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  1. #1
    Senior Member BengeBoy's Avatar
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    Interval training for dummies?

    Looking for help from some smart 50+'s on interval training; I'm confused.

    I think I am at the point where I need to start riding smarter (not just harder/longer) and from what I've read it's time for me to think about interval training. But in doing research here at BF, in various magazines and websites, I've quickly reached a point where the complexity of what's being suggested is beyond my ability to comprehend and/or ability to care. There is a lot of stuff about zones -- heart rates -- a lot of acronyms about stress levels -- complex training intervals -- suggested weekly schedules -- etc.; a little more than I want to absorb.

    My problem is:
    - the area where I live/train/commute is basically all rolling hills; there really aren't big stretches of "flat" where I could religiously follow the kind of regimented interval training regimens I see
    - though I'm now riding 4 to 6 days a week (even in the winter), I can't religiously guarantee which days I'll ride...a lot of the "training" plans I've seen seem to recommend a pretty strict weekly schedule (e.g, "Tuesday is interval day")
    - my weekday riding is done commuting (20 miles round trip) and this time of year it's all in the dark, and often in the rain. I can't really be very accurate about timed/measured intervals, or even look at bike computer in the dark, while I'm trying to dodge cars, raindrops, black ice, etc.

    On the other hand, over on the training forum, there have been some posts that just suggest that you can get 80% of the benefit of interval training just by making sure that in your training rides you just vary your exertion levels -- attack some hills hard; then spin easy to cool down and get your heart rate normal; and then attack again.

    So, I'm wondering, is there an easy way to think about this?

    I take some longer rides on the weekend (weather permitting), and then do a 20-mile round-trip commute 2 or 3 days a week that is pretty much all rolling hills. I was hoping that maybe my "interval" training would be to take one leg of my commute each week and do "intervals" all the way home by really pounding my way up every hill, and then spinning easily on the descents -- would that do it? Will I kill my knees if I'm using rolling hills as the "exertion" part of my intervals?

    (BTW, at age 51, my goal is not to win the Tour de France...I am just trying to take the time I spend on the bike today and try to move to the "next level' in fitness, speed, endurance, etc. I got back into biking a year ago and am currently riding at the rate of about 3700 miles a year, so I don't think I lack for mileage...but I don't know that I'm maximizing the benefit I am getting from my time on the bike in terms of fitness. My goal would be to be better/faster at climbs, centuries, etc....like confidently tackling a ride like this: www.tourdeblast.com )

  2. #2
    Senior Member gpelpel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BengeBoy View Post
    I was hoping that maybe my "interval" training would be to take one leg of my commute each week and do "intervals" all the way home by really pounding my way up every hill, and then spinning easily on the descents -- would that do it? Will I kill my knees if I'm using rolling hills as the "exertion" part of my intervals?
    The rolling hills will be a perfect "interval" workout.
    You may alternate between pounding the hills by using higher gear (power building) or by using higher cadence (cardio building). If you want to preserve your knees you probably want to avoid too high a gear. The goal is to raise your HR.
    I will recommend an HRM monitor and a computer with cadence.
    Last edited by gpelpel; 01-11-08 at 08:24 PM.

  3. #3
    www.ocrebels.com Rick@OCRR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gpelpel View Post
    The rolling hills will be a perfect "interval" workout.
    You may alternate between pounding the hills by using higher gear (power building) or by using higher cadence (cardio building). If you want to preserve your knees you probably want to avoid to high a gear. The goal is to raise your HR.
    I will recommend an HRM monitor and a computer with cadence.
    I agree that for a ride like Tour de Blast, the rolling hills would be excellent for interval training. Just take all that information you've read and "simplicate" it to a level that's easy for you to understand and deal with. It's not a myth; intervals do really work!

    I read a bit about the Tour de Blast on their website, and it looks like a totally fun ride! Sign up for it to give yourself some real motivation! I know it doesn't sound logical, but having a goal makes intervals less painful somehow . . .

    Rick / OCRR (57)

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    Interval training takes some training before you can do it safely.

    I only do intervals to improve my speed- once I have the fitness behind me to do them. Like you- I can get rides in with plenty of rollers and I use a heart monitor when I do them. Not to see if I am overexerting myself- but to ensure that I have recovered from the last one before the next one.

    Way I work them is to ride a slope- or roller- at a sensible speed keeping the cadence right. Then for the last 200 yards of the slope- I sprint. May not be able to keep going for the whole 200 but do keep the pressure in as long as possible. I do not attempt the next interval till I have recovered from the last one. If no slopes or rollers are on the ride- I choose two markers about the same distance apart for the sprint.

