Motivation during hard intervals

When the power goes up or the intervals get longer, I often struggle to keep myself going. It gets really hard to ignore my body saying “stop!” During regular workouts it makes it a sufferfest, but since you have no choice but to finish the interval if you want to complete the workout, I can force myself through it. But during ramp tests, and especially during races when the season comes around, I often look back and feel like I gave up too soon. I always try to amp myself up for hard workouts and tell myself I can do it, but once the pain sets in that all goes away.

Generally, I can keep myself motivated to get on the bike and complete the workouts. Heck, I usually look back on the hard workouts and am glad I stuck it out in the name of progress, but it never gets easier to not give up early.
I have struggled with this for a long time, but now that I am taking up racing again I would like to try to address it if I can.

I’m curious if anyone here has suggestions, resources, or books I can take a look at?


I’m halfway through the book The Brave Athlete “Calm the F–k Down and Rise to the Occasion”, “ The Brave Athlete solves the 13 most common mental conundrums athletes face in their everyday training and in races.”

I don’t disagree with the authors. If I could just remember what they say when I need to more often. I’m getting there.

Have a gander, it may offer something to help you.

Also, I rotated my phone to vertical and the line moves across the interval much faster than when my phone is horizontal. Damn, that was a low tech, cheap, weirdly effective way to help me through intervals. So, there’s that, too.


2-Slap on a YouTube race - cyclocross or whatever you like
Sugary drink helps

3-Also make sure you’re fueling your workout as well .
4-Also personally found that if your pedaling realtively quickly a min > 80 rpm it helps with overall muscle pain and fatigue

Also my kid stares at me every now and then which is always a plus


The first thing you have to figure out is whether the intervals are hard on you mentally or physically. Reading your post, it seems you might be throwing both in the same pot. Learning to clearly distinguish between has been very helpful to me, because I address mental barriers differently than physical barriers.

Common situations (I think) I am close to my mental limit are when e. g. I have long threshold intervals coming up and right at the beginning of the second 16-minute interval, my mind tells me “Oh no, not another 15:35 minutes of this! I just can’t.” In these situations, my legs either feel ok or maybe a bit “dull”, but not bad or at the limit. Another typical sign is that I often give up right after a step at a ramp test. Many of my ramp test end after 20:00 minutes (+ the few seconds it takes for TR to pause the workout). That isn’t because I am such an expert at pacing that I always empty my tank at the 20-minute mark. It is that my legs are yelling “No more, I don’t want to go harder than this, I really struggled before already!” Plus, I know that anything past 19:30 minutes will lead to an FTP gain, so in a sense, I know I am already gaining. Another common occurrence during some ramp test are days when I don’t feel it. Interestingly, that seems to have no bearing on how well I do. There were plenty of days when I felt horrible, but my ramp test results were not just very, very good, but the result I got was accurate (as I validate my FTP test result with subsequent workouts). I reckon I am not alone here.

One thing that has helped me is find quantitative signs that tell me I am physically capable to do this. My favorite one is heart rate recovery: if after a hard interval my heart rate returns to < 130 bpm within 1:30–1:45 minutes, I know I am perfectly fine from a physical standpoint. I know I can and should push harder, because it is all in my head.

Sometimes, especially when my sleep wasn’t great or I did not sleep enough, I can be at my physical limit. A common sign is that I cannot hold my power during the last one or two intervals, and I need to take a breather after an interval. I do my hard intervals in resistance mode, so my preferred methods is to finish the intervals at best power. That is, I go as hard as I can. Even though it doesn’t feel as great as finishing the workout as prescribed, it feels way better than giving up. And if I am truly at my physical limit, but I mentally push through, I feel that I did my duty for the day.

Lastly, if the stars completely misalign and you you neither bring your mental nor physical A-game to the table, it is usually better to call it quits. Most of the time, I do an endurance workout instead. I found it counterproductive to “punish” myself here and pick the hardest endurance workout for a given workout duration. Mellower ones work much better for me (IF ≈ 0.60–0.63). Instead, try to figure out why you failed your workout. With experience you will learn what the most important factors are. In my case it is sleep and sleep consistency.


If they are short intervals but lots of them

I just focus on one interval at a time, focus on hitting the power.
When I am more than halfway through a set I start counting the intervals down
When I am more than halfway through the sets I tell myself you’re more than halfway there, you’ve got this.

