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Are Russian Pyramids or Tabatas a better workout for cycling?

Coach Connor answers a reader question on multi-system workouts versus more targeted workouts.

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QUESTION: My typical HIIT workout is a “Russian Pyramid.” Is there any reason why a Tabata-style interval workout would be any better or worse? —Ryan Bates, Ann Arbor, Michigan

ANSWER: I’m a big fan of doing workouts that target just one or two specific energy systems. So, while some coaches absolutely love pyramids, I generally avoid them because most pyramid routines hit too many energy systems and no one system well.

Tabatas, on the other hand, are very targeted.

The key point is that it is very hard and painful to truly target and deplete your anaerobic capacity. Pyramids are short and target that anaerobic capacity. As long as you’re giving it your all, your pyramids are probably close if not equally effective, physiologically, as a specific Tabata protocol. That said, Pyramids are psychologically hard, and it is really hard to find the motivation to hurt that much. So, if your pyramids are more motivating for you than 40-20s or 20-10s, then you’re going to push yourself harder and get a better workout.

Just keep in mind that if you’re able to do three or even four sets of your pyramids, you’re probably not going hard enough. They need to hurt.