    First time out and I will be lucky to if I can do 3 sprints in a 20 mile ride, but it is not long before recovery takes less time and can do more. Only thing is they do take a lot out of you so don't do them on a century ride- till the last 10 miles or so of the ride.
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    Senior Member Kurt Erlenbach's Avatar
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    In my estimation, much of what's written about training is done to fill a word quota. Heart rate training is good for intervals, and if you get a monitor, ride hard for a few minutes (over 80% of maximum) and then rest for a few minutes. That's really all there is to it, in a whole lot fewer words.

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    I would suggest that until you're riding when you can see the computer or a heart rate monitor, it is very wise to keep is simple. If it were me, I'd ride a route I know well on interval training day and pick the number of intervals I wanted to accomplish, knowing that this number would increase as I got stronger. I would then make sure I was completely warmed up before starting intervals. Once started, I would push as hard as I could, regardless of terrain, until I thought I couldn't push any longer and hold this for as long as I could. (For me this would be at about the point where I thought I was going to lose my lunch or my legs were simply not going to go any longer.) I would then spin and rest for a short bit - not long enough to feel completely recovered, but starting to get close. Then I would repeat this again, until I completed the number of intervals I had planned for the ride. When daylight returns and you can see again, switch to using a heart rate monitor. It really can make a difference.
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  7. #7
    Senior Member BengeBoy's Avatar
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    much of what's written about training is done to fill a word quota
    That's the impression I had as well!

    Thanks all for the advice and reassurance. Santa brought me a Garmin 305 w/a cadence monitor so I guess I'll need to add the heart rate monitor. I do think that based on what I've seen and what you've reinforced I can do this on my commuter 1x or 2x a week on the way home, using sprints up the hills as my "exertion" phase.

  8. #8
    Ride Daddy Ride Jet Travis's Avatar
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    If you want a truly controlled environment for intervals, consider riding on a trainer indoors. the book Smart Cycling by Arnie Baker includes a 12-week stationary trainer workout. PM me if you want the book. Frankly, it's too regimented for me.
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  9. #9
    train safe buelito's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gpelpel View Post
    The rolling hills will be a perfect "interval" workout.
    +1

    Also, you might try something like pushing the uphills. Not every one, but choose a few and hit them hard, from the bottom to the top, and then recover and repeat. Rolling hills are particularly good for this kind of training-

    train safe-

  10. #10
    Senior Member Road Fan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jet Travis View Post
    If you want a truly controlled environment for intervals, consider riding on a trainer indoors. the book Smart Cycling by Arnie Baker includes a 12-week stationary trainer workout. PM me if you want the book. Frankly, it's too regimented for me.
    Another book that focuses on indoor training is Workouts in a Binder for Indoor Training, by Dirk Friel. The plan is also a 12-week plan, but not with the minute-by-minute detail that Arnie Baker gives. Less regimented than Baker? I'm not sure. Easier to read, understand, and use? definitely!

    Road Fan

  11. #11
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    There really are two kinds on intervals (I know this is an over-simplication) which are structured and unstructed. Structered are for a precise time or distance with pre-defined rest periods in between. The rest or recovery period can either be time or hr based. Unstructered (often called farltick, or "speed play" in running) are just going hard until you perceive you are working hard. Then you back off for a while to recover and do it again and again. Both allow you to improve.

    Many people feel the structured route is the only way to go because it's regimented. That's not necessarrly true. The purpose of intervals is to work hard and recover so that your build up speed over time.
    You're just trying to start an argument to show how smart you are.

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    Current weather and darkness prevent much outdoor biking, so I have been trying to get/stay in condition by taking a spinning class 2x per week. (It damn near killed me the first time I went but I have improved greatly over the past 2 months and can mostly keep up now.)

    My question is related to "recovery"...I don't feel that I ever recover very much.

    I'm 50 yrs old, have tried various HR calculators and have tried to push my self to my max HR- so based on all of that I have guestimated my max HR is around 177- 180 (I know the formulas are not too accurate.)

    During spinning class- I wear a HRM and routinely get up to 170 - 172 bpm during the hardest pushes(pedaling in position 3, high cadence, moderate resistance on the wheel). But my HRM often gets only back down to 157 - 162 in the 1 minute recovery period and then it is time to push hard again. (I never seem to stop breathing hard.)

    I have no health issues, am in reasonably good shape and am not overweight, so I expected better recovery after 2+ months of spinning classes. I thought 20 - 40 bpm was normal - but maybe that is from max effort to "resting" -- not with continued spinning effort.

    So what # SHOULD I be getting to in recovery before pushing hard again.

    Thanks

  13. #13
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    For most of us, the rule of thumb is "if you can't go long, go hard".

