Coaches Panel: A quick question (and answer) about intervals

A former racer returning to the fold asks the coaches for advice on adding intervals to his workouts.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Have a training, fitness, nutrition or health question for the VeloNews Coaches Panel? Send it to

Intervals to hit race fitness

Hey Frank,
I had a quick question about intervals. I just got back into cycling last summer after nearly 10 years away from the sport. I’m 30 now. As a teenager I was a junior expert mountain biker, did some junior road races and a lot of weekly rides with cat 2s and 3s. I was pretty quick. After easing back into things last summer, losing 50 pounds (I was not healthy in my absence from the sport!) and buying a new bike, I’ve been riding about five days a week since early April. I typically hit Central Park in the morning for an hour to an hour-and-a-half, then do 5 hour + ride every Saturday. I just wrapped up 10 days in the Italian and Swiss Alps (was here for vacation) and logged in lots of long rides. Yesterday I did a 105-mile tour that went over two big passes (one being Passo dello Stelvio) and rode hard. Now that I am returning to the States, I want to start incorporating more intensity into my rides (as well as more miles) but don’t really know where to start. I’d like to be in race shape for hilly races in northern New York state and Vermont. Got any advice for a born-again rider?

— Jimmy

Hi Jimmy,
Thanks for the email and congrats on getting back into the bike. It sounds to me that with all your riding and recent vacation you have a solid “base” built up. In that case I recommend VO2 Max intervals. These intervals will help raise your threshold power and are specific to the length of climbs you have in the Northeast.

An introductory VO2 Max workout would be:
Two sets of 2 x 3 min ON* (as hard as you can go), 3 min Off. Take 6 minutes between sets and then repeat. Warm up for 30 minutes, perform the intervals and then ride for 1 – 2 hours total ride time.

If possible do these intervals on a hill because you will be able to work harder and it’s specific to the climbing you want to do.

For a more advanced VO2 MAX workout try 2 sets of 3 x 4 min ON 4 min OFF (as hard as you can go) with 8 minutes off in-between sets.

Perform a VO2 Max workout once in the middle of the week always following a rest day(s). Allow ample recovery afterwards because these are very difficult workouts. The trade off is that they make you much faster!

Hope that helps, good luck and please let me know if you have any more questions.
— Frank

Frank Overton is a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach, a former U.S. National Team Coach, a member of USA Cycling’s Power Based Education Committee and regularly writes training tips for VeloNews. Overton works with professional and amateur athletes of all abilities and ages across the United States. To learn more about Frank and his Boulder, Colorado-based coaching company, please visit FasCat Coaching or email Frank.

Any information or advice offered by the members of the Coaches’ Panel should not in any way be viewed as personal medical advice. The recommendations made in this column are offered as general information for healthy, physically fit amateur and professional athletes. None of the information provided by members of the Coaches’ Panel should be viewed as a replacement for personalized, professional medical treatment or to replace the advice or services of your physician. While some members of the Coaches’ Panel are Licensed Medical Doctors, Licensed healthcare professionals, and certified coaches, their advice in no way establishes a doctor-patient relationship between the writer and readers of this column. If you are beginning or resuming a vigorous exercise program, it is important to visit your health care provider for a complete physical examination in order to identify and treat any potential risks you might face.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.