Steady intervals vs varying intervals for most effective training?

Good Afternoon,

Curious if you have advice on this sort of thing. I was curious about the effectiveness of steady intervals vs varying intervals. For instance, if I want to work on MAP is there a difference in effectiveness if I did something like MAP: 2 Sets of 3x2 steady intervals over something like A Very Dark Place that varies cadence, power levels, standing/sitting, etc. (one of my favorite and most painful workouts I do for MAP)? Or does the effectiveness just come from X watts per X minutes total? Or, alternatively, is the most effective way to grow a power zone to just do that zone such as a straight 5 minute MAP interval multiple times?

Secondarily, when I’m really doing steady indoor workouts I generally do an FTP/MAP workout day one, then NM/AC day two, rest, repeat one more time in a week. So this week I did Attacker on Monday, then I did Violator Tuesday, Wednesday I did a rest day, and repeat again Thursday/Friday that schedule but maybe Defender followed by Shovel, etc. I’ve always just looked at it like a gym schedule when I used to do power lifting back in the day.

Thanks in advance!


There are two elements for improving maximal aerobic power, but they all come down to more mitochondria and muscle capillaries. The way we promote growth of these is either the long slow duration sessions, or higher intensity intervals. Then, specifically for MAP, the key part of that is VO2max, or the maximal oxygen usage state. This can be achieved with varying and steady state intervals such as you mentioned. I think the biggest benefit for you will be to vary the sessions as this varies the training stimulus and allows further training adaptations to occur


OK that sounds good. The main thing for me is if I can do varying intervals that total X power over X time. It’s just more interesting to me and keeps me focused versus just steady watts over X time, like doing a steady 300 watts for five minutes. I get bored doing things like that, which is why I love Sufferfest because the interval might total 300 watts over five minutes, but the power and activity is changing through the full five minute interval.

That said I’ll try to through in a steady state workout from time to time to see how it feels and mix it up a little bit. Thanks for getting back to me!

Hi, from personal experience it’s worth noting, that you also train the mind. Suffering through long climbs, or on long flats against the wind with your feet screaming and your mind offering an easy way out (just stop pedalling;)
It doesn’t always just come down to the legs… so, train both (I also love Cobblers for that reason!)


Yep. Many (most?) workout include a lot of variation to help keep in interesting and less tedious rather than for any physoligic benefit. IMO, for short variations of power, cadence, standing/sitting, the body averages out the normalize power anyway and IF, so net effect is the same as if it was held steady. Outdoors is a lot different for me as there are a lot more external stimuli to keep it from being so tedious.


I don’t think they’re going to be entirely the same physiologically. MAP as a “power zone” is a simplification for convenience, whereas as you acn guess and as Coach Andy already started explaining, there are many physiological components that support it, including:

  • mitochondrial density and function in the working muscles (which support pretty much everything except max sprints, although they do support recovery from tehm)
  • capillary density
  • the “central” components of Vo2max like stroke volume in the heart
  • but also anaerobic capacity and anaerobic power. This is definitionally true because it’s an effort above FTP but its going to be a different relative contribution for each person

At least as i understand it, any MAP effort is going to help improve these parameters but i don’t think every MAP workout does it the same way.

Like, for the central Vo2max adaptations, i think steady efforts are goign to do it best: they are hard enough to get you up to vo2max before stroke volume starts decreasing (so that you actually hit max stroke volume), but not so hard that you can’t stay there for a few devastating minutes. They also are probably best for working mitochondrial density and function in the big motor units that are not normally recruited when you’re doing low intensity efforts.

On the other hand, the intermittent efforts–where the “on” parts are going to be harder than your steady intervals–are probably better at increasing anaerobic capacity and pwoer because they are grabbing even bigger motor units (the size principle which you’re probably very familiar with from weightlifting background). But they would not be as good at getting you up to max stroke volume relative to steady intervals.

I know folks look at the Ronnestadt study to say that intermittent intervals improve vo2max as much or better, but htere were some weaknesses in the control group for that study, they didn’t go hard enough to give an apples to apples comparison. I think intermittent intervals are great at anaerobic capacity and power, and i’m sure great at raising vo2max at first, but likely that piece of the benefit tapers off as you get fitter.

But bottom line, still best to mix it up :slight_smile:


Thanks for the insights from everyone! Sounds like mixing it up works well, and if I’m targeting a certain range to throw in some flat intervals for max effectiveness. I’ll probably stick to the mixed intervals for the most part to keep me from getting bored (flat intervals break my brain lol).


You make a good point about the mind training. I have just completed a map block followed by the map progression series. Last week I switched to the ftp progression and my mind was throwing a hissy fit about holding an effort for 5 whole minutes after a diet of 30sec efforts.It seemed impossible even though the power was much less


With training, you got your three Ps; physics, physiology, and psychology. The physics is very simple, the physiology is very complex, and the psychology…well…


Lol I’ve had to come to terms that a 10 minute interval is about all my mind can take before I just get super bored, or as it starts to get harder you’re just doing a slow drag on the mental pain, and I’m just over the whole thing. Kudos to people that can do repeated 20 minute efforts, at least on an indoor trainer.

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I just rode I. Boswell 3: Power Endurance. Looks like G.O.A.T. until you get to the end. Then you get high cadence sweet spot for five minutes. That’s a real kick in the legs.

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