Mental toughness required per workout

I’m wondering how much mental toughness requiered for a workout depends on your ability to sustain different type of efforts ?
If your personal capacity doesn’t have much of an impact, can a HIIT workout not being hard enough on the psychological side mean that you’re doing it wrong ?
For exemple, I don’t have any problem on this level when I do 3x20m although I don’t have legs left and am very tired.
Same for sprint workouts.
For the 5x 1m all out / 1m rest, at the end I can’t do one more rep, and it’s just a little bit hard on the mental side.
But, when I do the 3x 4m all out / 2m rest on a 6% average climb, the 2nd rep is very hard, and the last one is alway the hardest challenge of my life to finish it.

Does it mean that I’m doing the other workouts wrong ?

Or can it be that it’s this specific type of effort that i struggle the most with ?

I hope I was clear enough.

It’s not really an issue of doing the workouts “wrong”. Both physiological capabilities and mental toughness are intertwined when it comes to athletic performance of any kind.

For example, if you are new to interval work and cycling doing 30 or 40 minute intervals at threshold is likely not reasonable and no amount of mental toughness is going to get you through it because your muscles have not built the necessary endurance to complete the work required. On the flip side, if you have built the necessary endurance but mental toughness is a weakness then these intervals will also be incredibly difficult.

Similarly, if you are a predominately slow twitch/steady state athlete physiologically then VO2 work will always be a struggle, although they become less of a struggle if you make sure to not neglect your VO2 System and train your fast twitch fibers. The reverse is true for predominately fast twitch athletes.

So when determining which factor is limiting you it’s important to take stock of your individual qualities as an athlete. How experienced are you? Do your workouts and associated individualized RPE indicate you are more slow twitch or fast twitch? Have you given all systems the appropriate TLC or have you been neglecting part of your power range? Do you quit early on intervals you know you should be able to complete? Do you perform substantially better in races than during workouts? Do you have your nutrition (on and off the bike) dialed in?

All relevant questions to ask. Also “+” and “-“ versions of workouts are there for a reason so don’t be afraid to use those as alternatives when appropriate.


It can’t be quantified but there are workouts I fear on my plan but this week after I’d listened to the podcast I went in with curiosity and came out much better.

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Wow, I didn’t expect such a complete answer. Thanks a lot !

I don’t have enough experience to know for sure which type of rider I am, but I’m already pretty confident I’m more of a slow twitch muscles guy.
My favorite workouts, and the ones where I do/feel better + see progress faster, are threshold workouts.

I don’t think I’ve been neglecting high intensity workouts, but my job ( which makes me ride my bike ) doesn’t give me a choice and I have to do volume over intensity. So I’m careful on not building too much fatigue.
The result of this is that I just have 2 intensity workouts a week, and just 1 of them is VO2max / sprints ( the other one is a threshold workout to improve my FTP over time ).
So it may be the reason I struggle the most in this workout.

Agree with all of the above. Something I also heard mentioned on the podcast at some point was that some people seem to have a preference, or increased tolerance, for certain kinds of discomfort- for example, some people find it easier to get through a 2-3min v02 interval knowing that there’s a break soon, even though it’s intensely unpleasant at the time . Other people are good at ‘settling in’ and sitting with the gradual discomfort and somewhat more daunting duration of a longer effort.
I wouldn’t say you’re doing the ‘easier’ workouts wrong if you’re completing them consistently and seeing adaptations- and, at the end of the day, not every workout has to be ridiculously hard- that would be pretty unsustainable physically and psychologically. If every workout felt awful and absolutely buried you, I can’t see that being an enjoyable or positive hobby long-term.

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This is a really good point. For example I can get through over/unders pretty easily, even the longer ones like Carpathian Peak +2. But I struggle hard doing similar length intervals at a steady 100% of FTP. Average power is the same, but the short 1min steps makes it so much easier mentally.

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Hi Angrod. if you are looking for a mathematical answer, we made a “difficulty” calculator for any workout, but particularly aimed at intervals. The problem we were having is we were prescribing intervals to coached riders based on cumulative TSS but this was wildly off when gaps between intervals were significant. So we wrote our own calculator. (ps if your workout is not an interval series just mark the interval number as 1). LINK:

Same here. For example, Lamarck is very difficult for me to do, meanwhile Leconte is manageable. I think there are two specific reasons for this. First, the work has you below threshold for several portions which gives some relief to the muscles during the intervals themselves, and secondly, the rest between sets is longer, which gives more time to actively recover between them. Those steady threshold intervals are just relentless and the last couple minutes can feel like the final 30 seconds of a 3-min VO2 interval, so it takes some serious mental strength to push through in my experience.

In response to OP, a good way to gauge difficulty of the session is the IF. That often tells you what head space you’ll need to be in to complete the work. Anything above .90 IF generally is near or at race intensity, and it will feel intensely hard at points. Those longer steady state intervals you mention generally are an IF between .86 and .88, which feels considerably easier.

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