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a man on an indoor cycle

Few workouts are as versatile and customizable as indoor cycling. It’s great for cross-training and fat-burning — and “requires little coordination and no special skills,” says Emily Booth, EDG Cycle signature program lead for Life Time. “You can get the benefits of high-intensity training without a negative impact on your joints.”

For the following high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routine, designed by Booth, use a group fitness cycling bike with a resistance knob.

The more resistance, the harder you have to push to move the pedals. This enables you to simulate conditions such as hills and design a wide variety of cardio workouts.

This routine includes three sets of intervals. With each set, the total duration decreases — along with the amount of recovery time.

To thrive (and not just survive), pay close attention to your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and make adjustments to stay on track with the recommended RPE in each interval set.

If you have a hard time recovering, skip the third interval set until you build your fitness level. In fairly short order, through consistent and pain-free effort, those cardio improvements will come.

Self-Check

Use the following five-zone RPE (rate of perceived exertion) training system to determine how hard you’re working and whether you need to adjust your effort.

Zone 1: Easy

Zone 2: Moderate

Zone 3: Hard

Zone 4: Very hard, breathless effort

Zone 5: Extremely hard

Out of the Saddle

A hallmark of indoor-cycling classes is the transition from seated (“in the saddle”) to standing (“out of the saddle”) positions — a challenge to balance, stability, and coordination. You never have to stand up if it’s uncomfortable, says workout designer Emily Booth. But if you do want to try it, follow these tips:

  • Be sure that you increase the resistance so you can shift your weight into your glutes while staying engaged in the core. Without enough resistance, you lose the stability to sit back, putting pressure on the knees, lower back, wrists, and elbows.
  • Once standing, you may need to add even more resistance to keep intensity up.
  • Maintain a slight bend in the knees with your hips positioned over the pedal cranks.
  • Keep your hips stable and avoid putting your weight onto the handlebars; they are just there for balance. The work is in your legs.

The Workout

Warm-Up: 8–10 minutes

Start with light to moderate resistance at a cadence of 80–100 revolutions per minute (RPM). Gradually add resistance every two minutes until you reach the top of zone 2.

After the first three to four minutes, mix in some short periods out of the saddle to elevate your heart rate and stretch your legs — but only if you feel comfortable standing up.

In the last two to three minutes, perform two to four short 15- to 30-second speed bursts. Aim to reach 90–110 RPM, pushing yourself into zone 3. Actively recover in zone 2 for one to two minutes before beginning the main workout.

Interval Set 1

11 minutes
Five rounds of 60 seconds’ work and 90 seconds’ rest

Speed
Recover
Repeat
Recover
Increase speed to 90–100 RPM or higher, and add resistance to push hard in or out of the saddle for 60 seconds. Aim to reach zone 4 during this interval. Recover for 90 seconds by decreasing both speed and resistance. Aim to drop into zone 1 or 2. Repeat the interval pattern five times, 60 seconds on, 90 seconds off. Recover two to three minutes with easy pedaling and light resistance before moving on to the next set.

Interval Set 2

9 minutes
Five rounds of 60 seconds’ work and 60 seconds’ rest

Speed
Recover
Repeat
Recover
Increase speed to 90–100 RPM or higher, and add resistance to push hard in or out of the saddle for 60 seconds. Aim to reach zone 4 during this interval. Recover for 60 seconds, dropping into zone 2. Repeat the interval pattern five times, 60 seconds on, 60 seconds off. Recover two to three minutes.

Interval Set 3

7 minutes
Five rounds of 60 seconds’ work and 30 seconds’ rest

Speed
Recover
Repeat
Recover
Increase speed to 90–110 RPM or higher, and add resistance to push hard in or out of the saddle for 60 seconds. Aim to reach zone 4 during this interval. Recover for 30 seconds as best you can into zone 2 (you may not make it all the way into zone 2 at this point in the workout). Repeat the interval pattern five times, 60 seconds on, 30 seconds off. Finish the workout by reducing your resistance and continuing to pedal until you reach zone 1.

 

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