Two Cycling Workouts to Rule the Road

2 cycling intervals main

You’ve rolled the bike out of storage, pumped up the tires, and lubed the chain. Now the only thing standing between you and completing a 100-mile century ride or slaying the new singletrack at your local trail is your fitness level. You could commit to a months-long program of low-intensity workouts that slowly burn off winter fat while layering on the miles—or you could go the smart, efficient route, and do intervals.

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“Intervals are an essential part of cycling training, especially for time-crunched riders who are balancing a career or family with training,” says Chris Carmichael, founder and head coach of Carmichael Training Systems, and the man who famously whipped Lance Armstrong into shape for seven Tour de France victories. “When you have fewer hours to use for training, you need to rely more on interval training supply the workload necessary to see performance gains.”

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Interval training pushes your body hard—well past what it can sustain—for shorter periods, forcing it to quickly adapt and grow stronger.

“Interval workouts target energy systems, the various pathways by which your body produces the energy for working muscles,” says Carmichael.

In other words, intervals boost your aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and increase lactate threshold while setting fat on fire. That’s because they significantly raise your metabolism, extending the burn for hours after you’re off the bike and torching up to 15% more calories.

Just two weeks of interval training can significantly enhance performance. Start now, and ride your way to an even stronger, leaner summer.

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Stop spinning your wheels and try two of Chris Carmichael’s foundational interval training drills.

“These are two cornerstone workouts that are essential for cyclists,” he says. Go farther and harder this spring by adding these routines to your workout regimen.

Interval Workout 1: Build Endurance

Go the distance with this workout, which builds aerobic endurance with long intervals performed at well below lactate threshold (6–7 on a 1–10 intensity scale). Spin easily for 5–10 minutes to warm up, then shift into a larger gear (try big ring in front and middle of the cog set in the back) and pedal at a slow cadence (70–75 rpm). Go for two 15-minute intervals broken by seven minutes of easy spinning recovery. Cool down with 5–10 minutes of easy spinning.

Interval Workout 2: Increase Lactate Threshold

Quash lactic acid buildup with this workout, performed at or slightly below lactate threshold (roughly a 7–8 on a 1–10 intensity scale). Use a heartrate monitor or power meter to keep yourself honest, or just listen to your breath: Labored but deep and controlled breathing is perfect. Start with an easy 5- or 10-minute warmup spin, then do three eight-minute intervals separated by four minutes of recovery spinning. As your work capacity increases, you can increase the duration of the intervals to as much as 20 minutes with 10 minutes recovery. Cool down with 5-10 minutes of easy spinning.

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