Pyramid intervals

Aim of Session

Structured high intensity pyramid session

Session description

WARM UP: 15 minutes, progressive from zone 1 to 3

MAIN SET: With a target power of upper zone 5 / zone 6 complete 7 intervals: 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1 min in length, equal recovery from preceding work interval

COOL DOWN: Easy spin for 10 to 15 minutes


This session will challenge both oxygen delivery AND oxygen utilisation systems in the body: as the exercise intensity used lies between the Critical Power and the VO2max. The 3 and 4 minute reps should in fact see your HR close to maximal values if you are working at the right intensity. Like the traditional 3 minute VO2max intervals, this session should extend the time spent at VO2max - if you were to exercise at VO2max you might only achieve 8 minutes of exercise - this session as you working at the same level, but the recovery periods allow you to extend overall time at maximum to twice that.

Application for the Rider

Although stressing the rider in a very similar way to the traditional 3 minute VO2max intervals, this enables a more gentle introduction to working in this intensity domain. The shorter reps allow a rider to 'feel' their way into the session; whilst the pyramid structure allows the session to be more targeted mentally. This session isn't just for riders in the earlier stages of their training history though.  Advanced riders may achieve more than one set in a session, although plenty of recovery time should be given between sets (15 to 20 minutes) in order to maintain the quality of the effort.

Practicalities and tips!

  • Find a flat section of road or one with a slight drag to give you something to work against. Some riders may prefer using a turbo for this session
  • Sit tall on the bike i.e. on the hoods, not on the drops. The aim of this session is to drive the heart rate towards maximum rather than work in any race specific position
  • Keep the power target constant across all 7 reps i.e. don't be tempted to go higher in the shorter reps just because you feel able to: the key is to have all 16 minutes worth of exercise at the same level i.e. VO2max

Evaluation of the session

  • Did you keep the target consistent rep to rep?
  • How close was your heart rate to maximum in each of the reps? In the longest rep (4 minutes) was HR beginning to level off, or was it still climbing?
  • How was your cadence? Using a higher cadence can help drive the HR to maximum which is our aim in this session. Absolute powers are less important
More in this category: « Power intervals Summit intervals »