How Much Base Mileage Do You Need Before Interval Training?

Dear Dr. Burke:

Quite a few old school cyclists believe in the 1,000-mile mark before doing any hard efforts. Do you believe in this practice? Thanks in advance!


Chris White

More: Go for Broke with Tabata Intervals

Dear Chris:

Never do hard intervals without a substantial mileage base. For most cyclists that may be 1,000 miles for others it may be slightly less. The main idea is to ensure that your muscles, tendons, ligaments and cardiovascular system are in adequate condition to undertake the stress of interval training.

Most cyclists know that rushing into interval training early in the season can lead to knee problems, but there's a more important reason: You need a sound aerobic foundation to build your intervals upon. Without that base, you'll reach your peak performance sooner, but performance levels won't be as high as if you had exercised more patience.

More: Managing and Monitoring Interval Training

The adage that "haste makes waste" is nowhere more true than in cycling; you'll get wasted if you try to do too much too soon!

Because interval training is so stressful, don't do it too often. When you begin, once per week is plenty for any kind of formal intervals or speed work. Later, as you adapt and grow stronger, you may want to add another weekly session.

Remember that hard group rides, races, or any fast ride in the hills has the same effect on your recovery as a hard interval session. Be sure to count them when you total up your weekly effort. Generally speaking, there's no reason to schedule more than two hard workouts of any type each week. If you do more, you are courting overtraining, chronic fatigue, decreased performance and lessened enjoyment.

More: 4 Great One-Hour Bike Workouts

For the same reason, don't do intervals for more than three to four weeks at a time without a two- to three-week break. Prolonged hard training means that you'll burn out. An increasing lack of enthusiasm is a warning that your workouts have become less effective and more like drudgery.

For best results, do intervals once or twice a week for a month, and then take a week of easy spinning on scheduled interval days. When you begin intervals or speed work sessions again, it will be at a higher level of intensity and enthusiasm.

Finally, your first intervals sessions should be of moderate intensity and longer duration. Let's say five intervals of three to five minutes at about 85 percent of your maximum heart rate with a full recovery between repeats. This will ensure your heart rate falls below 120 beats per minute for several minutes.

More: 4 Cycling Intervals That Will Make You Faster

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