HIIT IT! High Intensity Interval Training on the Bike

Fitness trends come and go.  What you did yesterday or a year ago may be proven ineffective tomorrow.   High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a hot trend right now and you’ll find gyms and fitness centers/studios hopping on the bandwagon trying to benefit, financially, from this trend. However, those of you who have been involved in cycling, swimming, or running recognize that this “trend” has been around for many years and has a variety of names and variety of methods.

I distinctly remember the summer of 1982 with my swim coach, Bud Higgins, sitting on the deck of the pool, smoking a cigarette, wearing one brown sock and one black sock, asking us to do “Fartleks.” When you’re in 7th grade, a crusty old man asking for “fartleks” is just too funny! He had a group of teenagers laughing hysterically and was soon frustrated by our lack of maturity.   However, we weren’t laughing for long as this type of work is challenging. In Swedish, fartlek means “speed play.” In this drill, we spent time swimming at race pace, followed by recovery time. Call it what you like, interval training has been around for a long time, has been shown to have great benefit, and, fortunately, can save you from boredom during a long workout.

Recently, Running World Magazine reported “relatively fast performance gains with a reduced training volume makes [HIIT on a bike] a time efficient method of training.” Increased performance? Efficient training method? Yes, please! Sign me up!

Minnesota is not an ideal state to be a cyclist. We are forced to ride indoors for a good chunk of the year as weather and daylight hours are limited. It’s mid-April and the sun is coming up right around 7:00 a.m. with a temperature of 38 degrees. For a gal who likes to workout first thing in the morning (think 5:30 a.m.), I am still riding indoors. This morning, coffee in hand, cycling clothes on, music cued, I rode 40 minutes using a HIIT Profile. As an indoor cycle instructor, I find it fun to create a workout and add music.I don’t think I’d find motivation to ride even a short amount of time indoors without a plan and music.Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 8.23.58 AM

 Here’s how this morning went down:


HIIT workout as shown by heart rate monitor on Runmeter.

8:00 Minutes Warm-Up. Flat road; light resistance on wheel (should be able to feel the road); cadence right around 90 RPM. Goal to raise heart rate to around 70% of max. (Perceived exertion of 6 on a scale of 1-10.)

7:00 Minutes Ladder #1
—:30 seconds Increased resistance, increased speed (90-100 RPM)—looking to drive heart rate up to 75% or 7
—:30 seconds recover—leave resistance on, reduce speed
—:45 seconds Work—pick up speed, add resistance if needed. Pushing heart rate up to zone 4 (80-85 of max) or perceived exertion of 8-9.
—:30 seconds—soft pedal, leave resistance, recover
—1:00 minute—push heart rate up with increased speed resistance, looking for zone 5 (heart rate 85-90% of max) and perceived exertion of 9-9.5. Should be very uncomfortable and you shouldn’t be able to hold it for long.
—:30 seconds—recover. Soft pedal. Grab a drink. Use your breath to bring your heart rate down.
—1:00 minute—hit it hard again.
—:30 seconds—recover
—:45 seconds—give it all you’ve got
—:30 seconds—recover
—:30 seconds—GO! Fast! Longer recovery ahead!

4:00 minutes— Find your flat road and allow your heart rate to recover to 65-70% of max. 5-6 on the perceived exertion scale. Should be able to talk again. Don’t let your heart rate dip back down into zone 1, you’re not done.

9:00 Minutes—Long Hill. First 4 minutes add resistance every 30 seconds until cadence drops to around 70 RPM and heart rate goes back up to zone 3. 75-80% of max heart rate. Hold. Minutes 5-9 increase speed, but don’t reduce resistance. Heart rate goes back up to zone 4. Your legs should be very warm and starting to fatigue. Heart rate is up. Short of breath. Strong.

3:00 Minutes—recover to that flat road. Allow your heart rate to come back down and shake out your legs. Imagine coasting down a hill with a slow cadence. Grab a drink and hold your heart rate in zone 3.

7:00 Minutes—Hit that Ladder again. Saving nothing. Reaching for zone 5 every. single. time. It should hurt. The good kind of hurt.

5:00 minutes—Recover/Cool down on the bike. Allow your legs to roll at around 80 RPM. Gradually bringing cadence down and stretching out. Pat yourself on the back.

Indoor riding is so much better than not riding at all. As much as you try, you can’t create that “real hill,” really feel the wind in your hair, or experience the giddy exhilaration that comes with riding a bike. But, if you mix it up. Do a combination of endurance (also known as aerobic base building) rides, strength rides (hills), and intervals and you’ll be better prepared for outdoor season.

Aren’t stuck inside?  You can do HIIT rides outdoors!  Depending on where you live, you might have the perfect landscape for a high intensity interval rides every single day…a variety of grade in hill climbs, a strong wind blowing in your face, a riding partner who likes to chase? Or, you might live in the plains with very little change in terrain with a line of sight for miles. Either way, there are ways to challenge yourself  with high intensity intervals using the basics of speed (cadence) and resistance (outdoors this is hills or big gears).

Try this:

  1. Hill repeats. Just like it sounds. Find a hill. Ride up it. Turn around and coast down. Repeat. I have a hill near me that is about a quarter mile long with a relatively steep grade. I love to do five to eight repeats on that baby and ride home. Takes about an hour round trip. Good workout every time.

    hill photo

    Pick a start and finish line and make loops.  Watch for traffic as you U-turn!

  2. Ride with a group. Take turns “pulling” the group. The front rider has to work about 30% harder than the drafters. Make sure you practice this skill and know your group. Communication is key to NOT crashing. Riding in close proximity to others is a dangerous game. But, if you race, it’s part of the game. If you do triathlons, this is against the rules. Know your fellow riders. Follow the rules.
  3. Just go out and ride! Pick off riders and landmarks one at a time. See that tree? Race to it. Rider in distance in front of you? Go get him/her. Race your friends to the top of the hill or the mailbox. Oh, and always, out run the dog.Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 8.34.08 AM

The Saturday forecast is good though and my bike is tuned and ready to roll. My friend Lisa and I both have new bikes and the countdown to RAGBRAI is on. Time to put some real miles in.

PrintChris is a Moxie Cycling ambassador and blog contributor. Check out her bio here!


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