    Practically, this means I always try to get in some intervals early in the week (assuming I'm adequately recovered from weekend rides/races).

    Based on my research, and personal preference, I've found it best to focus on semi-structured 30 second and 4 minute intervals.

    For the 30 second intervals, I go all out - they should hurt and you should be spent at the end of the 30 seconds. I typically allow for a one minute recovery, and then jump again for another 30 seconds. Start with 4 of these and work up to 8 or 10 (or more).

    For the 4 minute intervals, try to find a pace that's about what you could hold for 20 minutes or so. They should feel pretty hard, but not quite all out. Allow about 2 minutes between intervals and then go again.

    If you spend a total of 30-60 minutes each week in the "red zone", you should see improvement. Just don't do hard interval days back to back and make sure you get adequate sleep...you need time to recover from them.

    BTW - they say it takes 3 years or so to reach your full potential as a cyclist, so you can probably look forward to substantial gains in performance over the coming season.
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    Senior Member Red Baron's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikerwannabe View Post
    My question is related to "recovery"...I don't feel that I ever recover very much.

    I'm 50 yrs old, have tried various HR calculators and have tried to push my self to my max HR- so based on all of that I have guestimated my max HR is around 177- 180 (I know the formulas are not too accurate.)

    During spinning class- I wear a HRM and routinely get up to 170 - 172 bpm during the hardest pushes(pedaling in position 3, high cadence, moderate resistance on the wheel). But my HRM often gets only back down to 157 - 162 in the 1 minute recovery period and then it is time to push hard again. (I never seem to stop breathing hard.)

    I have no health issues, am in reasonably good shape and am not overweight, so I expected better recovery after 2+ months of spinning classes. I thought 20 - 40 bpm was normal - but maybe that is from max effort to "resting" -- not with continued spinning effort.

    So what # SHOULD I be getting to in recovery before pushing hard again.

    Thanks
    Recovery is allowing your body to repair itself is my definition.
    Active recovery is riding in a b1 zone.


    During Interval definition your HR in 'recovery as you define it' should get down to a b1 level (from your numbers I'd guess for you about 120). I don't ever get there during intervals either (as you) . My b5 level is around 180, when i get done to 140 or below, I start intervals again.
    I don't get there either. b1, b2, b3, b4, b5 b5a, b5b, b5c is confusing as heck until you understand it. I'd suggest Joe friels 'Cycling over 50' and his 'cycling bible' both good books. BTW- Intervals do work!!!!!!
    **Fate is a fickle thing, and in the end the true measure of a person is not fate itself, but how they master it**

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    Senior Member Red Baron's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SSP View Post
    For most of us, the rule of thumb is "if you can't go long, go hard".



    If you spend a total of 30-60 minutes each week in the "red zone", you should see improvement. Just don't do hard interval days back to back and make sure you get adequate sleep...you need time to recover from them.

    BTW - they say it takes 3 years or so to reach your full potential as a cyclist, so you can probably look forward to substantial gains in performance over the coming season.
    +1000 took me at least 3 years
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    Get yourself a book on heart rate training. You'll probably find it interesting. Be sure to understand that runners have different criteria than skiiers and cyclists because they have no "coasting"

    Some real general rules of thumb:

    It's difficult to get to your real 100% (max). You feel really bad at about 95%. Get a reading for the absolute hardest you've pushed, the worst you've felt, and divide that number by .95. That will be a fairly good guess at what your 100% or max is.

    It's impossible to go beyond your real 100%. If you do, you now have a new max, the old one was inaccurate

    Lactate Threshold is an important number. In fact, you can work out your LSD and interval HR's from that rather than max.

    LT can be measured chemically and many athletic trainers will do it for a fee. On the other hand, it is often/usually DEFINED as your average heart rate over a good 1 hour RACE (give or take) - pushing hard to do as well as you can. If you can do that by yourself, go for it. Most likely it will have to be a real race or serious group pushing time trial type thing.

    In other words, LT is "race pace" - not all out, but a pace you can keep up for a 1 hour race, a really hard but doable pace, finishing strong, not collapsing.

    There are many types and purposes for intervals. My SIMPLE system is once per week assuming I get at least 3 good EASY (!!) LSD skis or bike rides in between.

    I simplistically do 3 - 4 intervals (aka "hard time") with about 1/2 the time active recovery in between. And key point: go at a pace where you can do the last one as fast as the first. What you're trying to do is not kill yourself by going 95-100%, but at a pace where you can complete your "hard time" as fast at the end as at the beginning.

