Interval Training for Cycling Lands End to John O’Groats

End to End Interval Training

Interval training will assist you on your Lands End to John O’Groats ride by increasing your strength and speed.  It involves a series of intense efforts interspersed with recovery periods during a training session. A typical interval session might be a warm up followed by a series of high energy output efforts for a short period, each followed by a longer rest period, with a cool down to finish.

Research has shown that by regularly completing interval training over a period of a few weeks you can improve your:

  • lactate threshold
  • fatigue threshold
  • muscular efficiency
  • stroke volume (the amount of blood circulated with each beat of the heart)
  • VO2 max

You may not understand some of the things in that list but the good news is that you do not need to. The most important thing is that it can all lead to an increase in power output of up to 6% in as little as 4 weeks. Your body adjusts to the short but hard intervals by making anabolic changes. More protein is synthesised in the muscles, making them stronger. This means you will be able to cycle faster for seemingly the same amount of effort (you will actually be putting in more work and using more energy for that extra speed but because your body has adapted during training it will not feel like it).

Whilst long distance cycling is more about endurance than peak power output, the underlying physiological improvement will enable your body to work more efficiently, reducing your fatigue over long periods.  It will also help at times of peak output on your trip, like hauling your laden bike up long, steep climbs.

The other advantage of interval training is that it is quick (not easy, far from it, but quick). Endurance training involves hours in the saddle whilst an interval training session might typically be about 40-50 minutes.

Many people prefer to conduct their interval training on a turbo trainer or at the gym. There are good reasons for this:

  • The road is full of obstacles and other traffic. By their nature the intense peak effort will push you to your limits. At this point the body is not necessarily 100% in control and this could be dangerous.
  • Your training schedule might be telling you to put in a 100% effort for the next 30 seconds but that might not be possible if you are just coming to a junction or find yourself on a downhill. Equally you may be due a recovery period only to find yourself on a steep uphill section.
  • If it is cold and wet you can get chilled at the beginning of a training session yet rapidly overheat when the intervals kick in.

You can overcome most of this by choosing your training route carefully but, depending on your local area, it is not always easy to find ideal roads.  And what started as ideal might become inadequate as your strength and fitness improve and you are grinding out longer distances over the same interval periods.

However, if you commute to work by bike and can fit in some intervals this is a great way to sneak in some quality training.  Unless you have a shower at work it might be best to do them on the way home though.

Interval exercises

The following exercises are just examples and illustrate the broad range of interval training that you can do. Some require fairly precise timing whilst others are a little looser.  The less rigid ones are perhaps the better ones for the road and you do not have to follow them exactly. For instance, on my commute home from work I have a series of hills that enable an interval session that is roughly:

  • 15 minute warm up
  • 30s flat out
  • 90s recovery
  • 30s flat out
  • 90s recovery
  • 30s flat out
  • 3-4 minute recover (depending on traffic lights)
  • 30s flat out
  • 4 minute recovery
  • 30s flat out
  • 4 minute recovery
  • 30s flat out
  • 10 minute cool down

This is not a perfect interval training session but is more beneficial than just twiddling home.

Notes on terminology:

If you have a power meter or a heart rate monitor then a flat out effort will be at over 90% of your maximum.  If you do not have any tech then by the end of each intense effort you should be struggling for breath. You’ll soon know when you are flat out because you will not be able to push any harder.

Recovery does not mean stopping. You should continue to pedal but at a pace that will allow you to get your breathing under control and your heartrate back down before the next interval begins.

Simple sprints

  1. 20 minute warm up
  2. 15s flat out
  3. 3-4 minutes gentle recovery
  4. Repeat 2-3 x6 or until max effort drops
  5. 5 minute cool down

30 second intervals

Thirty seconds is a good interval duration for most riders.  It is long enough for you to be able to get up to your max but not so long that your effort is dwindling dramatically before the end.

  1. 10 minute warm up
  2. 30s flat out
  3. 60s gentle pedalling recovery
  4. Repeat x 4
  5. After last effort pedal easily for  4 minutes
  6. Repeat 2-5 x 2 (3 sets of 5 interval in total)
  7. 5 minute cool down

Beginners may wish to increase the recovery time between intervals to 90s and also only perform 3 sets of intervals.  As you fitness and confidence increases you can reduce the recovery time down and add in the third set.

3 minute repeats

  1. 20 minute warm up
  2. 3 minutes as hard as you can maintain for that period
  3. 3 minutes gentle recovery
  4. Repeat 2-3 x5
  5. 5 minute cool down

Descending intervals

These intervals are made up of 5 minute intense effort and recovery segments.  The effort time decreases with each interval with a balancing increase in recovery.  This allows you to go at full power for each interval even though your muscles are beginning to fatigue. Knowing the next effort is shorter is also a great help mentally.

  1. 10 minute warm up
  2. 45s flat out then 4:15 recovery
  3. 40s flat out then 4:20 recovery
  4. 35s flat out then 4:25 recovery
  5. 30s flat out then 4:30 recovery
  6. 25s flat out then 4:35 recovery
  7. 20s flat out then 4:40 recovery
  8. 15s flat out then 4:45 recovery
  9. 5 minutes cool down

2 minute hill repeats

If trying to keep track of timing and counting the number of intervals is getting you down you could try this simple but painful training session:

  1. Find a short sharp hill that will take a couple of minutes to climb.
  2. Approach the hill in a high gear, at speed, and power up the hill, trying to maintain your speed and effort all the way up. It might take you a couple of goes to get the gear right.
  3. Once at the top (or as high as you can climb at maximum effort) turn around and roll back down.
  4. Repeat x 5
  5. 10 minute cool down

As your fitness increases you may have to find a longer hill.

Books that will help you complete your End to End CycleLand's End to John O'Groats Route Book Special Offer - image

Three books are available related to this website (including gpx route files) as ebooks or paperbacks. As little as £2.99 each or all three for £5.98.  That’s less than an inner tube or a Costa coffee with a slice of cake.

Where to next?

Back to training for Lands End to John O Groats cycling or onward to look at endurance trainingstretches for cyclists or strength training for cyclists.

Maybe you would like to visit one the most popular pages on the site, which concern planning your End to End, thinking about the cycling equipment you will need, what you should be eating and drinking whilst cycling and how to create a route for Lands End to John O Groats. Or you can read my own account of cycling End to End to get some idea of what to expect.

Lands End to John O'Groats Cycle Route Guide Image of Man Lifting Page