In the last decade, the world of sport and fitness has experienced a massive increase in the popularity of high-intensity interval training, or HIIT.

The various protocols for this method of training involve repeated sets of intense effort interspersed with varying recovery periods.

Interestingly, HIIT has been explored as an alternative to continuous aerobic exercise, with some interesting results!

This article will explore HIIT workouts with a focus on cycling interval training. We will look at the benefits of HIIT on a bike in particular, and provide some effective cycling workouts for you to incorporate into your training to improve your performance on the bike.

How HIIT Can Help Your Cycling

Success on the bike relies on many physiological, biomechanical, and psychological factors, and the most effective training methods for endurance cyclists is a hotly explored area for researchers.

Interestingly, many cardiovascular benefits - such as increased cardiac muscle mass, stroke volume, oxygen diffusion rates, and fatigue resistance - have been shown in recent studies to be improved by high-intensity interval training as much, and sometimes more, than by continuous endurance training.

Besides, one huge benefit of HIIT is that it can provide these benefits with less training time required.

For body composition goals,  high-intensity interval training has also been shown to increase lipid metabolism during exercise recovery. This means that after a HIIT session, your body will burn fat at a higher rate while you rest!

The most important benefits for cyclists, however, are the significant improvements in time-trial performance, peak power, and overall anaerobic and aerobic performance provided by HIIT methods.

HIIT Protocols

Any workout that implements short periods of near maximal effort interspersed with rest periods can be classified as a HIIT session.

Here are some examples of the more well-known HIIT protocols.

Tabata

Not for the faint of heart, this method involves 8 rounds of ultra-intense effort for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds rest. The entire protocol goes for four minutes, but if done with maximal effort, it will feel like 30!

Fartlek

Meaning ‘speed play’ in Swedish, this method involves various intervals of higher intensity effort interspersed with lower intensity bouts, rather than full rest periods.

Fartlek is highly flexible and effective at adapting to whatever specific intervals apply most to your sport. This method also trains your anaerobic and aerobic systems in their ability to work effectively together without the use of full rest periods.

Zuniga

While you might not recognize the name, this regimen is simply 30 seconds at 90-100% of your maximum effort with 30 seconds rest, performed for as long as possible until intensity cannot be maintained.

Overall, studies have shown that although HIIT is highly effective in achieving the benefits we have mentioned, the differences between methods are small. This means that which method you choose is mainly up to your personal preference, and whichever method you feel is the most specific to your sport.

Off-Bike HIIT Training for Cycling Performance

All of these HIIT protocols can be used on the bike to improve power and performance, but a well-rounded cyclist will also take advantage of the benefits of muscular strength, core endurance, flexibility, and breathing capacity.

Combining resistance and aerobic training has been shown to improve strength and endurance in beginner athletes because of the neuromuscular adaptations like increased motor unit recruitment and force development.

Regarding stretching, static stretching during a warm-up significantly improves peak power and work capacity compared to a regular warm-up.

Cycling is a sport that produces a high level of global inspiratory muscle fatigue. With proper inspiratory muscle training, this fatigue can be decreased, enhancing both the perceptual response to maximal exercise and overall performance.

Check out the Airofit breathing trainer for an effective tool to enhance your inspiratory muscle performance!

3 HIIT Workouts for Cycling

Hill Climb


Warm-up: Begin your training session by doing a light ride on you bike for 10 mins

HIIT program:

  • Select a distance goal, for example, 1km
  • Set a high resistance to simulate a hill climb and perform as fast as possible
  • Decrease to light resistance and perform the same distance at an easy pace
  • This is a 1:1 work/rest ratio; repeat for 4 rounds

Cool-down: To cool your muscles, end your training session with a light bike ride. Complete your workout with leg and body stretches for around 10 mins. If you are optimizing your workout using a breathing trainer, try one of the cooling programs to get the oxygen to your muscles

You can mix up this workout by varying the goal distance or the resistance to simulate various hill gradients.

Overtake

Warm-up: Begin by doing a light bike ride for 10 mins on flat terrain to get your muscles ready.

HIIT program:

  • Set moderate resistance which allows maximal RPM
  • Tabata protocol 8 x 20 seconds maximal sprint
  • 10 seconds rest breaks
  • 2:1 work/rest ratio
  • Optional: Light ride 5-10 mins, repeat protocol 2-3 times

Cool-down: End this training session with a light ride for around 5 minutes. Remember to do a proper stretch for 5 minutes.

Complete Cyclist

Warm-up: Start your training with a short bike ride with little resistance. Do this for approximately 10 mins. Combine your workout with static stretches for hamstrings, hip flexors, lower back to prepare your joints properly and hold each stretch for 20-30 secs each.

HIIT program:

  • Tabata protocol 8 x 20 seconds
  • Perform one round for each exercise
  • Muscular power: Jump Squats
  • Core: Mountain Climbers
  • Posture: Superman Pulldowns
  • Work/Rest ratio 2:1
  • Total 3 Tabata rounds

Cool-down: End the workout session with a light bike ride along with stretches of both upper and lower body for around 10 minutes in total.

Breathing Training to Improve HIIT Performance

If you’ve ever done a HIIT session, you’ll know the feeling of finding it quite hard to breathe! This can be remedied with respiratory muscle training, which strengthens the muscles that help inflate and compress your lungs to get oxygen to your working muscles more efficiently.

This training can even be enhanced with devices such as the Airofit. These assistive tools act like dumbbells for your breathing muscles, resisting inspiration and expiration, making these muscles more resistant to fatigue.

Add this type of training to your routine to see big improvements in your exertion levels during HIIT training.

How to Add HIIT to Your Cycling Training Schedule

Research shows that the optimal amount of HIIT to produce the best results while limiting the risk of injury is three times per week.

Make sure you recover fully between sessions, and be aware that overdoing it will decrease adherence long term due to HIIT being more psychologically demanding than low-intensity exercise.

We hope this article has inspired you to add some HIIT into your cycling regimen! Let us know your favorite HIIT intervals.