3 Power-Boosting Interval Workouts For Winter

Ditch the long, slow (and cold!) rides for these quick and potent fitness boosters—plus how to decode training terms like tempo and VO2 max.

James Herrera |

There’s a lot to love about winter, but most of us cut back on our riding as daylight dwindles, temperatures drop, and our motivation wanes. Who can blame us? Conventional wisdom dictated long, slow rides to build a base for springtime fitness. But nobody wants to ride all day when it’s cold enough to freeze your chain. I’ve personally worked with many cyclists who have cut their training volume by 50 to 60 percent and still made significant gains. Even casual riders who pedal only a few times a week can experience a boost by adding some intervals to their routine.

So whether winter’s limited daylight is forcing you to ride less frequently, or you want to minimise the time you spend in arctic conditions, try these three potent workouts. Each maximises your time, whether you have 1, 1.5, or 2 hours to burn (they also make great indoor workouts when weather forces you onto your trainer). Try to incorporate one workout into your weekly riding routine, alternating between them. If you have time for three hard training rides a week, do them all.

Many cycling workouts are based on intervals, short high-intensity bouts that last from a couple of seconds to several minutes. They’ve been shown to help improve stamina, power, and speed by building muscle and training your body to use oxygen more efficiently. Many intervals use a moderately hard effort, called tempo, as their baseline. Your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) will feel like a 7 out of 10 (with 10 being an all-out effort). Threshold is the top effort that you can maintain for about 30 minutes. Your RPE will feel like an 8.5 or 9—just barely manageable. Your VO2 max is the limit at which you can process enough oxygen to fuel your muscles. Most cyclists can maintain their VO2 max for a few minutes at the most; on the RPE scale it should feel like a 9.5 to 10.

If you have 1 hour
Turbocharge your efforts with this short series of intervals that ratchet up the intensity. After warming up, perform three sets of these 15-minute blocks, which include a five-minute easy spin.



If you have 1.5 hours
Use the extra time to target two key areas: your lactate threshold and VO2 max. After warming up, do three 18-minute blocks aimed to raise your threshold. Follow these with two 9-minute, high-intensity interval sets, which include a four-minute recovery, to power up your VO2 max.



If you have 2 hours
With two hours for training, you can spend more time at threshold while also working to boost peak power by improving your VO2 max. After warming up, build your effort by ramping up intensity, performing four of these 23-minute blocks, which include an eight-minute recovery spin.


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