by Fred Matheny
Here’s the concept of this article in a nutshell: Forget heart monitors or power meters. Go flat out when riding intervals up to 5 minutes long.
Coach Dean Golich is not only infamous for his block training, but has also preached a heretical approach to doing intervals. In the past, he has counseled his riders to ignore the usual methods of gauging intensity, such as heart monitors and watts measuring devices. He eschewed elaborate training zones based on percentages of max heart rate or lactate threshold.
Instead, Golich argued, every interval should be ridden as hard as you can. What’s more, he didn’t want you to ride a 3-minute interval at a steady high pace, calculating how hard to push so you can last the distance. No such luck. Instead, he wanted you to start the interval with a sprint and hang on for all you’re worth.
“Don’t pace yourself,” says Golich. “Start each interval flat out. You’ll be struggling at the end, but that’s okay. That’s when you get the adaptation.”
Why Do This to Yourself?
Golich likes to invoke the “30 miles per hour rule” which states that if you never go 30 mph, you’ll never go 30 mph.
Put another way, if you don’t train at race intensities, you won’t be able to go that fast in a race. Don’t expect to do well at your goal pace, whether it’s 30, 25 or 20 mph, if you consistently train at lower speeds. If your goal is 25 mph in a time trial, start your interval with a hard charge off the line, then do your best to hold that pace. As you get tired, your speed will decrease but your effort won’t.
“If you do intervals this way, next week or next month you’ll be able to hold the speed longer,” says Golich. “You’ll feel fatigue but it will be temporary. It isn’t overtraining, so tough it out.”
Gearing is crucial to this type of interval training. If you start the effort in a relatively large gear at a reasonable cadence, say 90 rpm, and you don’t shift down, your cadence will get slower and slower as you fatigue.
Most cyclists aren’t accustomed to progressively shifting lower during an interval’s work session. They equate it with giving in. But for Golich’s intervals, effort is the most important thing, then high cadence. Gearing is a distant third—it’s only a tool to help you work as hard as you can. There’s no shame in shifting down. In fact, it’s necessary to keep effort flat out and your knees healthy.
Won’t such intensity lead to chronic fatigue? No, Golich argues, as long as you rest properly after these hard workouts.
No Heart Rate Monitor
Some riders may hesitate to do Golich’s intervals because they’re afraid of going too far over their lactate thresholds. They’re tied to heart rate training zones. Hard intervals, without feedback from a monitor, make them nervous.
“You don’t need a heart monitor for hard training,” Golich contends, “because there’s little correlation between heart rate and power output. When cyclists look at their heart rates during hard efforts and see low numbers, they’re supposed to stop the interval session and go home. But when I examine power meter data, often they’re putting out more power than a day or two earlier when their heart rates were higher. Heart rate isn’t a reliable indicator of power.”
Three Training Zones
Golich recognizes only 3 training zones—easy, medium and hard—determined subjectively.
An easy pace is for recovery days. It’s really easy—no pressure on the pedals—great for riding with a spouse or slower friend. A medium pace is defined as the effort you can sustain for an hour. Golich often prescribes 15-minute intervals at medium effort as a way to increase time trialing ability.
Should You Try This?
Any program this hard has dangers. Don’t attempt “hard as you can” intervals without heeding the following warnings:
• Get medical clearance before attempting this or any other form of intense athletic training, especially if you do not regularly exercise already.
• Have a solid base. You need aerobic conditioning for at least 8 weeks based on pro- gressively longer and harder rides. My programs in Off-Season Training for Roadies and Spring Training for Roadies are ideal for preparing you for the rigors of Golich’s intervals.
• Keep your cadence up. Save your knees by pedaling at 90-100 rpm throughout each effort. Shift to an easier gear as the interval progresses to keep both effort and cadence high.
• Limit the workouts. Train this way only once per week for no more than 4 weeks. Then use a training time trial or other test to gauge improvement. Don’t resume these inter- vals—or increase their frequency—until you’re sure your body is coping well with them.
• Stop in time. Don’t do these intervals within one week of an event you hope to do well in. Plan an appropriate taper.
• Monitor your enthusiasm. If you experience symptoms of overtraining such as deep fatigue, insomnia, apathy or loss of appetite, stop hard training and do steady-pace recovery rides until you feel fresh again.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred's full bio.