Judging Intensity on Short Intervals

Some people have inquired recently about how to judge proper intensity levels on short intervals.

My answer is that, much like you have to train yourself to do a snatch, you have to train yourself to recognize what max intensity really feels like and how to combine mental, physical, and technical details in order to make it happen.  I find that of all the things I work on as an athlete, the true feeling of high intensity is one of the easiest to forget.  A lot of times I will blow out a PR on a “good day” when I’m feeling great, and it makes me realize how many other training sessions I’ve done in which I thought I had reached max intensity, but I really hadn’t.

High intensity is also about working the margins, eliminating the tiny last few variables in your technique, and finding a few incremental changes that, collectively, will give you that last 1% that separates high intensity from max intensity.

I approach any short interval workout of <1 minute work cycles as a "max watts while maintaining technique" intensity.  I.e. on the C2 , while I might aspire to average 385 watts (~1:37 pace) for a 2K time trial, I would try to exceed 500 watts (~1:28 pace) for repeated 30-sec intervals. This would still be about 150-200w short of absolute max watts in a 10-stroke test, however absolute max watts would not be done with clean and sustainable technique.

Another gauge of intensity that I use is more subjective.  As the workout progresses, I try to hit the same or better results for each interval.  This gets harder and harder with each progressive interval.  If I reach a point where, no matter what I do, I can’t push the results any higher, or they start to go down, then I know I’ve reached the max intensity I’m going to on that given day.  If your heart tells you that you had nothing more to give, then it’s probably true.


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