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I'm cycling to work every day. It's 2x8km it takes around 30 mins (depends on weather, traffic and whether I want to push it or just cruise. I'm starting to see it as an opportunity to make it some sort of actual training - HIIT training maybe?

Something like alternate slow/fast kilometers (or 500 meters), or pushing any hill fast and taking the rest as recovery, etc.

Is it likely to provide significant improvements in Vo2 max? Why yes/no and what exercise structure (with given distances/times) would be most beneficial from that perspective?

Other details:

  • It's a good commute (mostly bike path with little traffic or secondary roads, relatively long straight lines in a lot of places, good surface, some hills). However 30 km/h is probably a maximal reasonable speed
  • I can run it too - about 35 mins
  • I'm prone to shin splint so I wouldn't do things like 1k intervals @ 3:30. Running/cycling uphill would be better (and recovery rest of time).
  • I have a cardio watch so I can keep pretty good stats of stuff

EDIT (To add details from comments)

  • David/gshenk: I'm actually at about 50 ml/kg/min for Vo2max @ 34 years old (that was ~1 years ago, might have gone down a tad), which as far as I know is not too shabby. The reason the commute is so slow is that it's still a city-ish setup (so I do have2 major intersections eating up a couple minutes because I HAVE to wait my turn, plus a little bit not connected I have to take a path & walk my bike on my shoulder). I'm also doing with a mountain bike (so relatively fat tires, not a gear setup especially given to high ratios). The other thing is that this is in the northeast and yes snow, ice & slush will quickly wreak havoc on your avg speed. Ah and I'm also carrying a small pack (lunch, clothes & sometimes a laptop). Nothing crazy but ~10-15 pounds on average. I know a saddle bag would be better.
    • So ~30 + or - 5 mins in winter, probably getting closer to 20min in the summer.
    • Criggie: I like your thinking. True I don't NEED to go straight to work (nor get directly back). Excellent idea to remove some constraints.
    • Some people seem concern about safety - I do hear the concern, but let's just assume for the sake of argument I'm not a total idiot and I'm not going to risk crashing in a trolley full of toddlers just to keep it in my Zone 5 HR interval....
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    i train cadence for the morning commute and power for the evening commute. less sweat. – ker2x Mar 26 at 6:08
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    Honestly, if you're only averaging 16km/h, I wouldn't worry about things like VO2 max. Just work to improve your general fitness. – David Richerby Mar 26 at 9:41
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    Totally agree with @DavidRicherby In addition, once fitness is at a level to gain good benefit from VO2 max work, you will be travelling a lot faster than the 30km/h you list as a maximum reasonable speed during such efforts – Andy P Mar 26 at 11:54
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    Who says you need to ride straight to work? Consider the scenic route, or the "tiki tour" as it might also be known. Pick a slightly longer route home, where you can shower and clean up rather than just before the workday. – Criggie Mar 26 at 12:30
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    You say you're on bike paths a lot. That's good for your safety, but it's not necessarily good for others', or for actually being able to train. Round here the bike paths have a lot of slow-moving users, and as they're shared with pedestrians they get a lot of dog walkers early. I doubt I could successfully run an interval routine on any I could reach more than about once a week. – Chris H Mar 26 at 16:48
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8 km is very short to be able to get in a quality warm-up and cool-down while still having time to get any decent intervals in. Unless you're a complete beginner, you're unlikely to get any meaningful benefit from doing intervals rather than just riding to work steadily. VO2 max intervals tend to be 4-10 minutes each, usually at least 4 in a session with very short ready intervals in between. This is because the most important factor for VO2 gains is the amount of time spent oxygen-depleted.

The only thing that I could see you improving during such a short ride would be your sprint. If you add in some very short (10-15 seconds) max efforts you may find that your peak power improves and the muscular improvement does somewhat help you in your longer rides. For your first few, do them on an uphill section (doesn't need to be very steep) and slow right down to nearly a stop. You should be in a gear that feels much too heavy when you start, but by the end of the interval your acceleration should have you spinning it at a reasonable cadence. These are more of a strength workout than a cardio workout, so you may find that you end up spending almost your entire ride recovering from the short intervals. Just remember that if you don't feel almost broken by the end of the session, you aren't doing proper strength work. Doing these twice a day, five days a week will eventually put far too much stress for your body to recover in time to do a quality session next time. Start off doing it once or twice a week, then maybe ramp up to three once you're used to it.

  • Doing these twice a day, five days a week will eventually put far too much stress for your body to recover Eventually?!?! Probably two days - if that - if they're done hard enough... ;-) All-out sprint intervals are hard. Even when I was in my best race shape, one all-out sprint workout and I would need a couple of days to recover. – Andrew Henle Mar 26 at 12:45
  • Thanks Carbon - let's say I'm into what Criggie commented and I can extend my commute to some arbitrary distance. What would be the minium amount of time/distance I need IYO in order to be able to get come sort of VO2 training in? – FranckyVee Mar 26 at 14:12
  • Also well noted - I probably shouldn't see it as ALL days are training days. Could be say I extend the commute every 2nd/3rd day, then see other days as recovery runs.... – FranckyVee Mar 26 at 17:01
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    To get a good VO2 session, the bare minimum is 4×4 minutes with max 1 minute recovery in between. Ideally this needs to be uninterrupted by traffic lights and intersections. You don't want to jump straight into these either, so you'll want about 10 minutes to warm up on the bike, as well as 5-10 minutes to spin down afterwards. If you don't spin down, you'll feel it in your legs all day and understand why I recommend it. I'm not sure what speed you will do VO2 work at, so I can't recommend a distance, but if you do the session that I've put here on a weekend, you'll find out what you need. – Carbon side up Mar 26 at 19:21
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    All right - so overall talking about bringing it up to ~ 3/4 hr travel time, including warmup & cool down. Seems quite reasonnable - even if I actually bring it to 1 hour that's within what I'd consider quite all right. And then as said likely not every day. The harder big might instead be finding suitable stretches without disturbances. And/or getting a fat bike - that's slow the pace down somewhat! – FranckyVee Mar 27 at 2:44
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It is a good idea to incorporate some workout into commute, but I do not think HIIT is suitable candidate since it should be done (as name implies) with very high intensity, and should leave you flat exhausted and shaky on your legs when done. Also pushing yourself to such limits inside regular traffic also does not sound as a great idea.

