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Bicycling Magazine Logo

Get fast now

All you need is a watch, a little patience and just two days a week.

By Selene Yeager
Bicycling Magazine

In a study of 38 highly trained cyclists and triathletes, researchers in Australia found that interval training done twice a week for a month improved the racers' 40k time-trial performances by 5 percent and boosted their peak power output by 3 percent.

But most amateur cyclists assume intervals are too complicated, says Jeb Stewart, owner of Endurofit coaching. "They're not sure what they should be doing when and feel like they need all this equipment, so they don't bother," he says. In fact, a cyclist can benefit from interval training that consists of simple efforts that require nothing more than a watch.

To start: If it's still cold where you live, follow plan A to build your VO2 max; if it's warm, skip to plan B to top off your fitness. Do one workout per week when racing, two when not racing. Rest one or two days between workouts, and always warm up first.

PLAN A

Boost your VO2 by working in a zone that's harder than time-trial pace but not as hard as you can go--about a nine on a one-to-10 scale, or an effort you can sustain for 2 1/2 to five minutes.

Pick Up the Slack In a small group, work hard in a paceline, with each rider taking all-out pulls for 30 to 60 seconds before dropping back. Continue the paceline for six minutes. Then recover for six minutes and regroup, if necessary. Repeat four to six times.

Climb and Climb Again Find a hill that takes you three to five minutes to climb. Ride up as hard as you can while maintaining a consistent pace. Roll down. Repeat three to six times.

Simulate a solo attack Stand and sprint for 10 to 15 seconds, sit and hammer for 2 1/2 minutes, then finish with another 10- to 15-second sprint. Recover for five minutes. Repeat four to six times.

PLAN B

Tune up your top end with race-specific intervals and speed work. These should be done at near-maximum to maximum effort.

Set Your Sites On a flat-to-rolling road, choose an object, like a mailbox, 50 meters out. Jump out of the saddle to sprint, then sit and hammer to the marker. Recover three minutes and repeat twice. Do the same sprint/recovery sequence with an object 100 meters out, and again with one 200 meters out. Use your small chainring for the 50s; shift to the big ring for the 100s and 200s.

Go Till You (Almost) Blow On a flat-to-rolling road, ride as hard as you can for 30 seconds and recover one minute. Do five sets. Recover five minutes and do another five sets. When these feel easier, increase to one-minute efforts, doing two sets of five, with two minutes rest between sprints. Then try two sets of 10.

Climb Three Ways Find these three grades of hills: short and steep, moderate pitch and length, and long and mellow. On interval day, choose one. Sprint from the bottom to 50 meters past the top. Rest three minutes, including the time it takes you to roll back down. Repeat two more times. Next time, choose a different hill type and do the same reps with the same rest.

Selene Yeager, a USA Cycling certified coach and author of Every Woman's Guide to Cycling.