Doing Intervals When Tired

Should You Do Your Intervals When You Are Tired?

Its a common practice among competitive cyclists to ride to weekly training races, race, and than sometimes ride home.  Even before they have started racing, some of these riders have put in over 100km.  The goal of these days is to create a big training load and are less focused on results in the race.  Instead, these sessions are used to simulate longer road races.

This practice has been around for decades.  Many legends of the sport will have stories of doing big rides to get to a race, winning the race, and than riding home.  But is this really the best practice?  With more and more science supporting the benefits of short, hard rides compared to longer ones, is their still room for this practice?  Should you do your intervals at the end of a ride when you are tired?tour de terra cotta


Starting your intervals with tired legs will stop you from hitting specific power goals meaning you won’t get the desired training effects from the intervals.  This is particularly important for VO2 max intervals and max effort sprints which require a high level of freshness in order to challenge these systems.

Its easy to tip over the edge into over training by doing too much.  If you are constantly over reaching day after day, and aren’t in tune with what your body is telling you, its easy to fall into a state of over training.tour de terra cotta


You have to race when you are fatigued, so why not train when you are fatigued?  If you always stop when you start feeling tired, than you will never train your body or your mind to push through that fatigue.  Races are usually won closer to the finish line, not the start line, when everyone is fatigued.  So if you are used to stopping in training when your legs and mind say stop, than you might do the same while racing.

Doing intervals when tired will help improve your lactate tolerance.  By pushing through the fatigue, you will teach your muscles to keep working even when they are burning.

When your preferred muscles fibers are fatigued from a long ride or hard efforts, you have to recruit less used fibers.  By forcing these lesser used fibers to work when your preferred fibers are tired, they can be developed to contribute more when you are fresh giving you more resources, and more power, to call upon.

The more you ride your bike, the more economic you will become.  As Fausto Coppi famously said when asked how to get faster: “Pedalare!  Pedalare!  Pedalare!”

tour de terra cotta“Start a Ride Easy, Finish a Ride Hard”

As you can see, there are a number of benefits from performing your efforts at the end of a ride.  And these benefits are not only reserved for racers.  Starting your ride easy and finishing it hard, also has benefits for sportive and club riders as many of the adaptations will help them finish their event or club ride stronger.

Unfortunately this style of training may not be suitable for all cyclists though.

First, it does require a fair amount of available time to ride.  If you only have a few hours a week to train, you will be better off just doing your intervals.  Although you can reap the above benefits by adding some hard efforts to the end of your longer weekend rides.

Second, it can be easy to over reach and fall into over training.  Therefore, this style of training is better suited for experienced riders who are more in tune with what their body is saying to them.time trialing


As the evidence suggests, there are many benefits to completing your intervals in an already fatigued state.  If you have the time to add a couple hours of endurance riding to your interval workouts, you will reap the benefits both physically and mentally.  Make your training replicate your racing.

In this post, we have only talked about how this practice works over a single ride.  In the next post, we will explore how to apply similar principles over a number of days in order to gain similar benefits and prepare for stage races as well.