the misplaced belief in the 1 minute interval & the concept of The Unified Approach

intervals. the dreaded intervals. truth be told, interval training is just about the best thing you can do to get ready for racing, to improve power, speed, strength and recovery. but, as ever, it comes down to knowing what kind of intervals to do and when. the real key to cracking the ‘interval code’ – to discovering what model works best for you, is to look at your recent and upcoming races, and to break down the efforts required into an ‘interval code’.

the other essential key is to stop thinking of intervals as intervals…

Cav & co. prepare for their 'intervals'
Cav & co. prepare for their ‘intervals’

so, to break down the ‘interval code’, for example, let’s look at Johnny PunkCrank’s last race:

100km event.

10 mins pre warm-up

5 minute high intensity (Perceived Rate of Exertion [PRE] 8-10) powering after break attempts, staying more or less in top of bunch following wheels

1 minute break (5-6) coasting in peloton

20 minute high intensity (7.5-9) hard riding near front, covering breaks, in wind from time to time

5 minute break (6) coasting in pack, gathering breath, maybe a break has gone up the road

5 minute very high intensity (9-9.5) bridging to break

1 hour 20 medium intensity (6.5-8.5) sitting in break, doing work at front, resting at back

10 minutes high intensity (7-9)  covering attacks,  following wheels

3 minutes super high intensity (9-10) breaking clear in last 4km.

1 minute super slow, high intensity despondency (-58) got caught with 2km to go and wept like a child, whilst pedaling backwards


so this is how Johnny’s race looked, when broken down into intervals. but why then when he’s training does Johnny just stick to one minute intervals all day long, then a hammer fest with the local club on Saturday and Sunday?

within a training regime, the cyclist needs to cover all the elements that will be required in a race, whereas most of us turn up to events knowing deep down that we didn’t train quite as we should of, didn’t cover all the bases, and yet for some unknown reason seem to believe that Saint Eddy will bestow his god-like talents upon us just for an hour, just for that climb, just for that sprint, just for that salute.

but then the race finishes and we learn, once again and as though we didn’t already know it, that unless you are a born natural it is nigh on impossible to produce speed, strength and power that was hitherto lacking, and, critical here, hitherto untrained for.

so how do we get into this situation? is it laziness? often not, no. often, when i chat to cyclists, i hear them tell me the hours they put in and i am quietly amazed – 20 hours for this guy, 22 for another, and with full time jobs in some cases – mind boggling. so if it isn’t laziness that brings many people to the start line still under-prepared and under-trained, what is it?

putting over-training and a lack of proper recovery aside for a moment, let’s look at what at first seems to make no sense in what i just wrote: how can you be training 20-22 hours a week and be under-trained and under-prepared?

it’s a matter, really, of being under-trained in the aspects of the race that you are about to be faced within and under-prepared in that you cannot possibly hope to cope with them.

Johnny PunkCrank is a dedicated cyclist, eh sleeps well, eats pretty well, doesn’t drink to excess too much, cleans his high-end bike and gets on the forums daily, but he’s still stuck with this idea that ‘INTERVAL TRAINING’ means going out and doing 20×1 minute efforts then puking, twice a week.

‘phew, yeah, i am hard at those intervals, did 15 yesterday.’

‘you got a crit coming up?

‘huh? no, a 150km race…’

see how that makes no sense? unless you are about to go do a Belgian kermesse, over a 10km course with 10 90 degree turns, there is no way that your race is going to require you to be able to do 15×1 minute intervals. what you are going to need to do it to be able to start strong, go stronger briefly, then settle in to a steady pace for some time, then go hard again, then again, then go really hard and then, ideally win.

sure, 1 minute intervals have their place but only when you are tapering in the last one to two weeks, unless, as stated, you do a lot of crits. if you’re a ‘One Munuter’ then the whole concept of ‘the interval’ needs to be reassessed, reconsidered, and reevaluated as a part of the training programme, because you are building power for something you don;t need, and neglecting areas you need to train.

those are:

*base power (ie the ability to power along at over 40km/hr for 2-3 hours or more.

*shorter, high intensity power (anything from 3 to 20, even 30 minutes) to put in and chase specific attacks and to power a break away

*an ability to recover within the race after hills and other hard efforts (winds, bad roads, punctures, mid-race attacks).

*the ability to have some power and strength left at the end to put in attacks and chase escapees.

*finally, the ability to sprint over the last, exhausting 300m.

that is just the physical side, there is also bike handling, race reading and tactics to consider also.

what the aspiring champ needs to do is to grasp the fact that racing well is very much like a jigsaw puzzle – you can try to out it all together, but if there are pieces missing the picture will always be incomplete. one of the best gifts a cyclist can give to him or herself is honesty. to sit down, consider your talents, and to identify strengths and weaknesses. if you can do that and then identify what you need for specific races, what elements you need to bring to your training, and, specifically, what kind of intervals you need to replicate racing in training, then you will be on your way to cracking the secrets of preparation, and to performing well in races.

i recommend, as a way of beginning to recreate racing, to go out and do 2 hours of fairly steady riding then to come home and do an hour on the indoor trainer, with a 15, 10, 5 and then some three minute intervals thrown in.

only, don’t think of them as intervals – you don;t think of them as intervals in a race, so why categorise them as such off? it’s not so much naming them that is the problem, it’s that most people have a fixed idea of what interval training entails, and most people get it wrong.

a sound, solid training plan requires a Unified Approach, one that takes in the forest rather than just a few well-marked trees. then, when you’ve honed that, you can cut training time, increase effort, and be more successful on the bike.

thanks for reading, and crank on.


Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

12 thoughts

  1. But what if you’re already good enough for all the mid-race intervals and just wanna train your final attack…?

    1. for Dutch Hammers like yourself, Floris, i think you’re best left to do whatever the heck you want 😉 this article is aimed more at those who haven;’t yet done the rest of the hard work to be putting in a final attack 🙂

  2. Hey, nice read. I see a lot of guys doing 30″/30″ intervals and I always tell them that they are of no use. Never seen a race situation requiring that skill either 🙂
    Just a question, why do those intervals (race prep) on the indoor trainer? I’ve always stuck by doing them on a flat road and preferably with a tail wind (in a 53/16) so as to keep your speed at a racing equivalent and your heart rate up there too. It takes +/- one minute to reach HR threshold value which is why one minute efforts are almost worthless !

    1. When doing short intervals with heart rate (anything under two minutes) you have to note in your head what the perceived effort is at threshold. Then when you start the interval you ride at that perceived effort and ignore HR. If your pushing hard to get to threshold in that one minute you’re actually going above threshold and not doing the correct training.

      The one minute interval is not worthless. Heart rate data is what’s worthless in the one minute interval. That’s why training with power is so much better. You get instant feedback as to how much power your putting into the pedals and not having to wait for your heart to catch up to what your muscles are doing.

      1. i agree, it’s not worthless and does have its place, especially of you are going into a race in really good shape and looking to taper, or expecting a lot of short attacks on a mountain race. and yes power is better than a HRM, but not better, ultimately, than feeling it 😉 for me anyway

  3. My current interval training is 1 hour at max power……. Fuji Hillclimb on the 16th. Bascially Im doing it as a 1 hour critical power test 😀

  4. My training consists of two weeks on, one week rest. In my two weeks on I almost never repeat the same interval sessions. And at least one of the interval sessions is done on roads that are not straight and are not flat. Well at least not flat for North Texas. As far as Saturday group rides go it’s I always try to get them to start riding out with the wind at their backs. I tell them it’s good training to fight the wind back in because races ain’t ever easy at the end.

  5. The way many cyclists think seems to reflect the way long distance runners thought 50 years ago. It might make sense to study the way athletes in other disciplines train. The head trainer of Sky was a swimming coach before he got hired by the cycling team, for example.

    Further, a-specific (i.e. non-specific) training can sometimes be good (I did 60 metre sprints as a high level ultra long distance runner, for example). However, it all depends on your background as an athlete, what you’ve done so far, what you’re training for, et cetera. You wouldn’t want a beginning cyclist to do 5 x 10 min at 95% of their maximum, for example, whilst it could be very effective for a well trained cyclist.

    By the way, every average-intelligent cyclist knows nowadays that simply doing mileage on the bike, or spending hours in the saddle, is not effective.

    1. depends if you mean bike intelligence or intelligence intelligence, cos i’ve met guys who do do 500km a week and the same distance almost daily.

      as for using old methods, agreed, similar to LSD training, taken from cycling, too time-consuming to be done properly by anyone other than a FT pro, and with alternative methods to achieve similar results, kind of silly…

  6. tych psich oczach, na Owocna maszyny. martwej siatkówce ( odbił się film
    przygiętych sylwetek w ciemnoszarych, zlewających się z mrooiem kombinezonach.

    Na bezgłośny proroctwo sylwetki odskoczyły od momentu bramy, przylgnęły doo
    Ful był dziwnie głuchy, podczas gdy kierunkowe
    ładunki przecinały zawiasy. Pancerne
    przejścia nieznacznie drgnęły, toż nie ruszyły ze stalowej futryny, do tej pory przytrzymywane
    ryglami, Dop.

  7. ał sir Roger, w tym momencie bez Przyjazna, miła natomiast przystojna, wielkiej nadziei.
    web site (Jacquie) Arnold pokręcił głowicą.
    – Zero nie zamontuje. Jeślibym, kobiety, pomiędzy
    pogany poszedł, otuchę solidną zaszczepiać, zaś tam w niewolę popadł,
    owo będzie wstanie… Mimo to w tej okolicy, wypalił
    rycerz Konrad,
    chrześcijański brzeżek, wprawdzie żmogus niezwykle ochrzczony
    na tronie. Nie godzi się rycerza, jaki prawa lokalne naruszył,
    z niewoli wykupywać, od chwili topora oraz pnia kato.

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