The 6 Best HIIT Cycling Workouts

High-Intensity Interval Training workouts – or HIIT workouts as they are usually abbreviated to – can offer huge fitness and speed benefits for cyclists of all abilities.

Whilst you might be experienced at long-distance rides, a HIIT cycling workout can really test your ability to push yourself, and in doing so, can offer massive health and fitness benefits relative to time spent working out.

In particular, when practiced regularly, HIIT cycling workouts can do wonders for increasing your speed and ability to really push hard on those steep hill sections.

But what exactly is HIIT cycling training? How does it differ from normal cycling? And how do you do a HIIT cycling workout?

Well, in this article, we’ve covered everything you need to know about HIIT cycling workouts, as well as detailing the 6 best HIIT cycling workouts so you can give it a try for yourself!

Here’s how we’ll break it down:

  • What Is A HIIT Workout?
  • The Pros And Cons Of A HIIT Cycling Workout
  • Where To Do Your HIIT Cycling Workout: Indoors Vs Outdoors
  • Don’t Forget The Warm up and Cool Down!
  • The 6 Best HIIT Cycling Workouts

Ready to get the lowdown on HIIT cycling workouts?

Let’s get pedaling!

HIIT Cycling Workout 3

What Is A HIIT Workout?

Different variations of HIIT workouts are practiced in many different types of sports.

The fundamental principle of a HIIT workout is to practice a short period of intense exercise where you push yourself really hard, followed by a short period of lower intensity exercise which allows your body to recover, before repeating the cycle.

HIIT workouts generally last between 10 minutes to an hour, as when you’re really pushing yourself, you can’t go for much more than that!

The most important element of a HIIT workout is that you’re exercising at 80-95% of your maximum intensity during the intense period (basically, as hard as you can go!)

The Pros And Cons Of A HIIT Cycling Workout

The Pros:

  • HIIT cycling workouts burn more calories per minute spent exercising than normal rides. This means that HIIT cycling workouts are a more efficient method of burning fat per minute spent exercising.
  • Additionally, several studies have shown that HIIT is more effective at increasing cardiovascular fitness per minute spent exercising compared to less intensive, steady state exercise.
  • As you recieve more benefits in a shorter period of time and you are exercising at a higher intensity, workouts are relatively short. This is ideal for individuals who are short on time or who are just looking for a quick workout.
  • HIIT is much more effective at increasing your top speed than lower intensity, longer rides, meaning that HIIT cycling workouts are an essential tool for racers.
HIIT Cycling Workout 6

The Cons:

  • As you’re pushing your body harder, it can be much easier to overtrain with HIIT training compared to regular cycling. You need proper recovery time to yield the benefits, and should practice a maximum of 3 HIIT cycling workouts per week.
  • In fact, some research shows that daily HIIT training can in fact damage your health by causing oxidaive stress and blood sugar instabilities, as well as holding back your desired fitness goals. However, this is only if you are doing it everyday and not allowing your body to recover properly!
  • HIIT cycling workouts are much more mentally and physically demanding, meaning they might be less suited to some casual riders.
  • Similarly, they require a higher level of fitness to get started, and therefore are less suited for beginners.
HIIT Cycling Workout 2

Where To Do Your HIIT Cycling Workout: Indoors Vs Outdoors

It’s usually easier to practice a HIIT cycling workout indoors on an exercise bike than outside.

This is because when using an exercise bike, you can use resistance and hill settings to make the workout as intense as desired. You can also easily increase the resistance settings during the intense intervals of the workout, and lower them during the recovery periods.

That said, outdoor HIIT cycling workouts are still very possible too – with some extra planning!

HIIT workouts are slightly more difficult to do outdoors as you need to find the right location where you can freely move between cycling very intensely and then moderately.

If feasible, the best option for doing a HIIT cycling workout outdoors is on a track, as this offers a more stable environment where there is a minimal chance of bystanders and other obstacles getting in the way. If not possible, it is best to do it in a flat and stable environment.

HIIT Cycling Workout 4

Don’t Forget The Warm Up And Cool Down!

It’s always important to warm up before heavy exercise in order to prepare your body and minimize the risk of injury, but it’s particularly important when practicing a HIIT workout, as the higher intensity of the workout means there is a greater chance of injury.

