Cycle faster - interval training on a road bike

Cycling faster and better on your road bike! Most beginner cyclists approach to going faster is to go out quite often and make a lot of effort. Sounds good, and certainly works to a point. But sooner or later you will reach a threshold.

That may be at an average speed of 22kmh or 30 kmh or whatever, but most of us have a natural ceiling that it proves very difficult to get past.

There is no problem with that if you are happy with it. I have to admit, I am. Perhaps it's an age thing. But there are ways of getting past the threshold and finding a new one which I will explain here.

The general principle is that you have to get used to going faster. Rather than trying to cycle your whole ride flat out, and increasing your average speed little by little, you need to identify certain sections of the ride and ride them faster than you ever have before, and then recover on the sections between. This form of training also builds your strength and ability very effectively.

Alternatively find a suitable bit of road and redo the same stretch a few times, at high power in one direction and taking it easy on the return.

This method is called 'interval training'.

If we assume you usually average 25kmh on the flat. Find a reasonably flat stretch of road, say 10 km from where you will start your ride (giving your legs a chance to warm up) and when you get there cycle for, say, 2 minutes at 30kmh. Choose a harder gear, and maintain the same cadence (pedalling speed), rather than trying to pedal faster.

Then slow down and take it easy for 5 minutes - but keep your legs pedalling, this helps the recovery process. Then repeat this whole 'interval' process another three or four times. If all that was too easy, the next time try and maintain 33kmh for 3 minutes instead - you will soon recognise what speed you can maintain, and for how long.

After a few trips out you will know what works for you. Your average speed for these rides might well be less than your 'normal' average speed. No problem at all, since that is not the challenge. The challenge is to slowly get you and your legs used to cycling at 35 instead of 25 kmh.

As time goes by, and this becomes easier you can continually modify your intervals. But it is almost certain that 60 minutes riding like this will improve your overall strength better than a 2 hour 'continuous effort' ride over 75 km.

You can use longer 'intervals' with less increase in speed, or shorter, say 30 second, intervals - but with great increase in speed. The point is to have short but sustainable periods where you are riding above your normal limits interspersed with recovery periods of more gentle riding.

Short intense intervals help build anaerobic strength (ie your body uses up the energy in your cells) while longer intervals help with aerobic strength (ie the ability to transport oxygen and energy to the cells on a more consistent basis).

Another option, which provides very good training and provides a bit of cycling variation is to use intervals of increasing lengths: an interval of 1 minute, the next of 2 minutes, and so on up to an interval of 5 minutes - each of these exertions being after five minutes of recovery time.

Later on you can worry about heart rate monitors and fine-tuning your ride to maintain a given stress on your heart, but for now this will be a very good start, and very quickly you will find that you can cycle faster. (Of course, if you do ever feel physically ill or unable to breathe with your effort, there is no shame in slowing down and finding a slower speed, or even stopping completely - two kilometres at a speed 10% faster than normal can simply be too much. The above are given as examples!)