difficulty is having the motivation to do them. Therefore, if I get more inspired to do them on the road, aiming at distance posts, I might do that.

Measuring Intervals with Heart Rate / Power Meter

For very short intervals, using a heart rate is a poor guide to your effort levels. It can be a guide to how you are doing, but bear in mind there will be a time delay and your heart rate can vary due to other factors.

A power meter can be a way of measuring performance. Some like power meters because it gives them some power to target and helps increase their effort.

But, essentially, these intervals can be done on ‘feel’ If you’re going all out for 15, 30 seconds, you won’t have too much time to be looking at a power meter anyway.

Other pyramid interval sessions:

Constant Cadence – Increasing Gear

15-20 minute warm up.

  • This session involves starting off in a low gear (e.g. 39*16) and riding in a constant cadence of 90-95rpm.
  • Then you  increase the gear (39*15) but maintain that constant cadence of 90rpm.
  • After 1 minute at this higher intensity you go back to your lower gear. (39*16)
  • Then you before progressively increasing the gear on your bike. (39*14)
  • Keep increasing the gear by one ratio, until you reach maximal effort for 90rpm
  • Then go back down.

The effort to maintain that constant cadence gets harder and harder. Ideally this needs to be on flat roads with low wind.

30 seconds and 1 Minute Typical Pyramid interval session

20 minute warm up.

Phase One

30 seconds @ maximum effort
1 minute rest
30 seconds @ maximum effort
1 minute rest
30 seconds @ maximum effort
5 minute rest

Phase Two

1 minute @ maximum effort
2 minute rest
1 minute @ maximum effort
2 minute rest
1 minute @ maximum effort
5 minute rest

Phase Three

30 seconds @ maximum effort
1 minute rest
30 seconds @ maximum effort
1 minute rest
30 seconds @ maximum effort
1 minute rest

A total of 6 minutes at maximum effort split up into 9 different intervals.

6 Minutes of training may not sound much. But, if you can really do 6 minutes at maximum effort that’s a real training session.

You could add more repetitions. At the start you could add

  • 30 seconds @95% Max effort + 1 minute rest *3
  • and finish off with same:
  • 30 seconds @95% Max effort + 1 minute rest *3


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