One option is to lightly jog on the spot for 5 to 10 minutes, starting very slow and gradually speeding up. You could also do the same but on the bike.

Remember not to push yourself too hard during the warm-up; you don’t want to tire yourself out before you’ve even begun your workout.

Cooling down is also important, as it allows your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing to gradually return to normal, helping to remove lactic acid and speed up the recovery process. To cool down effectively, just try the above warm-up but in reverse, where you gradually decrease the intensity of your exercise until coming to a complete stop.

To make your cool-down even more effective, try implementing some stretches to help with the recovery process.

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The 6 Best HIIT Cycling Workouts

Without further ado, here are the 6 best HIIT cycling workouts for you to pick and choose from!

Remember, these workouts aren’t an exact science. Listen to your body, and if you think you’re pushing yourself too hard or need a longer rest period, then tone it down and take a longer rest period.

#1. Tabata Workout:

Tabata is a common HIIT workout consisting of a 2:1 ratio of intense to recovery intervals and can be customized for cyclists. You should be almost out of breath by the end of each intense period.

  • Warm up
  • Pedal as hard as you can for 20 seconds
  • Pedal at a lower intensity for 10 seconds
  • If you can, repeat this cycle 8 times, then pedal at a low intensity pace for 5 minutes, before repeating the cycle again
  • You can continue to do as many repetitions of 8 as you can manage, although one or two will be enough for many
  • Cool down

If you don’t manage to repeat it 8 times, don’t worry – you’ll get better over time!

#2. Standing Start Workout

By starting from a standstill, you can really push yourself hard in the process of getting up to speed.

  • Warm up
  • Begin pedalling from a standstill
  • Once you get up to your maxiumum possible speed standing up, slow down and seat yourself for 30 seconds to a minute before stopping and starting again
  • Repeat this cycle as many times as you can
  • Cool down

If on an indoor cycling machine, try putting your bike into high resistance mode for the startup, and low intensity for the recovery period.

HIIT Cycling Workout 7

#3. Pyramid Workout

The Pyramid HIIT cycling workout is named as such because you gradually increase the intensities of your ‘intense’ intervals as the workout progresses.

  • Warm up
  • Start with 20 periods at a medium-high intensity, then 15 at a moderately high intensity, then 10 at a high-intensity, then 5 at an uber-high intensity!
  • As you’re repeating quite a few interval sets, it’s recommended that you keep them short, around 10 to 20 seconds, similar to those in a tabata workout. You can customise the intervals based on what feels right for you.
  • Cool down

#4. Ladder Workout

The ladder HIIT workout is the opposite of the pyramid workout, whereby intensity is gradually decreased.

  • Warm up
  • 3 minutes of intense cycling
  • 1 minute of rest
  • 2 minutes 30 seconds of intense cycling
  • 1 minute of rest
  • Repeat this cycle, decreasing by 30 seconds each time
  • Cool down

If you’re feeling ambitious, start with a 5 minute or longer intense period, and decrease each consecutive interval by 1 minute each time.

#5. Classic 30/30 Workout

As simple as it gets, a 1:1 ratio of rest and work.

  • Warm up
  • Cycle at a high intensity for 30 seconds
  • Cycle at a lower intensity for 30 seconds
  • Rinse and repeat for as many cycles as you can manage
  • Cool down

You can also try longer period lengths of 1 minute or more if you think you can manage it!

#6. Get Creative!

As long as you follow the fundamental principles of a HIIT workout (relatively short intense/less intense intervals and pushing really hard during the intense intervals), you can customize the interval times of the workout to suit your level of fitness, workout time constraints, or personal preference!

HIIT Cycling Workout

Time To Put HIIT Cycling Workouts To Use!

Now you know all about HIIT Cycling Workouts, it’s time to put them into action to boost your cycling game!

Whether you’re looking to add some oomph to your explosive top speed and acceleration or just after a new way to challenge yourself with your cycling routine, HIIT cycling workouts are a fantastic training method to have in your arsenal!

Found this Training Guide useful? Learn more from the BikeTips experts in the articles below!

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Hailing from Brighton, UK, Felix is a lover of running, cycling, and all things active. When he's not exploring a remote corner of the globe on a bike-packing trip, Felix enjoys meditating, making music, and running as far as his legs will let him!

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