Updated November 6th 2020

As preparation begins for next years Cycling season you may be a bit unsure of what training system to follow.

In the last few years high intensity interval training (hiit) has been promoted by some as miracle training.

It is sometimes abused by unscrupulous coaches to promote what they do. EG get x amount of improvements in power in 2 or 3 weeks. And the fact is that it is actually possible to get quick improvements with HIIT.

Can you sustain it

However the big question, is it sustainable? and will you be at your peak for when it matters?. Or will you be a shell of a bike rider who dreads cycling and can’t face another session.

Here’s some facts and some of my own experience of 45 years of coaching cyclists of all abilities and HIIT.

I also have experience of trying most forms of training during my own time racing. Some of them were painful experiences!

History of Hiit

Peaking for records

runners Interval training

Hiit has been used by athletes since the  1930s or earlier.

It was usually called interval training. German athletics coaches were some of the first to use it.

It has been used in sports training since then to varying degrees. I was using it as part of sessions when I was a junior. This would have happened  from my studying some of the great runners programmes.

What is Hiit ?

Hiit is a system of very  intensive efforts with various recovery times between efforts. The efforts will often be at a pace where there is little or none conversation possible and around max vo2 or above.

Heres an Example of the kind of sessions that the great runners were doing many years ago. . Emil Zatopek 40 x 400 metres, with 400m recovery…. Now that’s tough!

A typical modern cyclists session could be anything from 6 seconds to a few minutes efforts, depending on what they are training for and when they want to be at their peak fitness.

HIIT / interval training  has really come to the fore again because of research over the last number of years. The research shows that hiit training can be very beneficial for some people.


A major advantage is that it doesn’t take much time to complete a hiit session. Also fitness improves quickly.

More work can be carried out at a particular intensity than at a continuous workload.

For example a workload that can be maintained 20 minutes could be carried out for more time by breaking the session into shorter intervals with recovery periods. EG 6x 5 minutes which gives thirty minutes at the high workload/


Intensive HIIT is very tough and painful which makes it harder to sustain as a long term programme. The improvements in fitness can disappear as quickly as they are gained when HIIT training is stopped.

Too much of it could quickly lead to an over training situation.

What are the benefits of HIIT ?

According to the American college of sports medicine HIIT training has been shown to improve:

  • Aerobic and anaerobic fitness
  • Blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Insulin sensitivity (which helps the exercising muscles more readily use glucose for fuel to make energy)
  • Cholesterol profiles
  • Abdominal fat and body weight while maintaining muscle mass.

ACSM HIT  A review

acsm hiit

Aerobic exercise

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines aerobic exercise as “any activity that uses large muscle groups. Can be maintained continuously, and is rhythmic in nature.”

It is a type of exercise that overloads the heart and lungs and causes them to work harder than at rest.. ( I suppose we could call this getting in the Kilometres) 

Benefits of aerobic exercise

  • Increases the efficiency of respiration
  • Improves blood volume, distribution, and delivery to muscles
  • Improves cardiovascular efficiency
  • Increases the stroke volume, or the amount of blood pumped from the ventricle during each contraction of the heart
  • Increases cardiac output, or the volume of blood pumped by the heart each minute
  • Decreases resting heart rate
  • Improves the condition and efficiency of breathing muscles
  • Improves the efficiency of movement
  • Improves the body’s ability to use fat as an energy source
  • Improves body composition by decreasing body fat
  • Strengthens muscles
  • Strengthens ligaments, tendons and bones
  • Helps decrease the risk of developing coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes
  • Helps decrease anxiety and stress
  • Helps you feel better overall

Benefits Aerobic training

So, we can see that there are lots of benefits to be gained by  Hiit and continuous Aerobic training.

Competitive athletes

As I mentioned earlier Hiit is around for a long time. There’s a part of a session that I would have prescribed for a group I was training in the 1970s.

“1ml x 5 fast 86″ 1ml rec.” This was carried out at race speed with each rider doing about 200 metres each on the front of a 6 rider group 

Or in present day cycling language 2.5 minutes @ x watts x 5 times on 53 x 17/16 with  3 minutes @ x watts recovery between efforts..  

This was only a small part of their overall training.

No grand tours are won on 3 hrs a week

If you want to race in long races or stage races, doing the hours/ kms is important. Some high intensity interval training is also important to produce race winning form.

However, Hiit alone will not produce a good endurance athlete.

Endurance athletes / cyclists need to be looking at how can I do the volume and intensity  required to get best results.

Conclusion HIIT is tough

To finish, here’s a  a nice piece of research on high intensity interval training models

“In conclusion, in this population of relatively untrained but healthy young adults, our results suggest no particular advantage for very high intensity training models, such as that which has been widely adapted from the results of Tabata et al. (1996).

The observation that the Tabata protocol was less enjoyable is not surprising. The progressive loss of enjoyment across all the protocols suggests that perhaps variety in the type of exercise is as important as the type of exercise per se.

Particularly considering that the health benefits of exercise have to be viewed in the context of the likelihood that exercise is continued for several years, not just the weeks of a controlled study.

Perhaps, in our quest to find the ‘perfect exercise’ we have missed the more important issue of how to make exercise enjoyable enough to be continued long term.”  from sports science and medicine 

I absolutely agree with the last sentence above! Hiit will give quick results and does have a place as part of a balanced training programme. However, If you want to be a good or very good athlete, training must be varied and enjoyable to be sustained.

Enjoy your training

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