What's Cool In Road Cycling

Mailbag SPECIAL: Intervals!

Just as intervals cause the buildup of lactic acid in our legs, writing about intervals seems to generate an equally impressive buildup of mail and questions! So let’s do some spring cleaning of the Toolbox mailbag…

The Mechanics of the MAP Test
I have a difficulty in understanding the procedures of measuring MAP. You explained that power should be increased by 30 watt every 3 minute interval, keeping the same cadence and gearing throughout this test. My question is how it is possible to increase power, let say 30 watt, while maintaining the same cadence and the same gear as previous 3 minute interval?
Donny Ki

My basic question is Is there any recourse for those of us without a power meter or similar device? Without the basic info as a result of measuring one’s MAP or some other indicator, it seems the use of the intervals would not be very productive.
Mike Ingram

First off, the MAP test should be done in continuous 3 min intervals with no rest in between.

I based the MAP test and intervals on using the CompuTrainer cycle ergometer, which will automatically adjust the resistance to your cadence and maintain a constant power output. Units like these are the ideal way to both measure MAP and do controlled intervals because you can do the exact same power output at different cadences. What do you do if you have a power sensor like Powertap or no power monitor at all?

• If you have a Powertap/SRM/Polar power monitor, you will need to ensure that your resistance between the rear tire and the trainer is consistent between tests. Check out my article on Indoor Test Lab for ideas on how to do this. For the test itself, you will need to adjust the gearing to achieve the desired power output, but I would suggest keeping the cadence ~90 rpm throughout every workload to maintain consistency. Again, the key is consistency across tests, so keep a record of what gearing you use.

• If you don’t have any power output monitoring, you’re not really going to be able to quantify MAP or train based on it, but you can improvise somewhat as long as you can monitor speed and heart rate. Again, the main thing is to develop a consistent testing protocol so that you can compare results. As above, “calibrate” the resistance and set up a protocol of progressive increases in speed by adjusting gearing while maintaining cadence. See what heart rate and max speed you can get up to and use that as your basis for monitoring fitness.

When I’m at home on the rollers, I base my MAP workouts on speed. With fan resistance on my rollers, I know that 35 km/h is going to require the same power output regardless of gearing or cadence. Therefore, you can use your MAP test to figure out your MAP speed and then base workouts around speed instead.

Interpreting MAP Intervals
The third installment of the MAP information poses an interesting question. General consensus throughout the coaching ranks is to progress through a season by building an aerobic foundation based on longer less intense intervals to shorter more intense and more frequent intervals during a peak/race session or period. It was surprising to read that, “Along any curve, you generally want to progress throughout the season from higher reps (i.e., shorter intervals) to lower reps (i.e., longer intervals). That’s because your ultimate goal is to prolong the time you can handle a particular workload.”

What is the basis for the apparent paradigm shift?
Brys Francis

There is no paradigm shift here. The underlying philosophy of MAP intervals is to maximize your lactate threshold and aerobic capacity, NOT your sprinting, or anaerobic capacity. In other words, MAP intervals are not going to help you with the repeated high power outputs required during hill sprints or crits. Instead, they’re meant to build that aerobic foundation in order to optimize your subsequent honing of these abilities. You will typically want a heavy emphasis on MAP (i.e., aerobic) work through the winter and early season prior to anaerobic work in the peak season. You will still need to maintain your aerobic capacity throughout the peak periods of your season though, and MAP work continues to be useful throughout the whole season.

Thanks for the mail and keep them coming!

How the Pros handle intervals

MAP Intervals

Determining your Maximal Aerobic Power

Part 1 of our Interval series

Spin vs Push: Interval Physiology 101

The importance of lactate threshold

Frank Overton discusses the right versus wrong way to do intervals

About Stephen:
Stephen Cheung is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, with a research specialty in the effects of thermal stress on human physiology and performance. His company, Podium Performance, also provides elite sport science and training support to provincial and national-level athletes in a number of sports. He can be reached for comments or coaching inquiries at [email protected].

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