There is little question that interval work, also known as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT for short), provides tremendous value to Athletes of all fitness levels, but especially for those looking to develop their capacities and become more powerful.
With regards to HIIT training, one does not have to look hard to find a plethora of information on the web detailing the myriad of workout types.
Unfortunately, many times the workouts described leave-out critical information or read like a complex math equation rather than clearly outlining the execution of the workout in question.
Thus the focus of this weeks BWC Newsletter is ‘how’ to perform every interval session to the best of your abilities.
To begin, we must outline the basic components of an interval or ‘effort’, there are five: Duration, Intensity, Specific Prescription, Recovery Fraction, and Repetitions.
We will detail and describe each component using the following sample workout:
Sample Workout: Attack & Bridge Intervals
After a solid warm-up and on a rolling road, perform the following Attack & Bridge Intervals: -2x 2min. at 360w+.
-Begin each interval w/a 10 sec. sprint, as if you are attacking to a break-away. After the ‘attack’ sit down & stay in the drops for the interval.
-Maintain a cadence of 85+ rpm throughout each interval (excluding the sprint) and be sure to maintain a relaxed upper-body, no erratic body language when you begin to suffer!
-Recover for 3min. between intervals and 10min. between the two sets.
-Complete the ride with consistent Endurance work at a comfortable cadence.
-Warm-down as necessary, 10-15min. Ride up to 2.5hrs total.
The 5 Components Of An Interval
1.) Duration: Every interval has a time component. The time component can be measured in minutes or seconds, depending on the goal of the workout.
For the sample workout, each Attack & Bridge interval is 2-minutes and starts with a 10 second sprint.
2.) Intensity: Every interval has an intensity prescription. The intensity can be prescribed via power (in wattage), using Heart Rate (in Beats Per Minute), or possibly Rate of Perceived Exertion (1-10 scale).
Note: RPE would be used if you do not have a data collection device or when power/H.R. values are irrelevant for the interval being prescribed.
The intensity portion of the interval is what denotes an intervals difficulty (note: not all intervals are intended to be leg-breakers).
For the sample workout, the intensity is described for both portions of the interval. It starts with a maximum effort, 10sec. sprint, followed by 1:50 of sustained work at 360 watts, or more.
3.) Specific Prescription: Some workouts are more specific than others and therefore some specifics or notations are included in the workout description.
Oftentimes the specific prescription includes information about cadence targets (example: “perform… w/a 90+ cadence), Heart Rate and Power Zones, road/trail suggestions (example: “perform …on a steep climb”), or even body position requirements (example: “perform… in the drops”).
For the sample workout, the protocol details a cadence of 85+ rpm for the duration of the 2 min. interval. As a maximum effort, the sprint component of the interval does not require a cadence clarification.
4.) Recovery Fraction: After every interval there will be a recovery fraction. Unless otherwise prescribed, this time is meant to be devoted to FULL recovery from the prescribed effort… not continued work.
It is important to take this time to get your Heart Rate down and allow your legs to recover. This will prepare you for the next effort or set of intervals.
For the sample workout, the recovery fraction is 3min. between intervals and 10min. between sets.
5.) Repetition: Every interval prescription has a number of repetitions denoted. This could range from a single 20-minute interval to eight 1-minute max-output efforts, or any variety thereof.
Pay attention to the repetition component, just because one interval is easy, repeating the prescribed workout may prove to be difficult, especially if there is a short recovery fraction.
For the sample workout, the description requires two-sets of 2 Attack & Bridge Intervals. The interval sets are separated by 10-minutes rest.
Sometimes, performing your individual training plan requires letting training partners ride-away in order to stay disciplined to our own workout protocols.
5 Guidelines To Executing A Perfect Interval
With an understanding of the aforementioned “elements of an interval”, a structured interval session can be performed following these guidelines:
Perform interval training sessions on similar (uninterrupted) pieces of road. This allows for the greatest chance of creating repeatable efforts and successful workouts with minimal stress.
Certain interval sessions require specific road conditions (or indoor-trainer conditions) such as a climb, downhill, or false-flat. Because of this, it is important to be flexible with ride routes and consider riding to your favorite climb to perform your 4min. climbing intervals and then riding home.
Performing intervals on a ‘loop’ style route can be difficult and cause anxiety, both of which can result in a compromised workout.
If you are using a Garmin or other GPS Computer, press the ‘lap’ button on your device before starting your interval session. This simple technique will make it easier for you, or your coach, to decipher when/where intervals start when analyzing workout data.
It should be noted that sprint efforts and other very intense intervals need not use this technique. When sprinting or performing a maximum effort, your entire attention should be focused on the road ahead. This direction is as much about your personal safety as it is about achieving a high-quality workout.
3.) Be Disciplined About Recovery Fractions
Proper interval training is predicated on determining when an Athlete can no longer repeat the prescribed workload. If hard work is performed between intervals, it could potentially lead to a poor performance in subsequent efforts.
Remember, Zone 1 is called Active Recovery for a reason!
4.) Do Not ‘Over-Achieve’ On The First Few Intervals
If you are feeling strong and the intervals seem easy, enjoy the respite!
Not every interval has to be a smash-fest, in fact, it is sometimes better if they are not. A good rule of thumb is to target the mid-range of the prescribed Power or Heart Rate range. If you get through three-quarters of the prescribed interval(s) and still have ‘gas in the tank’, then push the limits!
Once the training session is complete, report this potential intensity discrepancy to your coach, the interval protocol may need revision, and is likely a sign that you are getting stronger!
It should be said that some intervals, specifically sub-threshold efforts (Endurance and Tempo work) are doubly important not to over-do. These zones need to be developed independently and are not adequately developed when an Athlete rides harder than the workout prescription outlines.
5.) Approach Each Interval With Focus & Be Prepared For Work
We find that approaching each interval as a ‘stand alone’ effort is very beneficial for our Athletes, as it can be daunting to perform multiple efforts and sets of intervals.
Whether on the road or trail, interval training can be wildly effective, just be sure to select the correct road or trail for the job!
We hope this article has helped detail and outline the important components of interval training for you. By taking the time to understand the unique protocol of an interval session and how to effectively execute the workout, you are sure to gain maximum benefit from your training program.
With these techniques in mind, deciphering interval protocol ahead of your next workout will be easier and allow you to put more energy into performing your best.
And this is all we ask of our Athletes, to give their best!
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian and Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching