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Can I replace intervals with hilly rides?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the yearAll cyclists share a common desire to feel stronger, fitter and better able to handle the rides we do on a weekly basis.

Hilly terrain riding increases your heart rate (exertion level) as you climb, and decreases your heart rate as you descend. Performed at least once a week, this provides an “interval training effect” which stimulates an improvement in your level of fitness. However, the question is, “Can it be used to replace traditional interval training,”that is, timed periods of high intensity riding followed by periods of easy lower intensity riding?

If you live in an area where there are few flat sections of road, then hilly terrain riding is a good substitute for interval training, but to ensure the full “training effect” I suggest the following riding protocol:

Start your ride with a good 15-20 minutes of light easy cycling, to warm up your body, muscles, tendons and ligaments. After the warm-up, approach each hill at approximately 80% of maximum intensity, knowing that you will be using the downhill portion of the hill to recover, which will bring your heart rate down. How hard the workout is depends on how many hills your route has, how close they are and the grade. With hills that are close together there will be less recovery, producing greater aerobic benefits.

Traditional interval training is usually done on flat terrain, and can be performed in many formats. The typical format for a cyclist to start with is an equal work: rest ratio. For example, ride at 80% of maximum intensity for 1 minute, then follow that by 1 minute of easy recovery spinning. As you become fitter and more efficient, then you can alter the work to rest ratio to provide a harder workout. Using the same example provided above, the 1 minute of 80% intensity riding would be followed by only 30 seconds of recovery spinning, producing a 2:1 work to rest ratio.

Regardless of whether you choose traditional interval training or hilly terrain cycling, each provides a stimulus to promote higher fitness levels with a lower heart rate and lower level of perceived exertion.

The added benefit of these two types of training is that they increase the amount of calories you burn, and add variety to your weekly riding schedule. Mixing up your rides prevents staleness and boredom, and you will be pleasantly surprised by the results.

If you have a question you’d like Diane to answer please email it to [email protected] Diane Stibbard Ask a Pro

As a world-class duathlete, Diane Stibbard brings a rare combination of expertise, motivation and knowledge to her coaching. She knows that the driving force to reach any goal comes from a deep desire within. As a trainer, she has a unique ability to help individuals embrace this desire to achieve their athletic potential.

Diane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training.

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, contact Diane at [email protected] or at LinkedIn.

Training for a two-day cycling event


Check out Diane’s new e-program, Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.



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