Intervals and You (well, in this case, me)

As everyone who’s ridden an indoor trainer knows, it’s no substitute for getting out on the road. You don’t get the feel of those hard climbs, the rush of passing slow cars on a downhill, the variability of the terrain and the elements. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be exhausting and an excellent addition to your training routine – especially when the weather forces you indoors.

I’ve read about and worked on several things on a trainer: improving form and remaining still while relaxed, building a consistent pedal stroke at different gears, etc. The ones that really wear me down are intervals. Intervals for those that don’t know are a form of exercise that switches between periods of intense work and light work. The idea being that over time, you can increase the intense work duration, allowing you to sprint or ride at higher cadences or higher gears for longer periods of time.

There are many types of interval training styles, some using heart rate monitors, others used perceived fatigue, etc. There are two types that I’ve added to my weekly routine.

  • Anaerobic Intervals: These intervals have a short, full-out sprint period followed by a very light rest period. The rest-to-sprint time ratio is usually 3:1 (2:1 for the more in-shape among us).  So if you sprint full-out for 20 seconds, your rest period is usually 60 seconds.
  • Aerobic Intervals: These intervals are less intense, and therefore the periods can be longer. The rest-to-work time ratio usually 2:1 (or 1:1). For example, you pedal on your highest gear at a fast cadence for 2-3 min (but not fast enough to get out of breath) and then you back down to a lower gear for 5-6 min (but not lower enough that you’re completely resting).

From what I’ve read, a 10-15 min. warm-up is recommend, followed by 8-10 intervals, followed by a 10-15 min. cool-down. As it’s kinda hard to keep track of the length of the intervals, I found a nice app for my Droid X called “HIIT Intervals.  VERY useful. It allows you to set a warm-up time, duration of work, duration of rest, number of rounds, and a cool-down time.  You can even save various sets of times (I have one for each type of interval training).  It has preparatory “clicks” a few seconds before the next work/rest period, and a whistle to indicate the change. And it doesn’t interrupt music playback, which is nice.

For my anaerobic intervals, I use the following:

  • Warm-Up:  10 min.
  • Work:  30 sec.
  • Rest:  1 min, 30 sec.
  • Rounds:  10
  • Cool-Down:  8 min, 30 sec. (I cut out the last rest period time from my cool-down)
  • Total:  38 min, 30 sec.

When I hear the clicks telling me to prepare, I get ready and switch up to my highest gear. Once the whistle blows, I start to sprint as hard as I can, and I don’t let up until the whistle blows again for the rest period. At that point, I shift down 5 cogs and spin lightly until the next work period.

I’ll tell you – it was rough! But I really felt like I had an awesome workout. And after I rested for a bit, I followed up that interval set with core strengthening exercises: crunches, leg lifts, Pilates hundreds, and boards. Last but not least (never least) came stretching. Admittedly, this won’t replace road work, but it’s a hell of a supplement, and it will push your maximum sustainable performance. Give it a shot, and don’t be afraid to start with shorter times and less rounds. 🙂