Fast Talk podcast, ep. 80: Properly executing intervals is hard; keep your training plan simple

In episode 80, we emphasize three key points: human physiology is very complex; properly executing intervals is very difficult; your training prescription should be simple.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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The VeloNews Fast Talk podcast is your source for the best training advice and most compelling insight on what it takes to become a better cyclist. Listen in as VeloNews managing editor Chris Case and our resident physiologist and coach, Trevor Connor, discuss a range of topics, including sport science, training, physiology, technology, nutrition, and more.

Here’s your workout for today: Give me 20 seconds at high anaerobic capacity, now 10 second recovery at 65 percent, then one minute at mid-VO2max holding 100 RPM. Now rest one minute. Alright, now give me a series of 10 one-minute efforts at 102 percent of FTP with increasing cadence. But be careful: Do these at 99 percent of FTP and you’re working the wrong system. You’ve screwed up the entire workout!

Okay, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration. However, the complexity of that routine was probably starting to sound familiar. Complex training prescriptions are becoming increasingly popular. We ask the question: Does it really need to be that complex? What do you gain from this complexity?

With the help of seven different experts — coaches, scientists, and athletes — we’re going to try to make three key points:

  • Human physiology is very complex
  • Properly executing intervals is very difficult
  • But, the prescription should be simple.

Along the way, Trevor will drop his biggest nerd bomb yet, attempting to explain how complex the physiology is. We’ll use the analogy of riding side-by-side to explain why prescriptions should be simple. And we’ll talk about all the subtle ways that top athletes learn to better execute their workouts — numbers are important, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

As I mentioned, there was no guest with us in our studio for this recording, but since this is a summary episode, we pulled a lot of segments from past shows. Our guests this week include:

    • Legendary mountain bike world champion, and a guy who never gets old, Ned Overend. Ned almost sounded scared when he talked with us about the possibility of training with power or heart rate. Yet, despite having almost no metrics, and no structured routine, he’s developed a remarkably sophisticated system of training.
    • Next, we’ll hear from Houshang Amiri, head coach at the Pacific Cycling Centre and past Canadian national team coach. Houshang shared with Trevor his thoughts on complex interval routines.
    • It wouldn’t be an episode on interval work without hearing from Dr. Stephen Seiler, a top physiologist and researcher in Europe, who’s been credited with formalizing the polarized training model. We pulled a few clips from Dr. Seiler sharing his thoughts on interval prescription and execution.
    • But what about athletes who have grown up with power and pre-programmed workouts on their head units? We included an interview we haven’t used before with 2018 Tour of Utah winner Sepp Kuss. While he relies heavily on power, it’s not as simple as setting a target number before he gets on the bike and sticking to it.
    • Next we grabbed a clip with Dr. Andy Coggan and Hunter Allen, authors of “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” which was updated this year. They invented probably the most common training zone model in the world (though they don’t like the word zones.) They talked with us about the value of zone models or levels.
    • Trevor pulled out an old interview with Trek-Segafredo rider Toms Skujins. Like Sepp, Toms talks about just some of the many decisions that go into effectively executing his interval work.
  • Finally, we hear from 2017 U.S. national champion Larry Warbasse of Ag2r La Mondiale. Larry talked with us about the importance of seeing your training sessions in a broader context. Otherwise, you can execute perfectly and still get off track.

Let’s make you fast!

Fast Talk is available on all your favorite podcast services, including iTunesStitcherGoogle Play, and Soundcloud. If you enjoy the podcast, please take a moment to rate and comment on iTunes after listening.


Coffey, V. G. and J. A. Hawley (2007). “The molecular bases of training adaptation.” Sports Med 37(9): 737-763.

Laursen, P. B. (2010). “Training for intense exercise performance: high-intensity or high-volume training?” Scand J Med Sci Sports 20 Suppl 2: 1-10.

Lucia, A., J. Hoyos and J. L. Chicharro (2001). “Physiology of professional road cycling.” Sports Med 31(5): 325-337.


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