One of the great things about HIIT (high intensity interval training) is that you can apply the principles to almost any exercise that you enjoy.
Since bicycling is so popular, let’s talk about the benefits of HIIT cycling and the potential pitfalls of doing HIIT on a bike.
What is HIIT Cycling?
First of all, let me mention that almost everything in this article applies equally to regular and stationary bikes.
HIIT means that you exercise at an intense level followed by a low intensity rest and recovery interval.
Your intense interval should be done with as much energy as possible. A good rule of thumb is to get your heart rate up to 85% of your theoretical maximum.
The formula for your high intensity heart rate is (220 – Your Age) x 0.85. For instance, if you are 40 years old, then (220 – 40) x 0.85 = 180 x 0.85 = 153 beats per minute.
There’s lots of room for you to experiment with intervals that match your strength and fitness levels.
When you’re starting out, try doing a high intensity level for 1 minute followed by 2 minutes of rest and recovery.
Rest and recovery means you pedal as slowly as you can based on the road conditions.
After the two minutes, quickly accelerate to get your hear rate up to 85%.
As you get stronger, try to reduce your rest and recovery interval.
Toward the end of this article I will explain 3 different methods you can use to design your HIIT bike workout.
Benefits of HIIT on a Bike
An HIIT bike workout will give you the same fitness benefits that others have experienced applying HIIT to different forms of exercise. The next few paragraphs discuss those benefits.
Short HIIT workouts give you the same fitness benefits as long steady-state cardio workouts.
For example, researchers found that a group of college students doing 4-minute long HIIT workouts had the same increase in their fitness level as another group doing 30 minutes of steady-state cardio.
Boost Your Metabolism
HIIT can give your metabolism a boost by increasing your muscle mass. Since muscles require more energy than fat, you’ll automatically burn more calories.
Also, after a strong HIIT workout you’ll experience the afterburn effect. Since your workout will deplete the oxygen in your system, your body will continue to work to replace that oxygen. This process continues to require extra calories for up to 36 hours.
As the name implies, an HIIT workout is intense. Because of the intensity of your workout, your body needs lots of energy in a hurry.
This causes your body to unlock the energy stored in your body fat. The result – you burn body fat.
VO2 max is a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen you can use during intense exercise. This is a significant factor of your ability to perform sustained exercise.
HIIT workouts train your body to use oxygen more efficiently.
Reduces Knee Impact
You’ll find that an HIIT bike routine will be easier on your knees and feet than running or jogging.
Of course, it’s important that your bike is properly fitted to you to avoid putting strain on your knee joints.
HIIT Cycling – Not Always Easy
Unfortunately, there are downsides to HIIT cycling outdoors.
There are many factors that can mess up your intervals.
I think the most significant of these would be:
- curves in the road
Therefore, if you’re interested in doing an HIIT bike workout outdoors, it’s important to carefully plan your route.
Try to find a section of straight road without significant traffic and only gentle hills.
If you can do that, then you’ll be ready for a great HIIT cycling experience.
Stationary Bike HIIT – Can it be Done?
There’s a lot of talk these days about HIIT and doing it on a stationary bike.
Some people question whether you can even do an HIIT workout on an exercise bike.
Some folks just want to understand the pros and cons of stationary bike HIIT.
I see the question quite often in forums: “I’m hearing a lot about the benefits of an HIIT workout. Can I do it on my exercise bike?”
In a word: Yes!
In fact, it could be that an exercise bike is perfect for an HIIT workout.
On your stationary bike you’re able to control both the resistance and how fast you peddle.
This gives you a lot of control over the high intensity portion of your workout.
If you’re new to HIIT, I would suggest doing the high intensity interval for a short time. It’s very popular to do the intense interval for 8 seconds followed by 12 seconds of low intensity work.
See what works for you.
Remember, during the rest and recovery interval, peddle very slowly. It seems that part of the benefit of the HIIT system comes from making the low intensity interval as much as a recovery session as is possible.
After the recovery interval, throw yourself into the high intensity interval with renewed vigor.
HIIT Stationary Bike
You don’t need a special HIIT exercise bike to have a great workout.
All you need is a stationary bike that you can adjust to fit you.
Make sure your bike is comfortable to sit on and to peddle.
Women, you may need a special saddle that properly accommodates your hip bones.
That was my wife’s experience. After a while she discovered that the saddle on her bike was making her sore. When she switched to a woman’s saddle, her pain went away and her riding enjoyment returned.
