Every interval of our training plans is intentionally placed and structured to make you faster. So what should you do if you can’t complete an interval? Here’s our simple guide to teach you how to know when it’s okay to bail out of an interval workout, plus tips for bailing out smartly.
Interval workouts are meant to push your limits. Some are relatively easy, while some are incredibly tough, but a properly designed workout should never be impossible. In almost every case with TrainerRoad you should never have to quit a workout. This is due to the sound scientific principles we use to create our workouts and the fact that every workout is scaled to your personal fitness level, making every interval within reach.
However, there are rare scenarios where you may have to call it quits before the end of the workout. Illness and fatigue can hinder the recovery process and your physical potential to such a degree that you simply aren’t capable of continuing your training as prescribed.
There are various ways to bail out of an interval workout, but the most important thing to remember is that making an adjustment to a workout is not failing.
In most cases, the goal of your workout is very specific, and if you are only able to put out 94% FTP for ten minutes when you’re intended to be putting out 100% FTP, then you might be a little too far from the workout’s intended goals.
Power zones are much more than a simple “easy to hard” scale. Each zone represents a different mixture of energy systems and physiological processes in our body that are being utilized to make you pedal. As you increase the intensity, your body will place more emphasis on certain energy systems that were less active during low intensities.
This doesn’t mean that when you leave the Threshold power zone and go to VO2 that your body completely closes off one energy system and opens another. It’s much more gradual than that, but the principle remains. We want you taxing specific energy systems in specific ways.
Strategies to Prevent Total Bailout
There are a handful of ways to make adjustments to your workouts if you feel like you’re at risk of having to bail out of your workout completely. Each of these strategies should be used sparingly.
Simply backpedal for ten seconds and then get back into things. The goal with this is to give yourself a quick break from the heavy workload with zero-force pedaling. This will help your muscles play catch up on lactate processing and give yourself a chance to catch your breath as well as refocus your mind.
Cut it short
Cutting a work interval short and using that time to increase the duration of the next recovery interval is a great strategy for higher intensity workouts where intensity is paramount.
Pausing the workout in a recovery valley is an effective way to let yourself catch up without harming the integrity of your work intervals. However, it must be said that the rest intervals of a workout are just as important as the work intervals. How much time you spend resting is just as intentional as how much time you spend working, so this one has to be used extra sparingly.
Lowering the intensity of your work intervals is a good option if you find yourself doing lower intensity intervals (Threshold and below). As the intensity decreases, there is more focus on time spent working than the specific target at which you are working. Decreases in intensity in the range of 1-5% should be employed, but anything below that can start to detract from the purpose of the workout.
Pull the plug
If you find that after making adjustments to your workout that you’re performance is still degrading, then close the workout and open a recovery workout. If this is still too much, focus on resting with the same dedication you apply to training. It’ll pay off.
Knowing When to Quit
If you find yourself questioning whether you can complete an interval, there are a few indicators that will tell you when to make adjustments. These indicators vary depending on the intensity of the intervals in your workout, but the general idea is to use your average power during intervals to understand if you are underperforming or not.
During workouts with high intensity, short duration intervals, keep an eye on the average power from intervals 2-5. In many cases you need to give yourself a couple of intervals to fully warm up and adjust to the heavy workload.
Lower intensity, long duration intervals can be different. If you have three 15- or 20-minute threshold, sweetspot or tempo intervals, then you should be able to tell in the first several minutes of the opening interval if you need to make an adjustment.
As always, decisions made with more data will always be more informed, so give yourself some time to really know if you need to make an adjustment or not.
If you’re doing an intense workout with anaerobic intervals (121-150% FTP), then keep an eye on your average power during intervals 2-4. If you find yourself unable to put out power above 125% FTP (as long as a higher power target is prescribed), then that is your indicator that you need to make an adjustment.
High intensity training like anaerobic interval workouts puts a premium on how much time you are spending at a specific intensity. Consequently, if you find yourself needing to make an adjustment, try backpedaling, cutting it short or pausing.
VO2 Max Intervals
Still considered high-intensity intervals, during a workout with VO2 max intervals look for average power below 110% (as long as a higher power target is prescribed) from intervals 2-4.
Backpedaling, cutting it short and pausing are also good strategies for VO2 Max interval workouts.
If you find yourself unable to maintain power above 95% of FTP during threshold intervals, then you’re missing some of the intended benefits of the workout.
In addition to backpedaling, cutting it short and pausing, threshold intervals are the first case where decreasing intensity can be used. Once again, be judicious with this.
Sweetspot is much more forgiving in nature, but if you find yourself unable to maintain 85% FTP when a higher target is prescribed, use whatever bailout strategy you find to be effective. As always, do all you can to maintain the prescribed intensity, but don’t allow this to compromise an entire workout. Sweetspot and lower power zones are where work time increases in importance.
In most cases our workout text will remind you of these adjustments during the workout. With time, you should recognize which strategies are most effective for specific types of workouts. That said, remember to never rush into making an adjustment because you just feel bad before you even get on the bike. Give yourself time to warm up. You may very well surprise yourself!
Listen to Certified Cycling Coaches Discuss Bailout Strategies
“How to Know When to Bail Out” is one topic we covered in last week’s episode of the Ask a Cycling Coach podcast. Listen to the episode’s full recording below to hear this and other questions from cyclists get answered by our certified cycling coaches.
TrainerRoad’s Ask a Cycling Coach podcast is dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. It gives you the chance to get answers to your cycling and triathlon training questions from USAC certified coaches Chad Timmerman, Jonathan Lee and special guests. Learn more about other topics we covered in the latest episode with our resources below:
- Why can’t I hold steady power?
- How to use cadence to analyze your training
- Is heart rate better than power?
- How to use power meters to measure your performance
- Why heart rate zones and power zones don’t line up
- How to use VO2 Max for cyclists
- How VO2 intervals increase endurance
- What is the difference between tempo and sweetspot
- What benefits come from high intensity training
- How does tempo training improve endurance?
- Is tempo training bad?
- How to plan weight loss for cycling
- How to use indoor training during race season
- How to know when to bail out of an interval workout
- What does resting heart rate mean in terms of performance?
- How to mix high intensity intervals with base training
- How to use tabata training for cycling
- How to improve your VO2 Max
- How to use weight training for cycling
- How to incorporate indoor training with group rides
If you have a question that you’d like to ask Coach Chad, submit your question here. We’ll do our best to answer them on the next episode of the Ask a Cycling Coach podcast.
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