Now the final piece - intervals to provide that improvement in your cardiovascular performance.
An ideal training week should include one long ride at a reasonable pace and a rest day or two. Rest is important, and if you ignore it, thinking that 7 days of riding = optimal training, then you will fail to reach your personal best. But more about over training next time.
That leaves you with 3 more riding days during your training week. One (or perhaps two) are going to be interval days - and these will be the key to your performance improvement. Intervals are based on pushing your anaerobic threshold, and it is this "stress" on the cardiovascular system that leads to adaptation and improvement (just as weight training improves muscle strength).
Intervals are most effective when they are :
- limited to twice a week during the peak training season
- when the interval sessions are separated by at least 48 hours to allow adequate recovery. (For example, if your long ride is on the weekend, Tuesday and Thursday make good interval days.)
To get the maximum benefit from interval training, it is important to allow adequate recovery time between intervals. Subsequent intervals should start before your heart rate and oxygen uptake have returned entirely to normal. If you are using a heart rate monitor, wait for your heart rate to drop to 60 or 65% of your maximum heart rate. If you are using perceived exertion (i.e. how you feel) to decide, wait until your breathing has returned to it's normal depth and rate.
For those of you interested in more specifics and ideas, there is more information @ http://www.cptips.com/intervl.htm
But just as rest days are important, setting reasonable interval training objectives is important as well. If you set the bar too high, burnout and training drop out rates rise.