Phase 2 of our Beginner Cyclist Training Plan builds on the gains you made in Phase 1, allowing you to quickly improve your fitness and speed. In Phase 1 of the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan you built up the ability to cycle for one hour continuously at an easy pace. In Phase 2 you will start to include high intensity interval training (HIIT) in your workouts. This will cause increased calorie burn, fight stress, and help you to get fit faster. Recent research also shows that high intensity interval training is the most effective exercise to fight aging.
This video explains why interval training is so effective.
Adding in High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
Interval training basically just means “short intervals of increased effort.” Short intervals of increased effort happen naturally on a bike ride. For example, when you get to a hill, you have to pedal harder until you get to the top; then you get to relax a little on the downhill.
However, interval training requires that you be systematic about alternating between periods of increased effort and less effort. Ideally you should find a quiet road or track to do interval training, because it can be hard to speed up if the route is very crowded. First we are going to explain how to very simply include HIIT in your cycling training plan. After that, read on if you are interested in knowing why HIIT works so well, and the benefits you can expect to reap.
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How to do Phase 2 of the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan – Adding in High Intensity Interval Training
For now, the intervals of higher intensity do not have to be about cycling as fast as you possibly can. They just have to be about cycling faster than the easy pace you used for Phase 1 of the training program. You are aiming to raise your cardiac training zone higher than before (see chart below).
Cycle Three Times a Week
You will cycle 3 times a week. One of the rides will be at a steady, easy pace, just like in Phase 1. If you can, increase your time to 1 hour 15 minutes for this ride. The other 2 rides will include some interval training.
Two of the Weekly Rides Should Include Interval Training
To start your interval training (and discover that it is not difficult or scary at all), just cycle for one hour, twice a week, as follows.
|First 15 minutes:||Cycle at an easy pace to warm up|
|Next 5 minutes:||Increase your pace by one zone to Heart Rate zone 4 (sweating heavily, and would prefer not to talk)|
|Next 10 minutes:||Cycle at an easy pace (Heart Rate zones 2 and 3, comfortable to a bit sweaty)|
|Next 5 minutes:||Increase your pace by one zone to Heart Rate zone 4|
|Next 10 minutes:||Cycle at an easy pace (Heart Rate zones 2 and 3)|
|Next 5 minutes:||Increase your pace by one zone (Heart Rate Zone 4)|
|Final 15 minutes:||Cycle at an easy pace (Heart Rate zones 2 and 3)|
Cardiac Training Zones, Based on Perceived Rates of Exertion (Talk Test)
|Zone 1 (Low intensity)||1 to 2||Light||I'm so comfortable I could do this all day!||Strengthens your heart. Contributes to reducing body fat, cholesterol, and blood pressure.||50% to 60% of maximum heart rate|
|Zone 2 (Weight Control)||3 to 4||Moderate||I can feel that I am exercising, but I feel good and can easily carry on a conversation||Strengthens your heart and your mitochondria (the powerhouses of your cells). Contributes to reducing body fat, cholesterol, and blood pressure. 65% of calories burned in this zone are calories from fat.||60% to 70% of maximum heart rate|
|Zone 3 (Aerobic)||5 to 6||Intense, but not exhausting||I am a bit breathless now, and I don't want to talk||Great zone for weight loss, strengthening muscle, and general fitness. Burns 50% carbs and 50% fat.||70% to 80% of maximum heart rate|
|Zone 4 (Anaerobic)||6 to 8||Intense and exhausting||Breathing is labored, and talking is not an option unless in cases of emergency. Most people should only do this in short spurts, 2 to 3 days per week||Improves both endurance and fitness. Cannot be sustained for long enough to be significant for weight loss.||80% to 90% of maximum heart rate|
|Zone 5 (Maximum)||9 to 10||As Intense as is Physically Possible for You||In this zone, you can only focus on the activity, such as cycling or running as fast as possible. Talking is out of the question. Loud grunts might be possible (think power lifting competitions).||Can only be done in short bursts, around 1 to 2 minutes. It is used to improve athletic performance, but comes with a high risk for injury. Mainly used as a training tool only by competitive athletes.||90% to 100% of maximum heart rate|
Building Your Base for Serious Fitness Training
You are going to be putting in more effort in future. But for now, relax and enjoy these challenging-but-not-hard workouts. This is enough to start interval training! You are setting the basis for some serious fitness training. Repeat these workouts three times a week until they start to seem too easy. After that, you will be ready to progress to Phase 3 of the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan. You can read about that here.
What are the Advantages of High Intensity Interval Training on Your Bike?
Most fitness professionals now agree that doing HIIT training between one and three times a week is the most efficient way to build fitness. This is based on a huge amount of scientific research. At the same time, a lot of previously held misconceptions have been destroyed. For example, I grew up with the myth of the magical “fat-burning zone.”
The Myth of the Fat-Burning Zone
An hour or more of comfortably paced riding, chatting to your friends, is many people’s idea of the best way to burn calories and fat. The idea is that the best way to burn fat is to just get into your “fat-burning zone” and just stay there for as long as possible. However,the “fat-burning zone” is one of the great myths of fitness training. It is true that any effort that boosts your calorie burn is going to lead to some fat burning. However, the crucial question is how long it will take you to achieve that calorie burn. The reality is that higher-intensity exercise simply will burn calories a lot faster.
