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High Intensity Cycling vs Long Slow Cycling

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

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

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the year

Question: “Is it better to do short high intensity rides, or should I do fewer long, slow rides?”

Diane’s reply: 
This is a good question, and one that gets asked frequently. The short answer is it depends on what you are trying to achieve. Every ride should have a purpose. That means rather than cycling too long and hard or too short and easy, you need to establish what it is you want out of your cycling. Do you want to simply improve your fitness, lose weight or compete in a race?

To make it easy I’ve created two checklists for you to use to help you determine what category you fall into, long and easier, or shorter and more intense. Each of the rides below, other than the recovery rides, should also have an additional 10 – 15 minutes of warm up and cool down.

– 2- 3 rides per week of shorter more intense rides.
– 10 -15 minutes of actual work time, with Intervals lasting from 1 – 3 minutes in length at an 8 out of 10 on the perceived level of exertion scale
– 1 short easy recovery ride of 20 – 30 minutes, in a very easy gear at a very low perceived level of exertion.

10 minutes easy spin to warm up
15×30 seconds of maximum intensity effort, followed by 30 seconds to 1 minute of easy spinning to recover in-between
10 minutes easy spin to cool down

– 3 longer rides per week, at a low to moderate intensity
– 60 minutes up to 2 hrs, at 6-7 out of 10 on the perceived level of exertion scale.

10 minutes easy spin to warm up
90 minutes on rolling terrain.
5 min easy spin to cool down

– 4-5 rides per week at a 6-7 out of 10 on the perceived level of exertion scale.
– 2 hrs up to 4 hours, depending on the length of the tour

10-15 minutes spin to warm up
2 hrs on a varied terrain, including a few climbs and some flatter portions
10 minutes spin to cool down

– 1 longer ride per week of 3-4 hours at a 5-7 out of 10 on the perceived level of exertion scale.
– 1-2 short more intense rides per week, at an 8-9 out of 10 on the perceived level of exertion scale. With 10 – 20 minutes of actual work on these rides. These rides may be done in an interval format, with 5 – 15-minute interval segments, or a single sustained effort of 10 – 20 minutes, at 8 out of 10 on the perceived level of exertion scale.
– 1-2 short easy recovery rides, at a 4-5 out of 10 on the perceived exertion scale and 30 – 45 minutes in length

Longer ride –
15-minute spin to warm up
3 hours on varied terrain, throwing in intermittent surges of 1 – 2 minutes of increased intensity. After each surge, reduce the intensity and spin the legs at a higher cadence to allow recovery, and then move back into a moderate pace.
10 minutes easy spin to cool down

Sustained effort –
10 minutes’ easy spin to warm up
20 minutes of sustained moderate to high intensity riding. Keep this portion of the ride to a relatively flatter terrain to allow for consistency in pace and effort.
10 minutes of easy spinning to cool down

Intervals –
10-15 minutes easy spin to warm up
4×5 minute intervals
With 2.5 minutes of easy spinning in-between to recover
10 minutes easy spin to cool down

Obviously, there would be a lot more to the schedule than my few examples. However, this checklist will at least give you an idea of what and how much you should be doing according to what your goals are. Most people have very busy lives. To make the best use of the time spent on your bike, first determine what your goal is then plan your rides accordingly. In addition, stay well-hydrated and be well-fueled going into each ride.

Whatever your goal may be, get out there and have fun.

Training for a two-day cycling eventDiane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, visit Diane’s website or contact her at

Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.

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