Step down intervals

Step-down-intervalsAim of Session

Blocks of sustained effort, decreasing in length, at target race pace

Session description

WARM UP: 10 to 15 minutes of progressive warm up, ending in zone 3 for a few minutes, included in session duration

MAIN SET: 8, 6, 4 and 2 min blocks in mid zone 5. Recovery half duration of work bout, easy pedalling between blocks

COOL DOWN: 5-10 minutes of easy spinning 


In theory, the middle of zone 5 is the intensity of the ‘Critical Power’, and is thus sustainable for 20 to 30 minutes if working non-stop. At this intensity, there is an increasing fatigue, as it lies above the second threshold, and metabolites such as lactic acid are accumulating in the muscle and blood. It is only time before exercise has to stop. The aim of training at this intensity is to slow down the rate of this fatigue so you can exercise longer (or exercise at a higher power for the same effect). Training slightly above CP (in these blocks) will build the systems of lactate clearance, and enhance your ability to provide energy anaerobically. It is also suggested that race pace work like this is the best way to improve race intensity efficiency.

Application for the Rider

Working in zone 5 is an incredibly demanding intensity for an athlete. Whilst 20 to 30 minutes at this intensity is sustainable in races, to ask a rider to do that in training is unwise. Therefore, we look to accumulate as much time as we can at race pace by chunking into smaller time periods. The step down interval approach works well mentally, as the biggest time period is completed first when fresh.

Practicalities and tips!

  • The specificity of the session is a key factor – to make the biggest impact on your race fitness, make sure you train in the race position and at race cadences.

Evaluation of the session

  • How well did you hit your pre-session targets? Were cadence and heart rate similar to race conditions?
  • Were cadence and heart rate similar to race conditions?
More in this category: « Redline pyramid Target intervals »