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    For traffic - yes and no. I have flexible hours - if I leave home ~6h30am, there' almost noone on the streets (plus part of if is bike path, also empty early one). The other part might be a bigger point though, true. You can propose other workouts - my aim is mostly to maximize the fitness benefits of my commute (e.g. can I do better than just pedal for 30 mins straight). – FranckyVee Mar 26 at 15:59
  • As for suggestion, feel free to step on it when conditions on commute allow for it, and also extend your route so that is longer, more challenging, and allows for safer ride when going faster. Then if you are determined to incorporate HIIT take time once or twice in a week, have suitable time and place that allows for proper warm up and cool down, and safe environment and do it. This would probably happen out of your regular commute maybe on extension of your return commute when you have a plenty of time. – Davorin Ruševljan Mar 27 at 9:52
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    One more thing H in HIIT is cruical - while doing it you should feel like you are going to pass out if you go for just one more second. And then you go for one second more, and one more, and.. The rest should feel like it passed in a blink of the eye - and your mind will go: "oh no, no, not full throttle this soon, I am not ready!". And while whole thing is relatively short, if you are anything like me, you will need at least 3-5 times more time to become yourself after the HIIT workout than the length of the "just" workout" – Davorin Ruševljan Mar 27 at 10:01
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    @Davorin wouldn't you think that pasing out while cycling at speed might be somewhat inconvenient? In my experience "feeling as if you are passing out" is a very good indicator that exactly that is about to happen. Are you certain your second comment is good advise? – gschenk Mar 27 at 12:19
  • I am just saying what level of intensity is assumed to perform HIIT, since everybody seems to be talking about it like miracle way of exercising while barely understanding the level of intensity required. So I am not advising to do so, more trying to warn that the whole thing is very demanding, and not something that is done by the way on daily commute. Note that driving oneself to point of actually passing out from effort is very difficult even for top athletes, usually one starts to feel like that much before, but yes, training on the edge of capabilities should be done with a lot of care. – Davorin Ruševljan Mar 27 at 12:35
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I have a similar commute. I do treat it as an exercise but not as 'training' per se. Exercise has just one fundamental goal - to stay healthy, whereas training usually implies a 'sports' goal. What is your actual aim? Cycling competition? Sprint? Muscles?

For an exercise, I believe you don't need any special plan or tactics. What I do is just ride the whole distance against time, competing against myself only: I'm not a fan of massaging my ego on Strava. And even then, within reason: not too much going to work, more effort going back; recovery should take minutes rather than hours; etc.

In my experience, just this daily commute keeps me steadily fit - but not competition-fit. I do my commute in under 15 min (typical average just above 30 km/h - by the cycling computer, i.e. excluding complete stops. This is fully on roads and paved bike paths, with a road bike, but in a rather hilly terrain). If I don't excercise for some time - say, after vacations - I see my performance drop simply by observing the time and average speed for the seemingly same effort over a few rides. It can take 2-3 weeks or even more to recover after a month's holiday. No need for fancy VO2 max tests, intervals, etc.

But for competition ('sport'), again in my experience, this all is not sufficient. Primarily because of the distance. Even longer commutes, even higher intencity ones do not replace weekend 100-200 km rides.

I've done some time in racing (still, on the amateur level, I never liked sport for the sport's sake). At one stage, I was riding most weekends 150-250 km, with no daily commutes. Then, I moved and started to commute (about 17 km each way then, with the same 30+ km/h average), with little weekend rides. After a year, despite accumulating nearly twice as much as before (something like 8000 km), I was clearly less fit - in terms of competition racing and overall endurance. Still, I couldn't complain about my health and overall 'reasonable' fitness.

TL;DR: if your aim is the classical cycling performance (that is, endurance), nothing will replace longer endurance rides, even if there are fewer of them covering lesser distance overall. But for staying fit and healthy in 'normal' life, making a reasonable simple exercise out of the daily commute is excellent. After all, you are killing two birds with one stone.

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it seems you have your answer considering all the comments : don't.

I'm very happy with my cadence training in the morning. I don't even use my garmin anymore but i'm around 100+rpm for 5km, probably around 30km/h, and when i finish my morning commute i feel refreshed instead of exhausted.

I would personally never do HIIT in the morning, without proper (time consuming) warmup impossible with such a short distance.

To be honest, if you absolutely want to focus on VO2max in this commute : run, don't cycle. It will be much more intense than cycling and since you're focusing on VO2max it doesn't matter which muscle you use.

I used to do "sport-étude" (a special school focusing on sport, special diet, training twice a day, competition every weekend), i gave up so i'm not a pro at this whole sport stuff and the reason we should do this or that, i just did what i was told to. But i do remember that warmup and diet was more important than anything else and it's something you simply don't have in the morning with the exception of competition weekend.

High intensity was the last thing we did : "give everything you have now that you're already exhausted, take a shower, eat, sleep"

Morning training was closer to yoga and meditation than HIIT.

I'll repeat my advice : cadence training in the morning, power in the evening.

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