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These innovative interval sessions will turbocharge your next ride and boost your speed.
Intervals. The very word triggers groans of dread from even the most training-obsessed cyclists. But these short, misery-inducing cycling workouts offer a huge fitness return for a comparatively small time investment—and can even be done indoors on the trainer, making them perfect for winter training. Even 20- to 30-second micro-intervals have been shown to increase V02 max, burn fat, and improve endurance. And they work fast. “Just two weeks of interval training can enhance your performance,” says , Ph.D., an endurance coach and sport scientist.
You’ve probably already heard of high-intensity interval training, or HIIT for short. While some of the cycling workouts below can be considered HIIT (the Tabata-inspired one especially), interval workouts can also be built around moderate periods of intensity. The bonus—regardless of which one you go with, a found that interval workouts can burn significantly more fat than moderate, steady-state exercise.
[Related: Get More Power With These 6 Exercises That Smooth Out Your Pedal Stroke]
Here, we collected five cycling workouts that all improve your speed and power on the bike. Choose one interval cycling workout below and add it to a ride no more than twice a week. For each, warm up with easy pedaling for 10 to 15 minutes and cool down as needed after. Stick with it for (at least) four weeks, and you’ll be dropping your friends by next month.
Build power and train your body to recover quickly between efforts for events that demand repeated surges. In a medium to large gear, push hard for 40 seconds, then recover for 20 seconds. Repeat 10 times. That’s one set. Do 2 to 4, resting 5 minutes between sets.
These lightning-fast efforts help you develop a fluid and efficient pedal stroke and cadence. Pedal as hard as you can for 10 seconds in a gear you can push 90 to 110 RPM with effort, then spin easy for 20 seconds. Repeat for 10 to 15 minutes. Recover by pedaling easy for 5 minutes. Do another set.
On a moderate incline, stand out of the saddle and charge up the hill as fast as possible for 30 seconds. Coast back to your starting point. Repeat, this time seated. Alternate between standing and sitting for 6 climbs. Recover 10 minutes. Do another set.
[Want to fly up hills? gives you the workouts and mental strategies to conquer your nearest peak.]
Developed by Japanese exercise scientist Izumi Tabata, these intense efforts train your body to use more muscle, as well as increase the intensity you can sustain over a 60-minute time trial, which corresponds to your lactate threshold. Sprint as hard as possible for 20 seconds. Coast for 10 seconds. Repeat six to eight times.
Raising your threshold pace will help you sustain attacks. During your next ride, ride as hard as you can for 2 to 3 minutes (you will be flagging by the end). Recover at an easy pace for 2 minutes. Do up to three sets.