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Home arrow Fitness arrow Cycling arrow Interval Training for Cycling: How to Get the Most Out of Your Rides

Interval Training for Cycling: How to Get the Most Out of Your Rides

Wendy Lord, RD
Written by Wendy Lord, RD
Fact checked by Isabel Mayfield
Last update: May 19, 2023
7 min read 701 Views 0 Comments
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Learn how you can boost your cycling fitness, speed, and performance with interval training.

interval training for cycling

Anyone who has explored ways to boost their fitness has come across high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Professional athletes have been using the technique for decades to increase their fitness, stamina, and sports performance. 

More recently, interval training has become popular for recreational athletes, too – including cyclists. In fact, the bicycle, whether a stationary bike, mountain bike, or road bike, is the perfect tool for HIIT workouts.

In this article, we explore what interval sessions are, the health and training benefits of interval training, and the best way to incorporate them into your training plan.

Interval Training for Cycling: What Is It Like?

The power of interval training for cycling lies in the physiological adaptations in the body. Changes in energy and oxygen use improve fitness, leading to better endurance, speed, and overall performance. 

Similar to other HIIT workouts, cycling interval training involves alternating high-intensity training zones followed by recovery periods or lower-intensity cycling, targeting specific energy systems in the body. 

When you go about your normal day-to-day activities and exercise at low to moderate intensity, your metabolism uses oxygen and glucose or ketone bodies to produce a continuous source of energy. This is your aerobic energy system.

When you step up your efforts and perform higher-intensity exercise, your metabolism shifts to the anaerobic system, which doesn’t need oxygen to produce energy. This source of energy cannot be sustained, and as soon as your exercise intensity drops, your energy production returns to the aerobic system. 

Therefore, since an interval workout involves high and low-intensity training, it benefits both energy systems, improving your performance in sprints and endurance rides alike.

Additionally, unlike continuous workouts, where it’s almost impossible to maintain your functional threshold power (FTP), the perceived exertion of HIIT intervals is lower. 

Research shows that an interval session makes it possible to increase the amount of time you spend at VO2-max, boosting your speed and endurance in boosting your fitness. 

4 Types of Cycling Interval Workouts

You can incorporate many types of interval training into your cycling training plan. Below, we have explored four variations of cycling HIIT workouts that can help you to improve your performance on the bike. 

#1 Miracle interval (Tabata) workout

Miracle interval training, or Tabata workouts, involves short intervals of 20-second sprints at VO2-max or maximum power output, followed by 10 seconds of easy riding, repeated 8 times to make a set. 

This 20-10s protocol ensures that two-thirds of your workout occurs in the training zone. In addition, repeated maximal efforts alternating with easy riding reduces perceived exertion. 

These interval sessions push your body to its limits, improving your aerobic and anaerobic capacity while also helping you burn calories and build muscle, proving that a short interval length can achieve maximum results. 

#2 30–30s (Billats workouts)

30–30s cycling interval training is a form of interval training that involves alternating 30 seconds of riding at VO2-max with 30 seconds of active recovery, repeated 10 times. This pattern makes up a set, which is usually repeated 3 times.

This type of interval training targets specific energy systems, and it’s excellent for boosting both the aerobic and anaerobic systems to improve your overall endurance and speed on the bike.

30–30s interval training is a versatile workout that you can do on a stationary bike or outside on flat terrain or hills. Moreover, you can tailor the intervals to your fitness level and cycling performance goals. 

#3 Pyramid workout

Cycling pyramid interval training is one of the more challenging interval workouts. It involves gradually increasing and then decreasing the duration and intensity of intervals. 

Pyramid interval training typically begins with short intervals of high-intensity exercise, such as six 15-second hard-riding sprints, followed by longer intervals of lower-intensity exercise. 

#4 Fartlek cycling

Fartlek cycling is less structured than other models of interval training. The cyclist is responsible for determining the intensity and duration of the cycling intervals based on their highest and lowest speed thresholds. 

Cyclists use the fartlek interval training method to mimic the terrain of cycling events. It helps their muscles learn to tolerate the build-up of lactic acid during high-intensity riding, thus increasing their lactate threshold.

Benefits of Interval Training for Cyclists

High-intensity interval training has proven health, fitness, and exercise performance benefits. Since interval workouts can be adjusted to your fitness levels and cycling goals, both professional and amateur cyclists can take advantage of these HIIT benefits.

#1 Cardiovascular health

Interval training makes your heart work harder instead of longer. Research suggests that HIIT workouts are superior to other workouts for improving heart health. 

