Good Better Best, Interval Training Done Right

Objective rather than Subjective

Data should be the driver of fitness simply because of its objectivity. How often have we heard, I ’feel’ rested only to then have sub-optimal results in our training. If we think of it in terms of good, better, best in utilizing objective measures to drive our training sessions then we can think of Time, HR Zones or SmO2 as tools to guide us.

Lets use an example interval training session and break it down for each of the above categories. The intended stimulus for this training session will be increasing ‘anaerobic’ threshold. This is the very top end of our athletic ability or when the lactate coursing through your body sets you on fire. We will increase anaerobic threshold utilizing the Echo Bike, what can I say, I am a fan of human suffering.


Utilizing structured work: rest intervals will create a magnificent stimulus for the largest part of the population eliciting health benefits much needed. If you are someone that wants to have overall general fitness that translates to an active lifestyle and quality of life, then by all means proceed with utilizing intervals and going off of ‘feel’.

Example Training Interval

8 x :20 Work / :40 Rest

Like most people utilizing this type of interval, you rip into that echo bike ramping up through the :20 seconds. The first 1-3 intervals you can hold a high pace. As the lactate builds with nowhere to flush our system finds it more difficult to create the same muscle contractions and as such your output begins to decrease with each subsequent interval.

Did you get a great workout? Yes. Your quads probably feel 3 times their usual size and your lungs are on fire. Was this an optimal use of the training session to increase ‘anaerobic’ threshold? Probably not, we can definitely be more efficient. Utilizing this type of interval, we don’t even know if we got to our threshold as we have to go by ‘feel’ rather than any objective measure.


However, ‘feel’ is very subjective and how you feel today is not necessarily how you will feel tomorrow. So what tools can we introduce that will allow us to work from objective data rather than subjective feel? Two main tools that have been utilized to great success within the sporting community like cycling, running etc. are Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and HR Zones. Ill focus more on HR Zones here but if you want to read a little further on FTP read this.

HR Zones

The reason why your output or speed decreases through intervals is because you are simply not respecting the vital part of the interval; rest. In order to achieve the intended stimulus of increasing endurance or getting faster you have to ensure your body is receiving the appropriate amount of rest. Too often we short change the rest and waste a perfect good training session by getting less than desired results.

Interval Training Session with HR Zones

Let’s build an example interval training session utilizing the Echo Bike to increase top end threshold (what some folks call anaerobic) or zone 5. If you love lactate and how it makes you feel then you are crazy. Seriously, the best way to build top end threshold is quite literally hitting intervals in this Zone 5.

Example Z5 Training Interval

8 x :20 Zone 5 Echo Bike / Recover

Like most people not familiar with using HR Zones for interval training, the time doesn’t start UNTIL you get to HR Z5. Let me repeat this very important point. If you are training Z5 your work interval does not begin UNTIL you get to Z5. If you are working Z5 for :20 and it takes you :15 seconds to get your heart rate to Z5 then you only did the intended stimulus for :5. This completely misses the intended stimulus for the interval.

As such, you probably see now that we have established when the work begins, that recovery is the most important aspect. Otherwise, you might only be able to hit Z5 2 or 3 times. So, when does recovery start when using HR Zones? When you are back in Z1. This might take :40, 1 minute, 3 minutes it doesn’t matter. The only important thing is that your system is recovered back to Z1 to allow you to be able to ramp back to Z5 for :20 7 more times or until you’re unable to get to Z5!

Let this sink in. A session that might under ‘traditional’ go by feel methods take 2 minutes, might now take 20 minutes. However, do we do a better job of increasing ‘anaerobic’ threshold? Absolutely, because we have the objective data of our HR Z5 to let us know we spend :20 in Z5 for 8 intervals.


So, what is the best method we can utilize for interval training? Stay tuned, I’ll cover that in the next blog post.