Also, make sure that you can raise the saddle to the proper height so that you get good leg extension as you peddle.
Stationary Bike HIIT Benefits
Here’s a short list of benefits that apply to HIIT in general and using an exercise bike in particular:
- workouts can be short
- burn fat
- lose weight
- build muscle
To learn more about these benefits, read the whole article here.
Using an exercise bike for your HIIT workout can give you some additional benefits.
You’ll find that your exercise bike workout is easier on your knees and other joints than running or jogging. That means you can use your exercise bike for an HIIT workout and also recover from stress caused by your running routine.
Also, a stationary bike does not need a lot of room. That means, if you can afford to buy one, then you’ll always be able to workout at home. Even in the worst winter weather, you’ll have access to a great workout.
Negatives of HIIT on a Stationary Bike
As much as I love HIIT workouts, it’s still necessary to point out the potential downsides.
Many people complain that they find working out on an exercise bike boring.
No matter how many miles your bike says you’ve gone, the scenery hasn’t changed!
You can lessen this problem somewhat by joining a “spinning” or “indoor cycling” class.
You’ll be with other members and the instructors are trained to help make the workouts interesting.
Also, you can purchase DVDs of scenery that you can use to tailor your workout to the scene shown on the screen.
Also, you must make sure that your bike and saddle are properly fitted for you.
An improper fit may not be obvious during your workout. However, you may discover you’re extra sore the next few days and don’t feel like working out.
HIIT Cycling Workout – Tips to Get You Started
Whether you are interested in doing HIIT on a bike outdoors or indoors, you have a lot of ways to create an interesting and enjoyable workout.
An HIIT bike routine means that you need to alternate intervals of intense work with rest and recovery intervals.
Let’s look at 3 ways to do this based on
- heart rate
HIIT Based on Distance
If your bike has an odometer, all you need to do is keep track of the distance you’ve traveled.
For example, you could make your intense work interval 1/10 of a mile and then do a rest and recovery interval for the same distance.
Your intense interval needs to be long enough so that your workout is challenging. Similarly, your rest and recovery interval needs to be long enough so that you regain energy for the next repetition. However, you don’t want either interval to be too long.
Be sure during the rest and recovery interval that you are pedaling as slowly as possible with very little resistance.
Most people are familiar with HIIT based on time intervals.
There are many to choose from.
The classic Tabata Method uses a 20-second high intensity interval followed by 10 seconds of rest and recovery.
Some people find that these intervals are not suitable for an exercise bike. They recommend working for 8 seconds with 12 seconds of recovery.
Others suggest that your recovery interval needs to be twice as long as your work interval. They would suggest, for example, 30 seconds of work followed by 1 minute of rest / recovery.
In the world of running there is a training method called the Modified Mona Fartlek. You could easily adapt that method to your HIIT bike workout.
The basic system is
- pedal fast for 15 seconds, then recovery for 15 seconds
- pedal fast for 30 seconds, then recovery for 30 seconds
- pedal fast for 60 seconds, then recovery for 60 seconds
- pedal fast for 90 seconds, then recovery for 90 seconds
Repeat this 3 times.
Don’t be surprised if this workout exhausts you! Be sure to modify it to suit your fitness level.
HIIT Heart Rate Workout
You can do HIIT on a bike by monitoring your heart rate.
During the high intensity interval you’ll try to get your heart to beat at 85% of its maximum. You’re rest and recovery interval will last until your heart slows to 65% of its max.
The formulas you need are:
High intensity (85% of max) calculation:
(220 – Age) x 0.85
Low intensity (65% of max) calculation:
(220 – Age) x 0.65
For example, if you are 50, then your number are:
high intensity: (220 – 50) x 0.85 = 170 x 0.85 = 144 beats per minute
low intensity: (220 – 50) x 0.65 = 170 x 0.65 = 110 beats per minute
Start by pedaling until your heart is beating 144 times beats per minute (as in the example). Maintain that pace for, say, 60 seconds.
Then slow your pedaling until your heart rate drops down to 110 beats. This may take several minutes.
Depending upon your fitness level, try repeating this cycle 5 or 10 times.
This type of HIIT bike routine will be easy if you have a good heart monitor you can wear during your workout.
HIIT on Your Bike
I hope this article has shown you that there are lots of good ways you can enjoy an HIIT bike workout.
There really is no end to the different workouts you can create.
Go ahead and experiment.
By changing up your HIIT bike routine you’ll keep your workouts interesting and you won’t get stuck in a rut.