Miracle Intervals on the Indoor Trainer

Below is the list of event time samples (average power produced over each time period) and the percentage improvement in 2007 compared to 2006:

12 seconds: Decreased 1.7 percent (I expected this to be the one to improve most, but it didn't.)
One minute: Improved by 20.5 percent
Six minutes: Improved by 4.5 percent
12 minutes: Improved by 5.7 percent
30 minutes: Improved by 10.4 percent
60 minutes: Improved by 8.0 percent
90 minutes: Improved by 7.9 percent
180 minutes: Improved by 7.1 percent

The Science

Although I was pleasantly surprised at the results, I pondered the explanation of why it happened. Could I reproduce this result again? This type of training for an experienced cyclist was nothing I had used in the past, nor had I seen any other coach recommend such a non-traditional approach.

More: Beat the Indoor Doldrums with These Killer Workouts

Nearly two months after the successful event, I ran across a research paper that supported our experiment. The study investigated the effects of short-term, high-intensity sprint training on 17 trained cyclists. The cyclists had a minimum of two years of training and had been involved in previous training programs.

For the experiment, sprint training workouts occurred twice per week for four weeks. The first workout included four 30-second sprints followed by four minutes of active recovery. Two sprints were added to each training session. The total sprint work equaled 28 minutes accumulated over the four weeks. The remainder of the training for the sprint group was endurance training.

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The result was, "In conclusion, these data suggest that four weeks of high-intensity sprint training combined with endurance training in a trained cycling population increased motor unit activation, exercising plasma levels, and total work output with a relatively low volume of sprint exercise compared to endurance training alone."

How You Can Use These Workouts

  1. I would not recommend doing all-out power sprints for inexperienced or currently unfit cyclists.

  2. If you are fit and experienced, these short sprints might help you improve your fitness. One key to doing the intervals is full recovery between sprints.

  3. These sprints can be done outdoors, on an indoor trainer, or in a spin class. If you decide to do them in the spin class, be certain you recover between each interval. This is not a leg-searing, feel-like-toast-at-the-end-of-the-spin-class sort of workout. In other words, you need to control the intensity of the workout for yourself during the spin class.

  4. Even though the research paper only utilized four weeks for the experiment, you may need more time. My cyclist had his biggest power production for the sprints during weeks 15 and 18, post-crash. This may have been due to the other workouts coming into the design of the training plan or the fact that we only did sprints, at the maximum, once per week. Don't be afraid to give the workouts time to have a training affect.

  5. It is best if you can quantitatively measure your progress. In other words, tracking progress using a power meter gave us the data to show improvements as well as the plateau in improvement. No matter what training stimulus you use, keep data so you know if the workouts you have designed are having the desired affect.

If you give these workouts a try, let us know how it goes. What are your results?

More: 4 Cycling Intervals That Will Make You Faster

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Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Games in Sydney. She currently serves as one of the World Cup coaches for the International Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow cycling and triathlon training plans. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

1. Creer, A.R., et. Al, "Neural, metabolic, and performance adaptations to four weeks of high intensity sprint-interval training in trained cyclists", International Journal of Sport Medicine, 2004 Feb; 25(2):92-8.

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