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Now that you’ve been biking regularly for a few weeks, you’re ready to add a weekly bike interval workout. The interval workout will improve your fitness faster than steady cycling does. Two workouts are described here. Start with the "Faster Mile" interval workout, once a week. It will improve your aerobic capacity and leg strength. Once you’re comfortable with that workout, try the "All-out Effort" workout, which will improve your anaerobic capacity and your lactate threshold. (That’s the point at which your legs cry for mercy.)
For either interval workout, begin with 5 - 10 minutes of easy spinning, gradually increasing to your standard steady-ride pace. You want your muscles and joints thoroughly warmed-up prior to beginning the intervals. After the intervals, cool off with about 5 minutes of easy spinning.
IMPORTANT: If you haven’t been riding several times a week for at least three weeks, don’t do these interval workouts! You must have a sufficient base in order to derive benefits from these workouts. If you don’t, you will simply hurt.
"Faster Mile" Interval Workout
Using a cyclocomputer, your car odometer, or other method, find a one-mile section of road or trail that you enjoy. It should have distinct starting and ending landmarks, be fairly flat, and have several hundred yards of speed-up and slow down zones at either end of it. You’ll be doing U-turns in order to ride this section back and forth, so keep traffic safety in mind.
Ride the mile once at your normal, steady pace and time how long it takes you. Your interval pace should be about 80% of your steady pace. For instance, if it normally takes you 5 minutes to ride the mile, your interval target time will be 4 minutes. If you normally ride it in 4 minutes, your target time is 3:12.
Here’s the workout…
Once you are warmed up, spin up to your desired speed in the acceleration zone. Try to be at speed when you pass the incoming landmark. Remain at your higher speed throughout the mile, and don’t let off until you pass your exit landmark. Slow down through your deceleration zone, do a U-turn (LOOK FOR CARS!!), and pedal easily back to your acceleration zone.
Repeat the round trip 4 times. Try to meet your target time in each interval. If your later intervals are slower than your early ones, aim for a slightly slower pace. Keep pedaling at 90-100 rpm throughout the interval - you may need to adjust your gears.
"All-out Effort" Interval Workout
This workout can be performed in a loop, as above, or you can incorporate it on your regular bike routes. Once you are warmed up, go as hard as you can for 30 seconds. Keep your rpm’s between 90 and 100; you’ll need to shift to a harder gear. After the interval, pedal easily until you have recovered. If you have a heart rate monitor, recover until 120 bpm. If you don’t have a monitor, when you’ve recovered you’ll be able to have a conversation without difficulty breathing. Repeat the effort/recovery 4 times, then pedal easily to cool off.