    Decide how much hard time you want to do that day (building up as the season progresses). Choose a course that you think will take 3 or 4 laps to accomplish that time goal. You won't really now until after you ski the first one - After you've done the first one, decide if you will need 3 or 4 to get in your time. Recovery time between intervals doesn't count as hard time of course.

    Your intervals should be trying to push the race pace. Think in terms of going a little harder than your race pace. This won't be all out, but pushing it harder than you could sustain in a race. You have recovery time in between. Remember, you want to do the last one as hard as the first and if you do the first too hard, you can't do it. I feel very successful if they are all hard, but I REALLY have to work to finish the third (or 4th) as fast as the first

    So, I might begin the season with 15-20 "hard time", divided betwen 3 or 4 intervals depending on the course and how fast it is. I'll build to 30 - 40 minutes of hard time gradually. t.

    To me, time is the important measurement for intervals - doing them all about equally.

    If you're trying to monitor heart rate or chart it for your intervals, and are going through rolling hills, look at the average for the entire interval. A skier or cyclist's HR will vary a lot more than a runner's, so it's less helpful to look at actual HR as you go. My Garmin 305 can do a running average - I have mine set up to display that running average in large numbers. Especially when I'm doing my LSD, I really monitor that, not current HR (except to get an idea how it feels at certain rates, so I know how hard I can push for short times during a race).

    But get a HR training book. I think they're interesting. But make sure the author doesn't just write for runners!

  17. #17
    Senior Member hockey's Avatar
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    Riding the hills is all you need. Just make sure to have one long ride a week and at least three other rides of at least two hours. Your conditioning will improve dramatically, consistently, with very little thought or research required.
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  18. #18
    OnTheRoad or AtTheBeach stonecrd's Avatar
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    The biggest challenge in intervals for me is the recovery period. I just hate to ride at the speeds necessary for me to manage zone 1 & 2. So I really focus on hitting the 5b/5c zones and do recovery in zone 3/4. Seems to work Ok. I would stress though that doing intervals is not as good as riding fast group rides in my experience, theoretically it should do the same but for me the groups rides bring out the extra effort that I cannot seem to get at just doing intervals by HR.
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  19. #19
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    You pretty well sum up where I was a year or two ago. I started throwing in some hills on my various loops, and saw a big jump over the first few months. Since then, been looking into more alternatives to keep things moving along.

    For me, i've found the most returns in longer intervals, 20 minutes at or under 1 hour TT pace. Going down from that, 4-5 minute intervals, hitting them pretty hard, getting to/over 90% of HR Max by the last one.

    Some ideas and explanation here: http://www.cyclecambridge.com/top4workouts.html

    Be aware, that different lengths of intervals will stress different systems. 10 x 1 minute intervals don't do the same thing as 1 x 10.

    As well as the names mentioned in this thread, I'd also look into Andy Coggan's work.

    Enjoy. Or, at least, enjoy the benefits, I wouldn't say that intervals are always enjoyable!

    B

  20. #20
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    I think it was said above:
    Be careful with a big gear. That is hard on your knees. I alternate high cadence of 90 to 100 RPM with standing up at 50 RPM. That is very good training but I did get some complaints from my knees.

  21. #21
    Senior Member Garfield Cat's Avatar
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    Take some time off at work and ride like on Wednesday morning in early June. Take the bike to some area where you can ride some flats and some hills. If you do that 3 Wednesdays before the June 21 ride, then you'll be fine. By then you'll be able to ride 70 miles and vary the ride with intermittent speedplay and hill climbs. Make sure you have rest stops. Your weekly average mileage will be well over 100. Two days before the big ride, let the body rest.

  22. #22
    Senior Member BengeBoy's Avatar
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    First, thanks for all the advice.

    Just a quick update, since I posted the original question more than 6 weeks ago:

    - Training is going well. I've done over 900 miles year to date, with 3 rides over 40 miles (including 62 miles today w/over 3,700 feet of climbing)

    - I think I absorbed the main thrust of advice above (keep it simple) and have figured out 7 specific locations on my 10-mile commute home where I can do an interval -- 6 are hills, one is a long stretch over a flat bridge...about the only long flat part of my commute. Instead of timing myself, I just use each of these specific locations as a chance to do an interval.

    - I've been trying to do intervals one or two evenings a week on the way home...I find it hard to do when it's raining, but OK when it's dry out. I don't think I've really hit all 7 "interval locations" as hard as I could on any single ride, but I'm getting there.

    I think the commuting on this route is really helping my climbing. When I commute, I'm on a pretty heavy bike, w/a load of stuff (clothes, papers, laptop). On the weekend, when I hit hills (on my lighter bike), it feels like I can get up them much easier than in the past.

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