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To capture all of the exhilaration that’s possible on two wheels, your best bet is to push your pace — and that means interval training.

For the uninitiated, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) consists of short spurts of hard activity alternated with periods of easier activity or complete rest. Such workouts require less time than lower-intensity sessions, yet they build cardiovascular endurance, strength, and power just as effectively.

Best of all, HIIT is adaptable to any fitness level.

“Pick intervals appropriate to your current fitness,” says Scott Saifer, MS, head coach at Wenzel Coaching in Walnut Creek, Calif. “Flogging yourself through additional intervals gains no extra fitness benefit and makes recovery take longer.”

Saifer specializes in coaching older athletes and those dealing with health issues or injuries that affect their training and racing. Here, he has designed a series of workouts aimed at cyclists of every experience level. Incorporate interval workouts one to three times a week, allowing sufficient time for recovery. These routines can be done on the road or a stationary bike.

Now, choose a workout from below, jump in the saddle, and go.


Sprint-Style Intervals

Choose this: If you’ve been riding less than two months, or you regularly ride less than two hours per week.

Purpose: To improve leg speed and strength for longer distances and uphill rides, and to get comfortable in the riding position.

Warm-up: Ride at a comfortable pace for 15 minutes.

The Workout

Perform up to 10 intervals. Choose from the following list, mixing them up as you see fit:

Spinning Intervals: At an easy gear or resistance, push your speed for 15 seconds, then recover for one minute at a comfortable cadence.

Leg-Strength Intervals: Increase the gear to muscle the pedals harder for one minute, then recover for one minute.

Standing Intervals: Increase the gear further and stand to pedal for 30 seconds. Then return to seated and recover for one minute.

Drop Intervals: Riding at a steady, comfortable pace and cadence, place your hands on your drop bars or place your elbows
in your aerobars for one minute. Then sit up and recover for one minute.

Cool-down: Ride for at least five minutes at a comfortable pace.


Lactate-Threshold Intervals

Choose this: If you’ve been riding for several months, three to six hours most weeks. You should be able to ride comfortably for an hour at a steady pace.

Purpose: To build tolerance for climbing and harder riding in general.

Warm-up: Ride at a comfortable pace for 20 to 30 minutes.

The Workout

Select one of the following workouts:

Climbing Intervals:

  • On a long hill (or using a high resistance level) climb or ride for three minutes. “Your breathing should be just above comfortable,” says Saifer. It should be hard to talk, but you shouldn’t be gasping for air.
  • Ride at an easy pace for five minutes, then repeat for up to six intervals. “The correct number [of intervals] makes you a little slower than you were in the first one of that session.”

Flat Intervals:

  • Perform the same workout as above — three-minute work intervals, followed by five minutes’ rest — on a flat surface. This is challenging: “Most cyclists have a much harder time riding hard enough on a flat road compared with uphill,” says Saifer.

Cool-down: Ride for 10 minutes at an easy pace.


VO2-Max Intervals

Choose this: If you’ve been riding at least four months, ride at least six hours per week, and routinely ride two hours or more.

Purpose: To build maximum riding power and sprinting capacity.

Warm-up: Ride at an easy pace for 30 to 40 minutes. Finish with two hard 10-second accelerations, resting two minutes in between.

The Workout

  • On a flat or hilly open road where you can ride fast for at least two minutes, accelerate quickly to a challenging pace and hold it for 45 seconds. By the end you should be breathing hard.
  • Recover for five minutes, then repeat for up to four intervals. Stop when you are slower or more tired than when you began.
  • If 45-second intervals are too easy, extend intervals to 60 or 90 seconds. If four repetitions of 90 seconds is too easy, go faster!

Cool-down: Ride for 10 minutes at an easy pace.

This article originally appeared as “Push Your Pace” in the May 2021 issue of Experience Life.

Andrew Heffernan

Andrew Heffernan, CSCS, is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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