Interval Training Burns More Calories Faster
Interval training is about cycling at a higher intensity. Most people cannot sustain high intensity for prolonged periods of time. So interval training gives you the ideal compromise. It enables you to incorporate short periods of high calorie burn into your workout. The overall effect is that you burn more calories in an hour than you would have done without intervals.
As most of us are pressed for time, maximizing the value of that hour of working out is important. It also means that after your workout, your metabolism is even higher because of the intense exercise, so you burn more calories for up to 12 hours after you finish your workout.
Interval Training Helps You to Get Fit Faster
Intervals do a lot more good than simply burning more calories. When I did my personal trainer certification, I was struck by the fact that there are a lot of contradictory research findings on the benefits of various kinds of exercise. However, it does seem to be clear that interval training is a faster way to getting fit. No matter who won the race, the hare was getting fitter faster!
It is also almost universally accepted that getting fitter requires variation. After the initial phase of adjusting to an hour of easy cycling, your body will adapt to that demand. It will then simply stop adapting, and stop getting any fitter. Intervals are an easy way to introduce variation, thus keeping your body “guessing” and adapting. They are also a way to put increasing demands on your body.
The Principle of Progressive Overload
It’s exactly the same as the key principle of weight training, that is, Progressive Overload. If you put increasing strain on your muscles over time, they will grow to deal with the strain. In the same way, if you put increasing demands on your heart and lungs, they will get stronger to deal with the demand.
Milo of Croton – Progressive Overload in Action
One of the most inspiring classical stories I heard as a child was the story of Milo of Croton. Milo became famous for his strength, but he was not born with super hero strength. He was not the son of a god. He was simply a boy who decided to carry a calf around every day. He did it every day, while the calf did what calves do – it grew and got bigger.
So every day, Milo was carrying more weight on his shoulders, until eventually, he was a teenage boy carrying a bull! Every day, his body adapted to the increasing demands he put on it. Every day he got stronger, until he was the strongest man in the world. Progressive overload is a very simple principle, but it is a scientific fact that is every bit as true today as it was in ancient Greece.
If you keep asking your body to do more, it will grow stronger and fitter to adapt to your demands.
Another Advantage of Interval Training: Beat Stress
There is overwhelming evidence that long-term, chronic stress (something that seems to be part and parcel of modern life) leads to weight gain. We all know about the fight or flight response. If you were in a forest being chased by a wolf, you would explode into action, either killing the wolf or running away really fast.
This action would be fueled by a release of glucose, and of amino acids from your muscles. Your explosive actions would trigger the release of testosterone and HGH (human growth hormone). Both of these promote muscle repair and draw on fat stores.
So, assuming you survived, the fighting and the running would promote the sort of slim, muscular body that would keep you alive a bit longer. However, it seems our bodies don’t distinguish well between sudden acute stress and long term stress. If you are chronically stressed by your job or your finances or your commute, your flight or flight response still kicks in, but less intensely, and it sticks around for longer. It makes your body release adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. This gets you ready to fight or run.
But if you just sit around in that meeting you were dreading, with all those hormones in your body, it does you no good at all. You have extra glucose and your muscles are releasing amino acids, but you are not doing anything with that fuel. Worse of all, you don’t do anything intensely physical, so you don’t get the restorative release of testosterone and HGH.
Interval Training Mimics Fighting or Fleeing
The advantage of interval training is that the intense bouts of exercise mimic that whole killing the wolf or running away thing, and have the same positive effects on your body.
So the best way to get fit, burn calories, build muscle and combat stress is to incorporate some interval training into your workouts.
Cross Training One Day Per Week
As well as the three days per week of cycling, we recommend one day per week when you do about 40 minutes of cross training (optional). Which is just a way of saying that on one day of the week, ideally you should do some other kind of exercise. This helps with physical balance, and most importantly, it helps you not to get bored. The cross training could be something that targets your core muscles (very important in cycling) such as yoga or Pilates.
Strength Training as Cross Training
Maggie has written a great post – complete with videos – about a quick, simple but very effective 10-minute core training workout for cyclists here. And I have posted videos showing the top 7 best strength building exercises for cyclists here.
Swimming as Cross TrainingSwimming is an excellent exercise to pair with cycling, as it tends to target the upper body, while cycling targets the lower body. Both activities also target the core, but with different emphases. If you choose this as your other sport, we highly recommend the Aftershokz XTrainerZ headphones. These allow safe cycling, due to leaving your ears totally open. They also provide excellent sound in the pool, which we find helps us not to get bored during long training swims.
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Following Phase 2 will definitely help you to take your fitness and cycling speed to a higher level. It will yield improvements for many months.
However, at some point, you will feel you have done as much as you can with Level 2, and you need new challenges. When you get to that stage, check out Level 3 of the Average Joe Cyclist Beginner Cyclist Training Plan, to learn how to kick it up a notch and make even more progress.
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