Improve Your Cycling Fitness with Interval Training

Stationary Bike Workouts That Take You to the Next Level

spinning
spinning. Stockbyte/Getty Images

You’ve heard of indoor cycling, right? Sometimes called Spinning® -- which refers to a specific trademarked brand --  indoor cycling classes can benefit riders of all levels of fitness and cycling abilities. With a room full of other motivated people, music that fires you up and an instructor who knows how to get maximum effort from a class, from the second you clip into your bike you are in for an invigorating experience, unlike an ordinary stationary bike that can get boring very quickly.

(Related article: What happens in an indoor cycling class?)

Particularly for the intermediate or advanced cyclist, when the weather makes riding outside less enjoyable, indoor cycling on a stationary bike is an excellent interval training option to maintain and even increase fitness level.

First, what is interval training and why is it so important? Interval training is when you intentionally increase and decrease your heart rate by following periods of intense activity with active recovery. When you are consistent with this type of workout, you can develop increased resistance to fatigue and work harder for longer periods of time. In fact, interval training was designed to let you work at high intensity without becoming drained or over-trained. This increases your endurance, helps you develop speed, tempo, timing, rhythm and pedal cadence, and should become an important component of your training program.

Another benefit to interval training is it may increase your VO2 max. This is your heart pumping faster to transport more oxygen from the lungs to the muscle. Your body will be requiring more oxygen for the muscles so to help this process your lung capacity expands and you are able to pull in and absorb more oxygen with each breath.(Related article: Use a Heart Rate Monitor to track your exertion in an indoor cycling class.

Can you start to see how this would help your cycling? You know what it’s like to be stuck in a sustained headwind for miles and you are pedaling as hard as you possibly can. You look down and your heart rate monitor shows that your ticker is banging away at 92% and your legs are starting to feel like jelly. What’s next? Is it bonk time?

When you’ve been working on interval training through an indoor cycling program, you’d have been through this grind before, doing work efforts such as series of 92% of your maximum heart rate, broken up by rest periods where your heart rate would have dropped to 65%. Your abilities to buffer lactic acid build up and raise your anaerobic threshold (both key components of fatigue) would be much stronger. It also would have mentally prepared you for the challenge, because of your time in this controlled environment, where you’re very much in tune with your body. You know when you can push it some more, and when it is time to back off.

It's exactly those reasons that interval training has the most to offer cyclists in terms of fitness gains, and especially in the controlled environment of an indoor cycling class, which can really give you a lot of return in gains for a little time of effort.

It also allows for that mental connection which is so important for athletes.

Please note that interval training requires a basic fitness foundation for it to be effective. You have to build a solid aerobic base foundation first and that typically takes at least two months of training in the Endurance zone. Building this foundation allows for improvements in your cardiovascular system and help you build the stamina needed for the intense training that is required for Intervals. For maximum benefit to these workouts, please do not skip out on this most important step!