Interval Training In Cycling and Why It's the Best Way to Get Fit Fast

Cycling is much more than a leisure activity on a sunny day. For avid cyclists and fitness enthusiasts looking to elevate their training, incorporating interval training could be the key to unlocking new levels of performance. This method of training, characterized by alternating periods of high and low intensity, has been found to deliver exceptional results in a shorter time than traditional steady-state workouts. But what makes interval training so effective, and how can cyclists harness its power for maximum gains?

In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore the science behind interval training, and its benefits, and provide practical strategies for integrating it into your cycling routine. Whether you're a seasoned rider seeking to enhance your competitive edge or a health-conscious individual aiming to get the most out of your cycling workout, this post is tailored to accelerate your fitness goals.

What Is Interval Training In Cycling

Interval training, also referred to as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), is a method of exercise that involves alternating short bursts of intense activity with periods of rest or lower intensity activity. While it's a staple for running workouts, it's also hugely beneficial for cyclists. In the cycling world, this means pushing your body to its limits for a set amount of time, followed by brief recovery periods before repeating the cycle.

Pushing past the mundane monotony of steady-state rides – and workouts in general – interval training injects variability and intensity into the equation. It’s become a mainstay for elite athletes and weekend warriors alike. Engaging in repetitive bursts of high-intensity exertion followed by recovery periods is not only a staple of cycling competition but a proven strategy for achieving peak fitness.

The unique physiological response induced by intervals is at the crux of why it's considered the holy grail of fitness. This response, coupled with meticulous timing and tailored intensity, transforms cycle training into a potent catalyst for rapid physical transformation.

Benefits of Interval Training In Cycling

The hallmark of interval training lies in its ability to optimize and access the three fundamental energy systems, providing a complete workout that hits all the right spots. Unlike steady-state workouts, which primarily activate only one energy system (aerobic), intervals engage both aerobic and anaerobic pathways.

#1 Improved Cardiovascular Fitness

In fact, studies have shown that interval training can produce similar or even superior results compared to longer, steady-state workouts. Interval training allows cyclists to tap into both energy systems by incorporating intense bursts of activity with periods of recovery. This not only improves cardiovascular endurance but also builds muscle strength and power – a winning combination for any cyclist looking to improve their performance.
The primary motivation for many cyclists to adopt interval training is the boost in cardiovascular endurance. By pushing the heart to work at or near its maximum capacity for short bursts of time, intervals can strengthen the heart muscles, improve oxygen delivery, and enhance the body’s ability to clear lactate, the byproduct of anaerobic metabolism.

#2 Increased Calorie Burn

Research shows that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can lead to a higher calorie burn not only during the workout but also afterward, thanks to a phenomenon called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). Interval training has been shown to increase the body’s metabolic rate, which means you continue burning calories even after your workout is over. This can lead to weight loss and improved body composition over time.

#3 Time Efficiency

One of the most attractive aspects of interval training for many cyclists is its time efficiency. With intervals, you can achieve similar or better fitness results in less time compared to longer, moderate-intensity rides. This is particularly beneficial for those with busy schedules looking to squeeze in effective workouts.

#4 Increased Speed and Endurance

Interval training also helps cyclists build speed and endurance by pushing the body past its limits. By repeatedly exposing the muscles to intense levels of activity, they adapt and become stronger, allowing for increased power output and longer rides without fatigue.

#5 Mental Toughness

Interval training is not just physically demanding – it also requires a high level of mental toughness to push through the discomfort and fatigue. This mental fortitude can carry over into other areas of life, making interval training an excellent tool for developing discipline and determination.

How to Implement Interval Training in Cycling

Before delving into the science of interval training, it's crucial to understand how to implement this method in a cycling routine. The integration of interval training into your cycling cadence is not a matter of 'if' but 'how'. Beginners should approach with caution, allowing their bodies to acclimate to the new stresses, gradually building to more advanced interval structures.

Seasoned cyclists, on the other hand, can reap the benefits of interval training by constructing yearly periodized plans that peak for competitions. This approach optimizes timing and intensity, ensuring that the hard-earned adaptations do not plateau but surge when they are needed the most.

Setting Up Interval Sessions

To begin, identify the duration and intensity of your intervals. For example, a popular ratio is the Tabata protocol—20 seconds of all-out effort followed by 10 seconds of recovery, repeated eight times. You could also try longer intervals, such as 3 minutes at around 90% effort, followed by a 3-minute easy spin, repeated 4-6 times.

Monitoring Progress and Adjusting Intensity

It's crucial to listen to your body and track your progress over time. Use a heart rate monitor or power meter to ensure you're hitting the intended intensities. As you get fitter, you may need to increase the intensity of your work intervals to maintain the training stimulus.

Implementing Interval Training in Stationary Bikes

If you don't have access to outdoor cycling routes, stationary bikes can be a great alternative for interval training. Here are some tips on how to implement intervals in your stationary bike workout:
  • Set your resistance level at a moderate level and start with a warm-up of 5-10 minutes.
  • Increase resistance gradually until you reach a challenging level for the work intervals.
  • For the work intervals, aim for 30 seconds to 2 minutes of high-intensity effort followed by equal or slightly longer periods of recovery at a low resistance level.
  • Repeat this pattern for a total of 3-5 sets, and then finish with a cool-down period of 5-10 minutes.
A typical interval-focused training week would look something like this:
  • Monday: Rest or low-intensity ride
  • Tuesday: Interval session on a stationary bike
  • Wednesday: Strength and conditioning workout
  • Thursday: Interval session on a stationary bike
  • Friday: Rest or low-intensity ride
  • Saturday: Long endurance ride outdoors (or on a stationary bike)
  • Sunday: Recovery or active rest day.
Don't forget to adjust the resistance and duration of your intervals as you progress to continually challenge your body and see improvements in your cycling performance. Stationary bikes also offer the option to track your metrics, such as distance, speed, and heart rate if available, making it easy to monitor and measure your progress.

Should Everyone Do Interval Training?

Interval training can be beneficial for most individuals, but it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen. People with certain medical conditions or injuries may need to modify their intervals or avoid them altogether. It is also important to listen to your body and adjust the intensity of your intervals as needed. Remember to prioritize safety and always warm up properly before beginning any interval training session. With proper guidance and precautions, most people can safely incorporate intervals into their workout routine to see improvements in their overall fitness level.


As the science suggests, integrating interval training into your cycling regimen is a surefire way to fast-track your fitness ambitions. The benefits of improved cardiovascular health, increased calorie burn, and time efficiency far outweigh the intensity of the workout. It's a method that not only enhances your performance on the bike but also contributes to overall health and well-being.

Before transitioning into a new training paradigm, consult with a fitness professional or coach to ensure interval training aligns with your current fitness level and goals. Additionally, it’s important to approach interval training with a progressive mindset, starting with manageable intensities and durations and gradually increasing them as your body adapts.

In your next cycling pursuit, consider the effectiveness of intervals in your quest for better health and performance. Whether you're gliding through city streets on your way to work or pushing through challenging terrains on your road bike, the deliberate incorporation of interval training might just be the propellant you need to surge ahead.