3 Intervals Perfect for Your Bike Commute

Peter Glassford
by Peter Glassford
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3 Intervals Perfect for Your Bike Commute

As every endurance athlete knows, squeezing training time into a busy day is a constant challenge. It’s hard to be a weekend warrior and keep your fitness where it needs to be. So we look for any and every opportunity — like your work commute.

Here are some ideas for transforming your ride to work into a mini-workout — just do your colleagues a favor and pack your work clothes:


One of my favorite ways to include intervals is to take your normal schedule and add periods of high exertion into what you’re already doing. If you do an easy ride twice a week, try adding two hard efforts during the ride. It might be between two stop signs, or on a certain section of trail. Pedal easier before and after that effort, and look to cover that section faster next week.

Learning to sprint can be a tough skill at first, but practice helps. Make sure you check the bolts on your bike (pedals, handlebar, etc.) and that you are on a safe route. If you are with a friend you should also let them know your plans to do a sign sprint or two.

The classic sprint workout is town sign sprints. On the approach to most towns there will be a sign that says the town name. Aim to sprint 10–20 seconds really fast. This is generally done mostly standing and really explosively. Start with one or two sprints and build the number of sprints as you gain confidence. You could certainly practice your standing form and more moderate accelerations out of corners and over small hills during your ride to enhance your standing technique.



Another option for easy intervals is to add a hill to your route. It’s normal to avoid hills on a commute or easy ride, but to boost your fitness you’ll want to tackle some hills you might prefer to ignore. Start with two hills the first week and see if you can do three next week, and four or five the next week. Once you can do five, start trying to go faster. This is basically ‘hill repetitions’ and is one of the most common ways intervals are performed. Don’t overthink it, just go up the local hill a few times and time yourself. Then go a bit faster next week.


One of the most classic and flexible ways to increase your fitness with interval training is a type of training called Fartlek or ‘speed play’ — runners use this all the time. Essentially you go hard when you feel like it and take breaks when you get tired. The trick is that the ‘on’ period should be quite fast with high exertion and the ‘off’ period should be very easy to ensure you are able to go fast again and get the benefits of the speed.

The high-tech variation on this concept for those with a heart-rate monitor is to ride until you get above 85% of your max heart rate then let your heart rate recover down to 65% of your max heart rate while you’re pedaling easy or even coasting. You should notice that over a few weeks or months of this fartlek you end up with quicker recovery times which is a great sign of increasing aerobic fitness

Interval training doesn’t have to involve complex routines. Simply incorporating more intense bouts into your everyday will lead to results. One caveat: Don’t overdo these valuable sessions — one or two per week is plenty.


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About the Author

Peter Glassford
Peter Glassford

Peter is a cycling coach and registered kinesiologist from Ontario, Canada. He travels frequently to work with athletes at races, camps and clinics. He also races mountain bikes for Trek Canada and pursues adventure in all types of movement. Follow @peterglassford on Twitter, or check out his online and in-person coaching at www.smartathlete.ca.


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