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H.I.I.T. and Explosive training : Improvement of performance in cycling

by P. Debraux | 5 February 2019

HIIT, Interval Training, high intensity, cycling, explosive, training, sport, science, performance, method

Cycling is a sport that requires important qualities of endurance and strength. Depending on the discipline (road cycling, mountain biking, track cycling, etc.), these qualities are more or less developed. In road cycling, in addition to having a high aerobic power and a high level of endurance, it is also important to work on muscular strength and explosivity for acceleration, sprints, and time trial, for example.

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Training methods like H.I.I.T. (i.e., high intensity interval training) are recognized for their interest in increasing anaerobic and aerobic performance simultaneously. Some studies have shown that H.I.I.T. allowed gains in Time trial performance.

On the other hand, the training of physical variables such as force and explosivity is a little less developed among road cyclists. Nevertheless, it seems that the benefits are interesting : Improvement of "Time Trial" performance, reduction of oxygen consumption and increase in average power.

Few studies have examined the effect on performance of the two types of combined workouts. In addition, most of the work published on H.I.I.T. in cycling were realized during off-competition periods. It is therefore unclear whether the addition of high intensity interval training in competition periods could be beneficial or not.

The Study

In 2005, New Zealand researchers investigated the effect on performance in national-level road cyclists of combined explosive and HIIT training in the same session.

For this, 18 cyclists in competition period participated in the study. The researchers divided them into 2 groups : a Test group and a Control group. All cyclists performed laboratory tests before and after the 5 weeks of the protocol. These tests were spread over 2 days :

Day 1 :

  • Incremental Cyclo Ergometer Test to Determine M.A.P. (Maximal Aerobic Power)
  • 4km "Time trial" simulation to determine average power output

Day 2 :

  • Evaluation of oxygen consumption and blood lactate concentration at 60 and 80% of M.A.P.
  • 1km "Time Trial" simulation to determine average power output

Concerning the training protocol, while the Control group followed its established training schedule, the Test group replaced part of their usual training with 12 30-minute sessions combining explosive and interval work. The 12 sessions were spread over 4 to 5 weeks with 2 to 3 sessions per week. Each session consisted of a work alternating 3 sets of explosive work on one leg with 3 sets of maximum intensity sprints on cyclo-ergometer:

  • Explosive Training : 3 sets of 20 box jumps on a 40 cm high box with 2 minutes of rest between sets.
  • H.I.I.T. : 3 sets of 5 sprints of 30s at maximum intensity with 30s of rest between sprints and 2 minutes between sets.

Results & Analyzes

On average, both groups performed the same number of training hours / weekly competitions (~ 12 hours / week). And for the Test group, between the 1st and 2nd practice sessions, the average power during sprints increased by an average of ~ 5%, and between session 2 and 12, it increased on average by ~ 9%. Table 1 illustrates differences in measured variables between tests before and after the 5-weeks protocol.

The results of this study show that 12 sessions combining explosive training and H.I.I.T. allow quite significant performance gains for cyclists. It is also important to note that this protocol was put in place during the competitive period, and not before, as in most studies. The training volume of this protocol accounted for about 20% of the total weekly volume.

The most marked changes were observed on the power output during the various tests. Even if this is uncertain, it appears that these changes could be mainly caused by the work in H.I.I.T. rather than explosive work. The decrease in oxygen consumption is often observed following a strength training. But here, the decline was 3.2% on average, this slight decrease can be explained by the fact that the muscular work done was not focused on maximum strength.

Although it is impossible to know the relative contribution of the two types of training, the increase in performance is greater than previous studies, suggesting that the combination of the two types of training is better, in this group of cyclists.

In addition, the authors believe that the improvement of nearly 9% in mean power produced during a test of "Time Trial" over 1km cannot be due solely to work in HIIT, but that it would be also a reflection of neuromuscular adaptation. In fact, an explosive training makes it possible to improve the frequency of recruitment of the motor units, which increases the maximum force developed and the rate of force development.

Practical Applications

This study shows that the combination of H.I.I.T. and explosive training can be very effective for well-trained cyclists, even in competition. For just 12 sessions of 30 minutes, cyclists improved their average power output, while improving their maximum power by 14% in 30s sprints. Introducing this type of training in the conditioning of road cyclists could allow performance gains during acceleration phases, among others.

Nevertheless, it remains to determine the relative benefits of each training in the optimization of the performance, and thus be able to establish a combined training protocol that would be even more efficient.


  1. Paton CD and Hopkins WG. Combining explosive and high-resistance training improves performance in competitive cyclists. J Strength Cond Res 19 (4) : 826-830, 2005.

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