-- Marathon Running Information, Coaching and Advice from Coach Joe English

Workouts: High-intensity Intervals on a Stationary Bike

running-advice-bugWe’re constantly telling people here on the blog to do “quality” workouts — meaning high-intensity workouts that improve running efficiency. We also tell our runners that cross-training is a good idea and is especially useful when injured. A reader named Mark wrote in to us asking the following question:

“I’ve been struggling with a nagging foot problem that won’t seem to go away, so my doctor told me that I should take time off running. I hate just sitting on the stationary bike pedaling aimlessly. Can you suggest a good workout to do on the stationary bike?”

First Mark, you’re correct to be seeking out something other than just aimless pedaling. Just the other day, I was in the gym watching someone spin the pedals so slowly, while reading a newspaper, that I thought he might just walk up and down the stairs once or twice and probably get the same workout. One of the dangers of the stationary bike, especially when equipped with a TV, is that you can just sit there pedaling slowly watching your favorite shows and forget that what you want to do be doing is: increasing your heart-rate, working on pedaling technique and building strength.

Let me give you an easy way to structure a workout that will produce a high-quality, high-intensity result, and should leave you breathless to get off the bike at the end. The focus on this workout is going to be on sprint intervals with a couple of longer, slower, hard intervals. But you can adjust the mix of the intervals as you like once you’ve got the hang of it. This workout will take about 45-55 minutes, depending on how you adjust the intervals.

Before I jump in to the workout itself, a word on resistance and pedaling cadence (speed). I’ll list some resistance levels as a guide below, but the resistance will vary depending on your strength and the stationary bike itself. What you want is an amount of resistance that keeps you from bouncing around on the bike (too little resistance) but has enough resistance that you are controlled and still keeping your pedaling speed high. I will use a value of “5” below to mean an easy “spin” resistance, where you are not bouncing up and down and the pedals feel mostly free. This is going to be your warm-up and recovery resistance level. From there, you’ll increase the resistance to varying levels as indicated to do the exercise.

Stationary Bike Interval Workout — Speed and Sprint Emphasis
1. Warm-up — 10 minutes — resistance 5 – spin easy, get the muscles warm

2. Warm-up — 5 minutes — resistance 10 – increase the resistance, but keep the pedaling rate high to complete your warm up

3. Recover — 2 minutes — resistance 5 — take a mental break, get a drink

4. Set 1 x 4 — 30 seconds all out / 30 seconds recovery — resistance 12/5 — go as hard as sustainable for 30 seconds, recover for 30 seconds, repeat 4 times (speed focus). Resistance will need to be enough that you have something to push against and stay in control. Pedaling speed should be as fast as you can. Back off the resistance during the recovery periods.

5. Recover — 2 minutes — resistance 5 — get a drink and towel off. Your legs should be ready to go now.

6. Set 2 x 1 — 4 minutes out of saddle — resistance 20 — crank up the resistance, pedaling cadence will slow, get out of the saddle and keep the tempo consistent as you work your way up a big hill (strength focus)

7. Recover — 2 minutes — resistance 5

8. Set 3 x 6 — 1 minute hard / 30 seconds easy — resistance 12/5 — speed should be as hard as sustainable, but this will not be as hard as the 30 second bursts. The last 15-20 seconds of each interval should be very tough to maintain (endurance and speed focus).

9. Recover 2 minutes — resistance 5

10. Set 4 x 1 — 4 minutes out of saddle — resistance 20 — repeat your hill climb (strength focus)

11. Recover 5-10 minutes — resistance 10 — end the workout with moderate resistance, keeping the cadence high

12. Stretch — get off the bike and stretch well. Your quads will likely be tight from the high speed intervals.

This workout can be varied in many ways. You can increase the number of intervals or the number of sets. The main idea is to keep the effort level very high during the intervals and then give yourself recovery breaks between the intervals and sets. You can mix and match to do more strength (high-resistance, lower-cadence) or more speed (medium-resistance, higher-cadence) as you see fit.

Good luck with your recovery and have fun!

Coach Joe English, Portland, Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News


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