High-intensity training alternating with rest periods has been shown to improve cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and reduce markers of chronic inflammation, thus reducing the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. 

#2 Enhances performance

Studies show that combining high-intensity bursts of cycling with periods of lower-intensity activity results in physiological adaptations that improve fitness and increase VO2-max in a shorter time, making it possible to increase your fitness faster than other workouts. 

Interval training increases both aerobic and anaerobic capacity, enhancing your overall cycling performance, making you faster on the bike, and improving your endurance for longer rides.

#3 Improves cognitive function

Interval training may be more beneficial than other forms of exercise for improving brain health. The increased blood flow and delivery of oxygen to the brain during and after interval sessions increase the release of important growth factors such as BDNF.

Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) supports the healthy growth and structure of the brain, which, in turn, supports brain function. Therefore, interval workouts can help improve memory, learning, executive function, and cognitive performance. 

How to Incorporate Interval Training in Cycling 

Whether you are planning your own training schedule or working with a coach, cycling interval training can improve your cycling fitness, speed, and endurance. As with any other form of training, to get the most out of your interval session, they must be done correctly.

Here are 7 tips to get you started:

  1. Always warm up with 5–10 minutes of moderate cycling to prepare your muscles and your body for the workout and avoid injuring yourself.
  2. Choose the best HIIT workout protocol for your fitness levels and what you wish to achieve from cycling interval training. Before you begin, decide on the length of the VO2-max intervals and recovery periods.
  3. Decide how many times you will repeat the set. It may be best to begin with 3–4 repetitions until your fitness improves and you are able to train for longer.
  4. Taking time to cool down after your workout is just as important as the warm-up to avoid stiffness and injury. Ride at a moderate pace for 5–10 minutes to allow your muscles to begin recovery.
  5. Keep it interesting by mixing up your interval sessions. You can choose to exercise using shorter intervals on some days and longer intervals on others. Not only does it keep your body guessing, but it increases the challenge so that you get the maximum benefit from your training.
  6. Track your progress. It isn’t always obvious that your fitness is improving. When you keep a record of your workouts and how your body manages them, you will notice the small changes toward greater fitness and strength. 
  7. Don’t allow yourself to get carried away with your training. Even if it makes you feel great, overdoing it increases your risk of injury and fatigue. Although the perceived exertion of an interval workout is lower than a continuous workout, your body works harder in a shorter time. Make sure to schedule a rest day between workouts to allow your body time to recover.


What is the best interval training for cycling?

Your fitness and cycling goals determine the best interval training protocol for you. If you are new to cycling, start with a lower intensity and duration and slowly increase the interval times and length of your workout as your fitness improves.

How often should you do HIIT workouts?

Include HIIT workouts in your training plan at most once or twice a week. Alternate interval training with steady-state cycling, strength training, and a rest day or two.

Can interval training make you faster?

Yes, interval training can make you faster. By making your body work harder during high-intensity intervals, you can improve your VO2 max, which can help you to sustain a faster pace for more extended periods.

A Word From Our Coach

From a coach’s point of view, cycling interval training is a valuable tool for improving the fitness and performance of recreational and professional cyclists.

Personal coaching allows me to design interval workouts specific to the individual athlete’s fitness level and goals. For most people, it involves starting with short intervals and gradually progressing to long intervals at VO2 max over time.

Cyclists who train using interval training plans can spend more time in the training zone. In addition, with cycling intervals alternating between high-intensity training and recovery periods, perceived exertion is lower than with continuous training models.

Interval training can be challenging and intense, so athletes must warm up properly before each session. Ensuring adequate time to recover and rest between sessions is equally as essential.


Whether you’re a professional cyclist or just starting out, interval training can help you improve your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, increase your body’s ability to use oxygen, and improve your muscle strength and power. 

HIIT is just one component of a well-balanced training program that includes strength training, flexibility, and proper nutrition. 

Remember that consistency is key to optimizing your cycling performance and achieving your fitness goals. Are you ready to hop on your bike and take your cycling to the next level with cycling interval training?

Written by Wendy Lord, RD
Wendy is a Registered Dietitian with a passion for writing about nutrition, health, and medicine. Her aim is to translate the medical jargon to make information accessible to everyone so that they can make informed decisions about their health.
The article was fact checked by Isabel Mayfield
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Wendy Lord, RD
Written by Wendy Lord, RD
Fact checked by Isabel Mayfield
Last update: May 19, 2023
7 min read 701 Views 0 Comments

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