Intervals are one of the fastest ways to increase race fitness and strength, but because of their intensity, they can only be done so often. Here is a little guide on how to make the best use of each interval session, because when you do them, you want to do them well.
1. Donʼt go too hard the day before
It can be tempting to always be pushing training when you have time, because it feels good! You feel like youʼre making gains any time you go out. However, if you have intervals on the horizon, even a few days out, give your body some time to recharge so you can put up more of an effort when you need to. This means maybe stopping a little short on a distance ride or taking the afternoon off, even if you feel good.
2. Eat and sleep well the day or days before.
Especially if itʼs a longer interval set! No matter what, coming into hard intervals with full glycogen stores is going to help you power through the session. This goes for all training. Proper nutrition and sleep are the biggest keys to good energy and recovery every day. They are especially important when you need to perform well in hard intervals.
Running through your ideal interval scenario in your mind before you do it willfacilitate better execution. Practice feeling what youʼre going to feel, seeing what youʼre going to see, saying what youʼre going to say to yourself, and anything else that will be relevant to your success. When I visualize for intervals, I also like to include a short “clip” of a good past race, as well as a future race that I want to do well in. This isnʼt super easy, but the more you practice it, the easier itʼll be to replicate the conditions of the session in your mind.
4. Breakfast (or whatever meal directly precedes the session)
This is something that everyone should figure out for themselves through trial and error, making sure you feel energetic without the feeling of digestion. I like to have cereal with almond milk, or yogurt and granola before training. I also tend to eat a little bit less, with the plan to fuel after the warmup and during the intervals with gels, similarly to how I would in a race.
This is another trial and error category, but doing nothing is almost never theright call. I know time can be an issue, but doing a little bit of easy warm-up for your muscles and even just a couple minutes at threshold will help you bring high intensity to the actual set. When I do hard intervals, I always make sure to go easy
for 10-20 minutes, then do a few minutes L2, and throw in one or two short (2-4 minutes) warm-up intervals at a level slightly below my interval pace. You can also just take the first interval or two easier, but keep in mind that those ones arenʼt necessarily helping you build up to that most productive last interval.
Like I said before, I like to use intervals as practice for race fueling. Iʼll take a gel or chews after my warmup, and then drink sport drink or have some chews in the middle of the set. This really helps to finish with energy, and actually helps speed the recovery of the session.
The most “bang for your buck” in terms of fitness training are intervals, so why not do them as well as you possibly can?? Itʼs hard to always follow these steps, but when you can really get excited for that fitness boost and do a good job in your preparation, itʼll feel like you really got the most out of your session.