Sometimes it’s hard to fit lengthy training sessions in around work and everyday life – and as winter closes in, the idea of being on the bike for hours on end becomes slightly less appealing anyway.
The good news is that new research shows that short, hard bursts of activity can be just as effective as longer ambles on the bike.
We spoke to Ben Brown (@BenBrownPerform) to find out what he recommended for cyclists short of time. Brown is the cycling coach for Liverpool John Moors University cycling team, and he’s also completing a PhD in cardiovascular physiology.
Is thirty minutes enough?
Fortunately, recent sport science research has provided some interesting answers for those wanting to get fitter with limited time availability.
You may have seen a lot of the hype about high intensity intermittent training (HIIT) in the news and in fitness magazines and wondered, is it really that simple?
The simple answer is, yes! By working at much higher intensities for shorter periods of time, you can gain a similar training effect to long, low intensity ‘base’ rides. So while HIIT will never provide a complete alternative to base training, it is certainly a viable option for winter training.
Here's a short snippet from a BBC documentary that explored the theory of HITT...
What intervals should I be using, and how hard should I be working?
This really depends on whether you want to improve aerobic capacity (for long races, sportives and kicking it on the club ride), lactate threshold (ideal for sustained efforts – long climbs, 10 mile TTs) or your speed (for strength and sprinting).
The three sessions below should provide something specific to each of these aims, and will also give you the opportunity for some variety if you want to improve your all round conditioning.
All you will need aside from a turbo (and a towel!), is a heart rate monitor. The heart rate monitor will allow you to work at the right intensity, as you aim for a specific percentage of you maximum heart rate (% HRmax).
You can calculate your approximate HRmax by subtracting your age from 220 (e.g. 195 beats per minute for a 25 year old woman). [This is a guideline, to calculate your personal max and zones, check out this article].
With these three turbo sessions in your back-pocket, you can wave goodbye to those long painfully boring sessions spent staring at a wall, and gain some real training adaptations while it’s too cold, too dark, or too wet to get out...
This is for those aiming to improve over longer distances – perhaps sportives, races, or all round fitness.
Start with 5 minutes cycling at moderate intensity to warm up, followed by 4 sets of 4 minute working intervals at 90-95% HRmax, with 3 minutes of easy pedalling between each set.
Total session time: 30 minutes + cool down
Benefits: A group of researchers from Norway found 8 weeks of training in this style improved aerobic performance to a greater extent than long, low intensity training.
Lactate Threshold Session
For those wanting to improve over shorter events of 20 to 30 minutes, or perhaps longer climbs.
Start with 5 minutes cycling at moderate intensity to warm up, followed by 8 sets of 2 minutes working at 95-100% HRmax, with 1 minute rest between each set.
Total session time: 28 minutes + cool down
Benefits: Australian researchers found 5 weeks of this training increased lactate threshold in female athletes by 7%.
For those who want to develop fast twitch muscle fibres, and beat their mates to the village sign on the next ride.
Start with 5 minute of moderate cycling with 3 short sprint efforts to warm up, followed by 4 sets of 30 seconds working as hard as possible(!), with 4 minutes recovery between each set and a cool down at the end.
Total session time: 19 minutes + cool down
Benefits: Research from the Department of Kinesiology at California State University found an improvement of ~8% in sprinting power after just 2 weeks of this training.
Follow @BenBrownPerform on Twitter for more fitness and training information and news. If you're after more turbo advice, check out our seven tips for staying on track with turbo training here.