How do you do interval training properly?


It often seems easier than it is. You would say that you do exactly what it says and it can’t go wrong. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple and we still see experienced cyclists doing interval training wrong. In this article we give you the tips and tricks to make interval training as effective as possible.


It sounds rather obvious, but the training and its description are often skipped. Based on the complexity you can then decide to export the training to a program like Zwift or to your Garmin. In many cases this is not necessary at all. For example, you can easily memorize 5 repetitions of 6 minutes. You could stick your zones on a piece of tape on the stem, but after a few workouts you should know your zones as well. Make sure you don’t spend as long exporting a workout as the workout itself.
In addition, be aware of the training goal. For example, if it is a sprint training, then the average speed over the entire workout is not interesting at all.


The purpose of a warm-up is to prepare the body for performance. So this is especially important in an effort where you need to perform immediately, such as a time trial. After all, a warmed-up body performs better. Now, training is not about delivering the best performance, it’s about training well. Therefore, build up the first few minutes slowly and start low in the prescribed zone. However, do not overdo it. After 5 to 10 minutes the training may have started as usual.


Training sessions are built up in zones. These zones are determined on the basis of your threshold (heart rate) or FTP (power output). This threshold is determined with an exercise test in a sports lab or by doing a 20-minute test yourself, for example. In the first place, it is important that this threshold is up-to-date. In a trained person, the heart rate threshold will remain fairly constant. With a beginner, this heart rate will sometimes be higher after a few months of training (the reverse can also happen). In any case, the maximum heart rate and thus the threshold also decreases with age.
For power, of course, the training goal is to increase FTP. So every 2 to 3 months a 20 minute test is advisable and a yearly exercise test in a lab is not unwise.


When you are training, always listen to your body first, then pay attention to the power output and finally look at the heart rate. Actually, there are too many variables besides effort that influence heart rate, making heart rate a poor measure for determining intensity. As a result, you can train more precisely on power than on heart rate and heart rate zones and power zones do not always correspond exactly. You should be aware that the ultimate goal is to train at a certain intensity and with a specific energy system associated with it. Achieving a certain heart rate is therefore not a goal in itself and only a means. Achieving a certain power and thus stimulating an energy system is. This is the big difference between training on heart rate and power.

The pitfall with heart rate

When you’ve eaten poorly, become dehydrated, get less sleep or just stress at work, the heart rate is suddenly different than expected. Even when you are well rested or have not trained for a while, the heart rate is suddenly very high, while the feeling does not correspond. Listen first to your feelings and only then to the heart rate. Because one day is not the other, it is not the intention to be exactly in the middle of a zone. One day you will be very low in the zone and on a good day you will be at the top. Especially in power training, it’s about keeping the effort constant and being able to keep up the number of repetitions. Therefore, always start the first repetition a little more cautiously. If you notice that it is going well, feel free to look for the top of the zone. For this very reason, always training in erg-mode on your indoor trainer is not a good idea at all. The erg-mode ensures that the power is kept exactly constant in the middle of the zone. Maybe it’s nice and easy, but on a bad day you can’t easily do a little less, or a little extra on the last repetition.


Workouts in JOIN Cycling are therefore often more precise in power than in heart rate. In other words, when training on heart rate, you are also asked to listen more to your gut and train higher or lower in the zone based on that. Making these heart rate zones very small or very precise in the descriptions of the workouts therefore makes no sense at all for heart rate, but can help you train just a little better for training on power.


If all goes well, interval training never ends immediately after an intensive intervals. It is always advisable to ride for at least 5 minutes on a light gear. The more intensive the training was the more waste products can be removed with active recovery. Because a cooling down often makes the Strava averages less impressive, our simple tip is to turn off the Garmin 5 to 10 minutes before returning home.


First of all, it’s important to know whether you’ve done your workout properly. If, for example, the heart rates were outside the prescribed zones, but the feeling and power were not, it is important that there is an explanation for this. In sprint training you look at the speeds and powers of the sprints. Achieving certain heart rates cannot be the goal. In the case of endurance training with tempo intervals, the relationship between power and heart rate can be interesting. This can be compared to the same workout a few weeks earlier to determine the progress.
For interval training workouts, take a look at our JOIN Cycling application. It contains a database with more than 500 interval trainings for cyclists. You can find a sample of those workouts here. Before you can set your zones, doing an exercise test is essential. More information can be found here.