Interval training is a workout or portion of a workout where the athlete alternates between work intervals and rest intervals.
An example of an interval training workout might be 4x 4 minutes at 170BPM with a 2 minute rest interval between each of the 4 minute work intervals.
When athletes and coaches add an interval session to a ride, it’s sensible to question whether it’s smarter to perform these intervals at the start or at the end of a ride. Here we’ll discuss both options and conclude as to which might be the better choice.
Scheduling an interval session at the beginning of your ride, or at least within the first 20 minutes, given that you’ll need a suitable warm up, is your first option.
What’s good about this method? The primary benefit comes in carrying freshness into the session. The purpose of performing an interval workout is typically to reach intensities that are higher than the athlete would be able to sustain for a long period of time, thus creating a specific adaptive response. With this in mind, being fresh allows you to reach these high intensities and subsequently stimulating the desired adaptive response. If the athlete fails to reach the required intensities however, the session is likely to be of a much lower quality and the adaptive response compromised.
The other option available to athletes and coaches is to back load a training ride with an interval session. This has a few unique advantages. What it teaches the body to do is generate high intensity whilst under fatigue. This is something which is highly specific to racing, where winning moves are often made after a lot of fatigue has already accumulated. This technique not only increases the athlete’s fatigue and thus a greater potential for adaptive response, but it helps to improve important abilities like muscular endurance. The drawback of this method as we discussed above, is that if too much fatigue is present, the athlete might not train intensely enough or could curtail the session after a insufficient number of intervals, leading to a poorer quality workout.
WHICH IS THE BETTER OPTION?
The truth is that one is not better than the other – it’s all a case of what your session goal is. If the goal is to improve V02Max for instance, then making sure the athlete is as fresh as possible is paramount to allow them to hit the intensities required. However, if the session goal is to improve power in the closing portions of a race, then performing intervals at the end of a ride is a very targeted and effective way to train this ability.
Coaches and athletes have to be absolutely clear on what each workout they do is trying to achieve. Only then can they design the best workouts to achieve these goals and execute on them effectively.