If they are longer intervals

I tune out the time remaining and just focus on holding the power. I tune into my breathing and sensations in the legs and let the interval come to me. I remember that I’ve done a longer interval above my FTP when I did the 20 min FTP test. It reminds me I can do these length intervals at the intensity specified if I focus, recover, focus…


I usually just tell my self dont suck and keep going.

Break. Things. Down.

Be that time or the number of repeats. Focus on the then & there. That’s all you can control. If you’re looking to get back into racing, you’ll already now that your pre-race A, B, C & D plans have probably gone in the bin after the first ten minutes and you’re adapting to the situation around you. When the chips are down and you’re questioning yourself, this is all you can do.

Give yourself 30 seconds. Try an increase in cadence. Adjust your position, unzip your jersey, take your hands off the bars and release any tension build up. Basically, distract yourself for a handful of seconds. Then assess. Can you do another minute? Perfect. You get that done and you challenge yourself for the next minute. It might not ‘easier’ but minute by minute is easier to tackle than 10+ at threshold.

Just like racing, you know that it can’t be all guns blazing from start to finish. You just have to make that initial gut-busting effort to hang in there. Then the pace eases and you tell yourself, ‘Yeah, I can do this!’

Problem is, the more you quit, the easier it becomes to quit. If you really can’t get it done, you’ll know in your heart and you’ll have found a true weakness that can be improved. That’s actually a great place to be.

Good luck :+1:


I think the other thing thats not been suggested and is worth considering is that you might be over fatigued - psychologically or physically.

Are you motivated to train? If not - it could be a sign that you need some rest.

Whenever I get on the bike and have the combined sense of both ‘my legs feel like shit’ and ‘i just can’t be bothered’, I either swap the workout out with a Z2 ride, swap that day out for my weekly rest day, or just take an additional rest day (in order of how shit I feel!).

If this happens a few times in a row, or I still have to really gut it out to get through a workout I will look at my calendar and see if I might need an extra recovery week or to take the upcoming one early.

Eg: Friday I felt knackered but just about got through my over unders. Sat I was going to do sweetspot, but felt like shit so swapped out with z2. Sunday I still felt tired so took a day off. Monday I did a 6.0 vo2 and felt amazing - could have done another 30mins. If I hadn’t adjusted, I would have spiraled.


The easy way to motivate yourself on a ramp test is to imagine having to show a half-arsed FTP number to all your friends and the whole world on Strava…

This only works when you’re already deep in the pain and all rationality has left you… :grinning:


Stuff that’s worked for me:

  • Longer intervals (SS and Threshold) indoors. Stick the trainer in erg mode, watch a fairly gripping movie or TV series and try to zone out. The suffering level is never that high, it’s the sloooooowness of the clock that kills me so I play games to distract myself like “not going to look at the timer again until character A next appears”. Definitely also pays to build the interval length of these gradually, even if it’s low end of zone like 85% FTP I can’t just jump straight to 20 minute efforts. Starting out with 5-6 minute intervals with short recoveries and building up (maybe some of the ones with 30-60 second microbreaks) from one week to the next is the way to go.
  • Longer intervals outdoors. Focus on trying to get as much speed as I can from the power. Tucking elbows in, head position, smooth pedalling, etc. All good race specific stuff and gives a different emphasis to just looking at the power numbers.
  • Short hard stuff (up to 90 seconds or so). I find these OK as the pain is over fairly quickly, some pumping music or watching something that’s heavy on action and light on plot (or that I’ve seen before so don’t care about the plot) gets me through.
  • Longer hard stuff (2+ minute VO2 intervals). These are going to suck however you do them, my least bad option is doing them outside on a hill, either repeating efforts on the same hill or if they’re 4-6 minute efforts with longer recoveries I have a series of suitable hills close together. Better still if you can find people to do them with to share the suffering and reduce the chances of quitting.

I reframe the hard intervals in my mind. Instead of fearing them or being aprehensive I’ve changed my attitude to looking foward to them and the attitude “this is why I’m training”

When it starts to get hard in an interval I have a few different mental thought process depending on my mood but it’s usually stuff like “this is where the magic happens” or “this is why I’m in the garge at 05:30, so let’s go”.

I also tell myself to smile during intervals.

It all sounds a bit woo woo but I’ve found it helps me.


I’m one of those people who prefers to watch tv and use Erg and just do my best to ignore the pain, but I think this is a fantastic approach to those workouts when you’re REALLY suffering. Since I’m using Erg, I tend to click to decrease the % in the moment, and this gets discouraging after you’ve had to click and see the number drop 5+ times. I need to try switching over to resistance the next time this happens. Also, Happy Birthday!


