The following is a transcript of an email from the Wattkg Research Review newsletter:
I die a little on the inside every time I hear about it…
…cyclists doing nothing but high volumes of low-intensity training during the initial months of winter training.
All those hours spent on the bike. Only to rock up next spring with the same capacity you had last year. Not a tad bit faster. I know how much it hurts, because I’ve been there myself.
Perhaps you have too.
I don’t blame people for sticking to the old “slow and easy” recommendation for base training. We have heard it so often we simply accept it as a truth.
However, consider the following:
We all agree we want to improve our endurance capacity from one season to the next, no?
We all agree this includes improving threshold power, VO2 max, max power and cycling economy, right?
Then, why waste precious months on a training model that is NOT very efficient at improving those parameters?
It doesn’t make sense.
Study (1) after study (2) after study (3) suggest doing high volumes of low-intensity training isn’t a very efficient way of improving either of the above traits (with the exception of cycling economy).
Enter counter argument #1:
“But, you need a solid base in order to cope with large volumes of high-intensity training in your build phase.”
Agreed! And low-intensity training contributes towards that base (4). It also appears that it’s important to your performance that you keep you low-intensity training LOW, and not moderate (5).
But, there is no reason you cannot throw some very effective high-intensity intervals into the mix at the same time. And thereby start your build phase at a higher level of physical capacity.
“You shouldn’t do high-intensive intervals until you’ve developed a solid base.”
Time for a fact check.
There is AMPLE evidence showing great results when subjecting completely untrained people (think sedentary, unfit) to high-intensity interval training (6).
High-intensity training is even a hot topic of research in cardiac rehabilitation, with some intriguing results. If unfit heart patients can take on high-intensity training with zero base, why shouldn’t you be able to?
There is no need to be scared of the high-intensive interval, as long as you adjust the total duration of the session (and thereby the work load) to suit your base and current fitness level.
Still not convinced?
Erroneous assumption #3:
“If you do high-intensity intervals in your base training, you will peak too early.”
I have no doubt that many riders have experienced peaking too soon after doing high-intensity intervals in their winter training. But, I would suggest the following:
“If you peak too soon after doing high-intensity intervals, you are probably not controlling your total training load well enough.”
The topic of fitness peaking and tapering is well researched (7). And the evidence points towards the key being manipulating your total training load. Choice of intervals will play a role in what physiological abilities you “sharpen” towards your peak. However, I can see no physiological reason why high-intensity intervals, when combined with a moderate and steady total training load should yield a premature fitness peak.
I suspect what people do wrong is overshooting their training load in winter. When they realise they overdid it they back off to avoid overreaching, and voila – you’re essentially executing a fitness peaking plan (overload followed by taper).
And the interval, being the usual suspect gets the blame.
As long as you don’t overshoot your training load between race seasons, there is no reason to not harvest the power gains from high-intensive intervals early on in the winter training.
I’ll end this (perhaps somewhat provocative) rant on HIIT in base training with the following quotes from an educational document produced by Norwegian sports scientists and elite coaches (8):
“Comments from the coaches of some of the best international Norwegian cyclists: The coaches highlight the necessity of getting started with training soon after the end of racing season, and including elements of HIIT in this training.”
“It is important to note that there is great agreement in the literature that low-intensity training should be combined with high-intensity work to optimise adaptation.”
Now we only have one problem…
…how long, how often and how hard your intervals should be?
That will be the topic of discussion in my next email.
- Rønnestad RB et al. HIT maintains performance during the transition period and improves next season performance in well-trained cyclists. European Journal of Applied PHysiology, 2014;114:1831-1839
- Seiler S et al. Adaptations to aerobic interval training: interactive effects of exercise intensity and total work duration. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 2013;23:74-83
- Stöggl T and Sperlich B. POlarized training has greater impact on key endurance variable than threshold, high intensity, or high volume training. Frontiers in Physiology, 2014;5:33
- Seiler S, Jøranson K, Olesen BV, Hetlelid KJ. Adaptations to aerobic interval training: interactive effects of exercise intensity and total work duration. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 2013;23(1):74-83
- Esteve-Lanao J et al. Impact of training intensity distribution on performance in endurance athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2007;21(3):943-949
- Bacon AP et al. VO2 max trainability and high intensity interval training in humnas: A meta-analysis, PLoS ONE, 2013;8(9):e73182
- Bosquet L et al. Effects of tapering on performance: A meta-analysis, 2007;39(8):1358-1365
- Rønnestad RB et al. Treningsanbefalinger for å bedre sentrale fysiologiske faktorer i sykkelprestasjon – Teori og praksis. Olympiatoppen, Norwegian Cycling Federation, Lillehammer University College. Accessed from sykling.no 2018