Make Your Indoor Cycling a HIIT this Winter

by David Shaffer

The cold, slick months are here, which means many people will soon turn (if they have not already) to stationary machines for their cardio fitness. While there are some diehard enthusiasts among us who swear by exercising outside (me included), very often the winter weather does not cooperate with our plans for safe, effective outdoor activity. Whether you are a person that loves, or loathes, the treadmill and indoor bike—or stair mill, elliptical, arc trainer, etc.—at some point you will likely be forced to move your training inside. Indoor training does not need to be boring and monotonous, though. In fact, using programmed speeds, inclines, resistance and being able to see data on the screen in front of you can lead to more consistent workouts than you may be able to achieve outside.

If a cardio workout is what you are aiming for, there are a lot of options, including spin classes, treadmill classes, Peloton classes, preprogrammed machine workouts, and more, but the workout that I want to talk about is the tried-and-true interval and, more specifically, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).* People often use these terms interchangeably—or more often they misuse or misunderstand exactly what HIIT is—but the simple answer is that HIIT is a type of interval training, but not all intervals qualify as HIIT.

So, what is HIIT, exactly, and why is it beneficial? First, interval training is any type of workout that involves a work period (the hard part) and a recovery period (the easy part). Most intervals workouts are designed so that you recover enough to be “fresh” for the next work period. For example, a runner or cyclist will run or ride at a pace toward the top end of their aerobic capabilities for two to ten minutes. Then, they may walk or do an easy “spin” until their heartrate recovers before doing another work interval. Most intervals are done in the aerobic zone to build endurance, stamina, or lock in a race pace, but they are not usually designed to be a crushing effort. An interval workout may typically take twenty to forty minutes and can cover several miles of distance.

The goal of High Intensity Interval Training, on the other hand, and the key difference from traditional intervals, is to get the heart rate high and then keep it high for the remainder of the workout. A traditional HIIT workout may involve doing an exercise (i.e. anaerobic sprinting at a perceived exertion of nine out of ten) for 30 seconds, resting for 30 seconds, and then repeating. The 30-second rest period is enough to take a few deep breaths and reset your mind, but not enough for your heart rate to recover much below 70% of max. A true HIIT workout might total five or ten minutes, and generally the body can only handle one or two per week.

Another advantage of HIIT is that it is simple to implement. You can add it to another workout—think five hard minutes at the end of a longer workout—or it can be a standalone session. Truthfully any exercise that pushes you to full cardio exhaustion can be utilized, but typically sprinting, rowing, or power cycling are great options. If you do it correctly, it will probably test you mentally a bit, too.

I know what you are thinking, “David, that sounds terrible. Why would I intentionally inflict that amount of discomfort on myself?” For starters, even the casual athlete will realize some definite performance benefits. Sport aside, though, studies are now starting to show that HIIT can have awesome benefits for the general population, as well. If you want to strengthen your heart muscle, look no further. Looking to shed a few pounds? It boosts your metabolism. Do you suffer from diabetes or high blood pressure? Physical exertion can help with both of those. Crunched for time and looking for the most bang for your buck? HIIT is it! It also builds muscle, strengthens your bones, and boosts natural levels of human growth hormone.

Most importantly, it can break up the monotony of another day on the “dreadmill,” and, believe it or not, you might even find it fun–if you are like me and think that challenging your mind and body in physically demanding ways is fun, of course. 

No matter whether you are a casual walker or a world class cyclist, adding a HIIT session or two per week can be great for your performance and your health. If you are a little scared of the “high intensity” part, start with a slightly longer interval at a moderate intensity (i.e. walk more vigorously for sixty to ninety seconds). Spacing a few of those throughout your longer walk will not be quite as taxing, but it will still elevate your heart rate! 

*As always, it is important to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine, especially if you have underlying conditions.

Happy New Year from HABPI!

David Shaffer is a member of the HABPI Board of Directors. David is a certified personal trainer and running coach with a studio in Gettysburg. He is also an avid lover of all things outdoors.