As mentioned above, I’m also a fan of using math games to decrease the perceived time remaining. “Ok, 7 minutes (or intervals) to go, I’ve done three already, so I’m 3/10ths of the way there. One more minute/interval and it will be 4/10ths, which is 2/5ths, or close to half way done…if I do pedal focus drills I can easily get through the next minute…”, etc. If those things aren’t working, I try reducing the intensity to just finish the workout.

For me, this is the indoor version of “I will not give up until I get to that tree…ok, now that sign up ahead…ok, now that section where that big shadow is on the road…oh look, another rider, I’m going to keep it up until I catch them…ok, I caught them, can’t quit now or they will know, so let me just get to that next tree…”


For me, I attribute this not to physical limits, but self-doubt that builds until you give up. Our minds are negative assessment machines. We’re always taking in input and negative signals are way stronger than positive ones because our brain is trying to keep us from getting eaten by a sabre tooth tiger. You really have to manage the negative thoughts and push them out because as soon as that first little niggle happens 14 minutes into a ramp test, your brain wants to put a limit on how much more you can endure after that. You’re thinking, “I’m having a bad day”, “I don’t have the legs”, “I’m not as fit as I was last time,” but the reality is your brain is reacting to a negative signal.

One way to deal with it is to be prepared. You get prepared through experience and reflection. You ramp tested many times before. You know that first sign of weakness occurs around this time. You also know that isn’t the end of the test for you and that usually you start to feel better after a couple minutes until the next sign of weakness comes and then that goes away as well until you get to the home stretch. Then the home stretch is about holding on as long as you can until you can’t any more.

I think this can be applied to racing as well, but you might need to add some additional guardrails to account for race tactics. For one, you know you absolutely can’t get dropped from the group you need to be in. Therefore, all effort win or lose needs to apply to not getting dropped. If you get dropped race over. You also need a realistic goal for races because winning isn’t always the option, but beating your goal can be. If you make that goal sufficiently hard, but it’s realistic, then that’s a carrot to chase.

Last I’ll say, and in this, I may differ from the majority, but if every workout feels this way, you are working too hard. From a minimum effective dose perspective, if every workout is crushing you, then that seems like it could be counter productive to keeping you motivated, recovered enough, and successful enough to gain confidence. There is a time and place to train the pain tolerance or “toughness,” but I don’t think that is all the time. I kind of like to think of it similarly to periodization. Toughness is easiest gained when you are fresh and prepared for it, which can’t be all the time in my opinion. If every workout is this way, I’d look at lower my FTP or answering the Adaptive Training questions differently. This is also one of the reasons I think polarization helps. It’s much easier to get up for the one or two hard workouts a week, vs four.


Anyone else just put on david goggins videos on youtube?


You pretty much just summed up the “Brave” book mentioned above

I may be in the minority, but I find him incredibly unmotivating.

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I think that feeling of ‘I could have done more’ after a ramp test is normal. Your peak one minute power in the test is probably only 2/3 of your true one min power. It’s just the cumulative effect of all the work leading into it that causes you to stop.

I certainly can’t push through it. And nor should you try. The idea is to have a correct calibration for your training.
Your regular intervals will be even harder/impossible if you inflate your ftp test :grinning:

For sets of intervals, I like to rename them.
If doing 4x for example then I do the scheduled warmup and then call the work intervals :

  1. The warm up,
  2. The effort,
  3. The penultimate and
  4. The last one :tada:

If 6x then:

  1. 1 & 2. The warm up,
  2. 3 & 4. The effort
  3. The penultimate and
  4. The last one :tada: etc etc

And all my focus is on the penultimate one. It’s the hardest of the lot.

I can usually get through anything like that :grinning:


I think your in the majority. I have unhealthy training motivation


Might have been mentioned, but I ask myself “is this getting harder?”. If I am 10 minutes into an interval and it is the same difficulty as it was at 5 minutes, I know it is mental. If I am actually breathing harder or my legs are burning more, it is physical. For long intervals, it is mental >90% of the time.

Here is one other suggestion: Try using a different app to control your trainer for intervals you struggle with the most. I struggle with long sustained intervals when I use TR. So if I see a 2x20 SS workout scheduled, I will use my wahoo app to control my trainer and with the goal of doing 40 minutes at sweet spot with the longest sustained intervals I can.

Doing the two things above has changed my mental framework from “I can’t believe I have 10 minutes left” to “this is not getting harder, I will go 2 more minutes” until I hit at least 20.