It is generally accepted that interval training is a better way to increase your average cycling speed and effectiveness than always simply just going as hard as you can for as long as you can, but there are two problems with interval training:
- They are very tough!
- They involve careful planning and discipline to avoid making too much effort between the periods of exertion
- they involve going on a special ride just to perform intervals and time doesn't always permit an extra ride in a busy week
So is there an effective alternative?
Interval training, you might recall, is a method of training using bursts of high intensity work alternated with periods of low activity'. Intervals will typically include stretches of, say, 1 minutes hard effort separated by 'rest' periods of 2 minutes, repeated 5 times (with infinite variations possible in the time and effort).
If you are like me you will find it difficult to pace yourself for intervals, and even doing five intervals of two minutes each does not mean cycling flat out for those five hard-effort sections, or you will never get past number two! Experience helps of course, and a heart monitor can also be useful to ensure you are maintaining a constant but increased effort, but we are still left with the issue that thae intervals are both hard and not a very interesting way of cycling unless you are very disciplined.
While the alternatives are less effective, an 'informal' approach to intervals is usually more fun and easier to stay motivated for than a strict program of training.
Informal Interval Training
Some ways that you can implement this informal interval training include:
Undulating roads: I have a favourite route about 20 miles long - short enough that I can do in under an hour so I can often find the time - that includes about 10 short (500 metres long) quite steep hill sections. I ride the route quite calmly, but then attack each of these hills with as much effort as I can, especially trying to maintain the effort over the brow of each hill
Telegraph Poles and Trees: When I am cycling along enjoying myself I will often look for a distant tree, perhaps 500 metres away, and cycle as fast as I can to reach the tree, cycle gently for a while, then look for another tree. Similarly, on a road with telegraph poles along the edge I might cycle casually passed five telegraph poles then make a great effort to get past the next five, and so on.
Group rides: by their nature, group rides work you harder that riding alone. This is because there is much more pressure to keep up with others, not get dropped on the hills etc. The bursts of extra effort required to keep up with the leaders on a hill climb or sudden increase in pace provide some of the best 'informal interval training' you can hope for
None of these methods will have the same benefits as going out once or twice a week and following a strictly planned programme of high-exertion interval training, but they are fun and easy to incorporate in your regular rides.
Remember though, including these high effort attacks in your ride won't necessarily increase your average speed for that particular ride - the part of the ride after the hard efforts will almost certainly be at a lower average speed than you would otherwise have done - the benefits come in later rides!