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Common Interval Training Mistakes

First off, I think getting out on the bike and accomplishing any ride is a success. Riding consistently, even without any direction, will lead to improved fitness. But why not increase the odds of improving to a higher level and more quickly by using sound training principles? Here are some common things I see when reviewing power files/training history in my initial athlete assessments that I believe are mistakes.

Progressive Overload:

This is probably the number one mistake I see other than overestimating FTP (future topic). Each week is the same pattern with the same workouts or there is no rhyme or reason to durations of intervals. Maybe an athlete is on the local group ride circuit. One can get pretty fit using these strategies, but the body is not being overloaded in a progressive manner and one is likely to only be maintaining their fitness. Take a look at your files from the group ride you do regularly and I bet the training stress is not much different from ride to ride. How about the 2 x 20 MIN workout that is so popular. It is a great workout, but how are you making it harder from session to session to trigger adaptations during active training phases?

Fix it:

- Make it progressive.

- Group rides - use normalized power as a target and try for a slightly higher number each ride. Once that maxes out, then add some intervals before or after the ride. Only about a 10% increase of training stress at a time. Regular group riders should be sure to get in sustained efforts each week if the route does not create that - long hill. etc.

- For the 2 x 20 crowd - why not build up to 1 x 60 or even 1 x 90? Again, add only a small amount of work per session as you build up.

Going Too Hard on FTP Intervals:

What?! How can going too hard be a problem? It is a problem because you are likely targeting your anaerobic system too much when the goal of the workout is to train your aerobic system. Sure, your anaerobic system gets stronger, but your FTP stays the same. Ever note this trend in the 2 x 20 workout targeting say 300 Watts? First interval is crushed at 315 watts and the 2nd one is faked through at 280. Athletes that do the workout this way typically improve their 1 minute power while FTP stays the same.

Fix it:

- Make it progressive - notice a theme here?

- Target ~ 300 watts for the first one and see if you can go harder on the 2nd interval if you feel good.

- FTP work should not be excruciating on a perceived effort level. It is the pace that you could hold for about 40-75 minutes, so a 20 minute interval should be hard, but manageable.

- If power is coming easily for your FTP intervals in a given workout, then consider extending the interval out longer to accumulate more time in the proper training zone.

- Listen to your breathing - if you are panting, you are over threshold and training your anaerobic system. Back off and train your aerobic system - power will increase in time as your aerobic system gets stronger. Give it time.

- FTP is a moving target and differs from day to day - listen to your body and let watts go a bit. The best TTers in the world go on feel and so should you.

- DO NOT try and raise power and duration at the same time. Pick one - make the intervals longer or harder, but not both at the same time.

- Power should be consistent through the workout with maybe a slight drop near the end indicating proper pacing through intervals and the session

Not Going Hard Enough on Short Intervals:

This applies for shorter intervals which I consider to be 8 minutes or less. These are maximal efforts and done full blast - the highest pace that you can sustain for the duration, so pacing is important since we do not want to blow up at minute 2 of a 8 minute interval. One could classify these durations as VO2 or anaerobic capacity work pending the duration. I believe going hard and taking the recovery you need to perform the next hard interval is the key here. I see many athletes feel they are going hard, but have more to give in these workouts. They hurt either way, so might as well dig deep to get the gains.

Fix it:

- Go all in - full gas efforts you can sustain for the length of the prescribed interval. Hold back a little on the first one or two so you can still complete the workout. I bet the 2nd and 3rd intervals will feel like max efforts to try and hit your power target if it is set properly.

- Power will drop throughout the workout - so what? I believe it should and indicating you are going deep to force adaptations. The strain on the system is there even though the watts are dropping. Forget about that chart that says to quit doing intervals when power drops below a certain percentage. Careful though - this approach creates a lot of fatigue and a little goes a long way. Go home when you feel done so it does not take several days to recover and consider upcoming races and workouts if you plan to go deep in this type of workout.

- Take longer rests between intervals if needed. Take 10 or even 20 minutes in between them.

- Go hard, rest long, puke, go home. 4 full efforts with 20 minutes of recovery in between can be very effective training - go check out the track cyclists some time.

- NOTE - longer rests are OK for these specific workouts, but there is a place for short recoveries when lactate clearance, acid buffering and fatigue resistance are the goals of the workout.

Have fun and try something new. If you over or under pace an effort, then it is not a failure. Find the outer edges of what you can do and let it rip sometimes. You will always benefit from training and the times we get it wrong teach us better to get it right. Stay loose, go hard on the hard days and easy on the easy days. Listen to your body and think about the system you are trying to target. Aerobic - should be able to control breathing and could continue at the end of the interval if you had to. Anaerobic/VO2 - not able to talk and really glad when it is over!

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