We know pedaling away on a cardio machine isn’t the same as flying over hills in the fresh air. Don’t fret. You can get in-and-out of the gym and still have the same benefits of your long rides by saddling up for bouts on high intensity interval training (HIIT) on a stationary cycle. These four rigorous routines will help you cruise through the last few weeks of cold-weather confinement and prep your legs and lungs for that celebratory spring joyride.
Before each of these interval sessions, you’ll want to perform a proper warmup or else you’ll blow up quickly. “It takes a fair bit of time to prime the aerobic system and thoroughly heat up the muscles before doing interval work on the bike, especially for higher-intensity efforts,” says James Herrera, founder of Colorado-based athletic coaching firm Performance Driven and licensed USA Cycling Level 1 coach.
Do this: Get on your stationary bike, and begin pedaling easy. Without touching your resistance, gradually increase your cadence—about 5 to 10 RPM— every 30 seconds for 2 minutes. The last 30 seconds should be at the highest cadence you can hold without bouncing in the saddle, but still light and fast. After 2 minutes, pedal easy for 1 to 2 minutes.
After the quick rest, focus on strength: Increase your resistance about 25 percent and pick up your speed to match. After 30 seconds, increase resistance another 25 percent but maintain your cadence. Increase the resistance twice more for another minute. Your final 30 seconds should be fairly difficult, but you should be maintaining a similar cadence throughout the two minutes. Pedal easy for 1 to 2 minutes before your workout begins.
Pushing your speed gets your heart pumping and muscles burning in less than 30 seconds. “This workout is great for exhausting the legs, increasing horsepower, improving your aerobic capacity, or training for criterium racing or cyclocross fitness,” says Herrera.
Do this: After warming up, ride for a 30-second interval at close to top speed—95 to 98 percent effort or faster than 100 RPM—then back off and ride for 30 seconds at an easy pace. Repeat this for 6 intervals. After your last interval, ease up and ride at a neutral pace for 5 minutes. That’s one round. Try for 2 rounds. For advanced riders, kick your intervals up to 1 minute on and off.
Head for the Hills
The best way to bulk up your legs? Spend 15 minutes gradually climbing a single hill. And after you enjoy a break, do it all over again. “Simulating hills can help increase your power and stamina,” says Pablo Toribio, founder of New York-based fitness studio Pablo Fitness.
Do this: After warming up, ride at 40 percent your maximum resistance for 5 minutes, aiming for 80 to 90 RPM. Begin your climb by pedaling at 60 percent of your max resistance—hitting about 70 to 80 RPM—for 5 minutes. Finally, move out of the saddle and kick up the resistance to 80 percent of your max for another 5 minutes. In the last round, your resistance should be hard enough to slow your cadence to 60 to 70 RPM. That’s one round. Do at least 2 rounds, and finish with a 5-minute cool down.
Tabata TorchersSo you don’t have the time to be on a bike for 30? That’s fine. This workout can crush your body in half the time. “If you’re on a time crunch, Tabata intervals burn a high amount of calories and increase your speed,” says Herrera.
Do this: After warming up, start your first interval by pedaling for 20 seconds at maximum effort—aim for 95 to 110 RPM—followed by 10 seconds of easy pedaling for recovery. Repeat this for 8 intervals—or 4 minutes total—then pedal easy for 1 minute. That’s one round. Do at least 2 rounds, working your way up to 4 rounds over time.
Lactate ShuttleIf you feel like you’ve been losing your fitness during the winter, or just took a break on the bike, it’s easy to feel like you can’t go hard the first time back spinning. “During higher-intensity exercise, lactate is produced faster than the tissues can remove it, and a high lactate concentration causes you to slow your pace,” says Herrera. Building up your lactate’s capabilities will help you keep a stronger pace for longer rides.
Do this: After warming up, start with neutral resistance and fast speed. Ride at 85 to 90 percent of your maximum effort for 4 minutes. (Shoot for 90 to 100 RPM). Recover for 1½ to 2 minutes. Turn up the resistance to where you can maintain a slower cadence—around 75 to 90 RPM—while pushing at 85 to 90 percent of your maximum ability. Ride at this level for 4 minutes, followed by 1½ to 2 minutes recovery. That’s one round. Build up to 4 total rounds.