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  1. #1
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    Intervals: Are they the only way to get fast?

    So I've ditched my "just ride" approach and embarked on a "training to potentially race" regimen the last few months, and virtually all advice out there points to intervals as the one and only driver of speed improvement. I've done intervals, but never with consistency, so I can't speak for actual results.

    But, I've been paying very close attention over the last couple of years to fellow riders who are Cat1 racers and newer riders that have undeniable Cat1 abilities, and they never, ever do intervals or even hard group rides, but instead, ride a ton of miles at an almost exclusively Zone 2/3 pace and never get near their red zone in training. When they do group ride, they rarely do anything that taxes themselves. This is the case even for riders who don't race much, but can clean house in Cat 3/4 races and in TT's. It seems they've just built (and continue to develop every day) enormous aerobic engines that allow them to put the hammer down and keep it there when called upon. This is quite evident when they crack off very high average speeds on solo rides at %-of-max HR's similar to what most riders would see on a recovery ride to the coffee shop.

    Over shorter distances requiring brief bursts of power (like a typical 1-3 minute Strava segment, for example), I can run with and even outrun some of these Cat1/2 guys, but over a longer distance, they can maintain it and I can't. So it begs the question, 1) are intervals really the only ticket to getting faster and 2) if you already have speed in your legs, is switching gears - no pun intended - to a whole bunch of aerobic training what will get you to a new level of performance? My intent here isn't to get out of (or suggest anyone else skip) suffering through intervals, but rather, to understand if it's the only way or even the proper way, given enough training time, to get faster.
    Last edited by AW84; 04-18-2016 at 12:33 AM.

  2. #2
    We have met the enemy...
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    Short answer--if you race terrain where you need punchy response and recovery, intervals are a necessity. They train you for recovery.

    If you are a TT specialist, not so much.

    What I remember from both crit riding (on a tight circuit) and road riding with a decent amount of climbing was the constant surging, hammer down and chase, hammer down at the top of the climb when you are already in the red zone--and yeah, intervals IME train you for responding to that.
    Tolerance is a very dull virtue. It is boring. Unlike love, it has always had a bad press. It is negative. It merely means putting up with people, being able to stand things.
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  3. #3
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    Some people are just born with it. It's best to not pay attention to what those types are doing, since it will only make you feel depressed at what you have to do to keep up with them.

    Try intervals, and if they work for you...stick with them. If you don't see an improvement, just go back to riding your bike.

    I've never 'trained', but rather ride my bike for the pleasure of riding my bike. I don't have any troubles keeping up with the local Tuesday Worlds. I'm certainly taxed, but I'm not falling off the back in the first mile.

    I think if I had to stick to a certain plan, it would turn into something I 'had' to do, instead of something 'want' to do.

  4. #4
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    I find it extremely hard to believe an active cat1 on the road (crit, road, ITT, circuits) does no intervals or hard group rides or ever go in the red. Either they are genetic freaks; you don't see them do intervals (why would you); or the races/group rides they do are relatively slow.

    People who do group rides/Tuesday night worlds etc.. and finish near the front always think they are good to go. Finishing near the front is way different than winning an actual race where everyone is pretty much committed to crossing the line before you. Group rides, worlds=not so much.

    If you don't see improvement with intervals then you're doing it pretty much wrong. Many don't know how to get the most out of them so some reading from the experts is recommended. Learning how many to do, how much recovery you need between and during the week, and when to stop all make a difference.

    Lastly, for me, while I do see an bump in power (eventually) one thing intervals do that wins races is trains your body to to attack or cover that one last time when everyone else is gassed. That wins races more than any absolute power number guys throw down. For example, if I JRA I can hit all the same power numbers with the exception of very short peak power as when I am trained. But, what I can't do JRA is hit 800W 20 times and settle back to threshold. I'm pulling number out of the air but the point is intervals allow me to go super deep more times than JRA.

  5. #5
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    Sounds like you need to do a proper training plan that includes a balance of high intensity intervals and lower intensity workouts. Going out and riding your bike kinda hard all the time will only get you so far. To progress to the next level you're going to need to do intervals a couple of times per week. That's following a base build phase of typically zone 3+ rides.

  6. #6
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    There are different kinds of speed and different kinds of training.

    There are riders who are genetically gifted in certain kinds of speed but not others.

    You NEED intervals to perform at your peak because there WILL be times when the pace is outside your steady-state fitness, and you have to be able to tolerate those surges and recover before the pace increases again.

    Those riders who "put the hammer down" and keep it there may have a very high aerobic capacity, but they may not last from surges outside of their aerobic capacity. A few surges or sprints may take the stuffing out of them. I just so happens that they're not riding with people who tax their abilities. They are the hammer and not the nail.

    You may or may not develop that long term aerobic capacity and strength. It depends on genetics, training, and commitment. Genetics overwhelmingly dictates your success.

    So are intervals the ONLY way to get faster? Yes and no. They develop a short term "fast" but if you increase your short term "fast" you will be able to handle lower tiered "long term" fast a little bit better. Over the long term of years and years, if you continue to ride regardless of what type of training you do, you will build a bigger aerobic engine.

    If you want to read more on developing that "base" for a strong aerobic engine, pick up a copy of Thomas Chapple's book, Base Building for Cyclists.

