If you steer clear of interval training on the bike, thinking it's complicated, you're not alone. But you can benefit from interval training that consists of simple efforts requiring nothing more than a watch.
In an Australian study of 38 cyclists and triathletes, researchers found that interval training done twice a week for a month improved the racers' time-trial performances by five per cent and boosted their peak power output by three per cent.
To start: if race day is several months away, follow Plan A to build up your VO2 Max; if race day is approaching skip to Plan B to tune up your fitness. Do one workout per week when racing, two when not racing. Rest one or two days between workouts and always warm up first.
Boost your VO2 by working in a zone that's harder than time-trial pace but not as hard as you can go - about a nine on a scale of one to 10, or an effort you can sustain for between two and a half and five minutes.
Pick up the slack
In a small group, work hard in a paceline (a small group of cyclists), with each rider taking the lead for 30 to 60 seconds before dropping back. Continue the paceline for six minutes. Then recover for six minutes, and regroup if necessary. Repeat three to six times.
Climb and climb again
Find a hill that takes you between three and five minutes to climb. Ride up it as hard as you can while maintaining a consistent pace. Roll down the hill. Repeat three to six times.
Simulate a solo attack
Stand and sprint for 10 to 15 seconds, sit and cycle hard for two and a half minutes, then finish with another sprint of 10 to 15 seconds. Recover for five minutes. Repeat four to six times.
You can become faster with race-specific intervals and speed work. Do these sessions as close to maximum effort as possible.
Set your sites
On a flat-to-rolling road, choose an object, such as a phone box, 50m away. Jump out of the saddle to sprint, then sit and cycle hard to the marker. Rest for three minutes and repeat twice. Do this sprint/recovery sequence with an object 100m away, and again with one 200m away. Use your small chain ring for the 50s; shift to the big ring for the 100s and 200s.
Go till you (almost) blow
On a flat-to-rolling road, ride as hard as you can for 30 seconds and recover for one minute. Do five sets. Recover for five minutes then do another five sets. When these feel easier, increase to one-minute efforts, doing two sets of five, with two minutes' rest between sprints. Then try two sets of 10.
Climb three ways
Find these three grades of hills: short and steep; moderate gradient and length; and long and mellow. On interval day, choose one. Sprint from the bottom to 50m past the top. Rest for three minutes, including the time it takes you to roll back to the start. Repeat twice more. Next time, choose a different hill type and do the same reps with the same rest times.