These days, high intensity interval training is hot. More and more exercise researchers are discovering that steady state cardio still does a body good—but pushing your body during shorter bursts of high intensity effort can achieve similar—if not better—results in less time. Sure you have to work harder but I prefer to think of it as working smarter, taking a 60-minute indoor cycling class, for example, and getting all of the same health and fitness benefits in just 20 minutes. Who’s not up for that?
I’m a huge fan of the concept of adaptation: challenging your body to constantly adapt to new and different forces and intensities. This workout variety not only keeps you from hitting a fitness or weight-loss plateau (known as accommodation), but it also encourages better results overall. Case in point: the exerciser that does the same indoor cycling class five days a week and complains that his body isn’t changing. He's hit an accommodation point where the benefits of that particular exercise have diminished due to lack of variety within the exercise and lack of any cross-training. The solution: Mix it up with another workout modality (walking, running, strength training, yoga, etc.) and/or try to push harder during his usual workouts, such as with shorter, more intense workouts.
That's how I designed this stationary bike workout: to help anyone work out smarter and save time while preventing "accommodation" and encouraging an increased level of fitness. It features a series of surges in a structure called a pyramid. You will increase each surge by a certain length and then crest to the top to make your way back down the other side. By the end you should be struggling through the last surge of only 15 seconds. Yes, it's tough—but it works.
What's a surge? Surging is simply the act of increasing your leg speed or RPM (revolutions per minute) against a good amount resistance (gear or incline) to push your heart rate into a high-intensity zone that results in extraordinary cardiovascular response. That means you are working at your personal version of "very hard" during the surge and breathing heavily. Each surge should feel like the most you can give for that given duration of time. Make sure to always try your best, and try to complete every surge for the best results. (Note: Always use your best judgment and cut down on surge time or intensity if you need a slightly longer recovery. This workout is intended for people who have been taking part in cardiovascular/aerobic exercise for at least several weeks—not for beginners. However, beginners can adapt this workout by keeping surges at a lower, more reasonable intensity.)
What you need: Stationary bike and a watch with second hands or preset timer.
Before you begin: Make sure your bike is set up properly and that you have water and a towel handy. Perform a short warm up at a moderate intensity for about 3 minutes. After you are warm, bump up the resistance to a challenging work load that slows your legs to about 65 RPM (revolutions per minute) against resistance. A good way to think about this is when you are pushing into a surge you feel the bike pushing back with resistance. During recovery, you can maintain the resistance and slow down or take away the resistance to let your legs rest.
High-Intensity Interval Training Workout for the Stationary Bike
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This workout burns approximately 200 calories in 20 minutes (for a 150-pound woman), but your exact calories burned will depend on your body weight and how hard you work during every interval. While you may be burning fewer total calories in 20 minutes than in an hour-long workout class, interval training has a tendency to boost your calorie burn for several hours after the workout ends (relative to how hard you worked), and also boasts the same health and cardiovascular benefits as a longer workout. Give it a try on your Spinning bike, recumbent bike, indoor bike trainer, or standard stationary bike. I promise you'll feel this workout working for your body!