  7. #7
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    I read an article on running a few months ago about training. It basically said an easy to moderate pace with a good diet will get you to 90% of your genetic potential. Going beyond that will require structured training and a very specific diet. It was shared on facebook from a local running shoe store so I can't go back and find it now.

    I started interval training when I first got into road biking over the winter. It made massive improvements in leg strength but did nothing for my cardio or endurance. I'm sure intervals are part of a good training regime but there are probably much more important aspect in training to improve fitness. The right diet has made the biggest difference for me so far.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by AW84 View Post

    But, I've been paying very close attention over the last couple of years to fellow riders who are Cat1 racers and newer riders that have undeniable Cat1 abilities, and they never, ever do intervals or even hard group rides, but instead, ride a ton of miles at an almost exclusively Zone 2/3 pace and never get near their red zone in training. When they do group ride, they rarely do anything that taxes themselves.
    I'm a cat 1. I have always done intervals. Every cat 1 I know does intervals (either structured or not) and/or very hard group rides where they're flogging themselves.

    You want to get fast, you ride fast. Intervals and group rides and races alike.

    Riding a whole bunch of miles slow will get you good at riding a whole bunch of miles slow.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by woodys737 View Post

    People who do group rides/Tuesday night worlds etc.. and finish near the front always think they are good to go. Finishing near the front is way different than winning an actual race where everyone is pretty much committed to crossing the line before you. Group rides, worlds=not so much.
    This. People all the time think they can "hang with Cat 1s" or put out similar power or something because they don't get dropped on a hill on a training ride. The OP isn't going to "outrun some cat 1 guys" because he is in front of them on a group ride. There's nothing similar about that.

    A training ride is not a race. A race is nothing like what you've experienced. Until you've actually done a p/1/2 race, it's pretty crazy to think you could come anywhere near the front. It's an entirely different ballgame. An entirely different sport. It's just so far removed from anything you'd do on a "normal" ride. Same thing for a big pro race. And then again for a world tour race. At every level it's just so much harder.

  10. #10
    TheSnide
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    I'm 46 and have been a cyclist my whole life. I've always loved road racing but never actually raced until last year. I decided if I don't try it now it's never going to happen. So I got a coach and went for it. I can tell you 100% that all the interval work I've done has changed everything for me. That being said I'm still Cat 4 and I've never won anything. CX I'm getting top 5 finishes, road racing this is the first year I don't just get dropped the minute a break happens. Without all the different types of intervals. 2x20's, speed work, 1min hits, etc. There is no way I could hang in the Cat 4/5 masters race. 1. because I wouldn't know what I'm capable of 2. Being able to sustain high intensity is an acquired thing. There's kind of a rhythm you fall into. I don't see any other way to learn that. I've also learned that the strongest guys don't always win, but the smart racers tend to do better. Learn to love intervals, and train your brain to get excited about them. Just my $.02

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by AW84 View Post
    But, I've been paying very close attention over the last couple of years to fellow riders who are Cat1 racers and newer riders that have undeniable Cat1 abilities, and they never, ever do intervals or even hard group rides
    You're not seeing what you think you're seeing unless you happened to live in a place full of genetic freaks.

    "Newer riders" do not have cat 1 abilities. They may have the potential to get there but aside from the Eric Heidens of the world who are freaks and/or trained really hard in another sport that helps cycling you're not going to see cat 1 ability coming out of a newer rider. And them not doing any intervals or hard rides virtually eliminates the chance you're seeing the type of rider you think you are.

    Anyway, first worry about cat 5 before concerning yourself with cat 1. And you'll need surge ability for that so you should do intervals and hard riding with other people.

  12. #12
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    You can't compare yourself to those cyclists who are much faster than you. They have genetic talent, and augment that with training.

    You need to compare yourself to YOURSELF. Intervals are necessary to stimulate your body's ability to withstand the varying speeds of racing and group rides. It will give you a higher short-term speed ceiling. Limiting the rest period between intervals will teach your body to withstand repeated efforts, much like what happens jumping out of corners in criteriums.

    Riding long steady distance will give you the ability to hold high speeds for long periods of time but when someone attacks, your body may not be able to tolerate being in the red zone for 1, 2, or maybe 5 minutes. Those criterium jumps may sap that LSD power out of your legs leaving you out of contention in the sprint.

    The key is to practice interval training without overdoing it and leading to burnout or overtraining. A MIX of intervals and LSD work, within your available training time, is best because of the variety of physiological systems it trains.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter P. View Post
    You can't compare yourself to those cyclists who are much faster than you. They have genetic talent, and augment that with training.

    You need to compare yourself to YOURSELF.
    Well said, I couldn't agree more...

  14. #14
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    I am sure Cat 1 racers ride in fast training rides with cyclists of similar abilities. Intervals is a component of group rides. Fast training rides brings experience at different levels also.

    Riders that put in a lot of hours on the road at zone 2 or 3 and nothing else make strong tourists.

  15. #15
    A wheelist
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    Quote Originally Posted by AW84 View Post
    Intervals: Are they the only way to get fast?
    "Fast" is a relative term. If you want to be as fast as you can be then you need intervals.
    .
    Mike T's home wheelbuilding site - dedicated to providing Newby wheelbuilder's with motivation, information and resources.

    Everything above, up to that blue line, is IMO IMO.

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