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Understanding exactly how the various types of cycling training benefit your body will help you to plan your cycling training for maximum benefit. With that in mind, this post explains the differences between aerobic, anaerobic and HIIT cycling training. We also suggest how much of each kind of training you should be doing to achieve your own specific cycling training goals. This post is based on extensive research done by Dr. Sten Ekberg, a former Olympic decathlon athlete, and a respected expert in nutrition and wellness. We include one of Dr. Ekberg’s videos. This is the first in a series of posts that will help you to plan for maximum results from your bike training this summer.
Video Explaining the Aerobic, Anaerobic, and HIIT Zones of Training
How Exercise Builds Your Muscles and Fitness
Exercise actually breaks your body down. The more intense the exercise, the more this is true. The fitness gains happen after exercise, during recovery and rebuilding. This is your body’s way of preparing for the next time you exercise. Our bodies are really smart that way. You do a few intense bike rides, and your body reacts with: “Well, if he/she is going to make a habit of this, I better build a stronger heart and stronger leg muscles so I can cope better the next time!” And the beauty of it is that – it does just that.
This kind of proactive rebuilding on the part of your body is the basis of all muscle and fitness gains that result from exercise. However, it’s important to understand that this does not happen during the exercise. During the exercise, you are simply imposing varying levels of stress on your body. The rebuilding commences during the time after your ride, when you are resting and taking in nutrition to fuel development and growth.
With that in mind, let’s look at the three key ways in which you can put that kind of stress on your body during cycling: aerobic cycling, anaerobic cycling, and HIIT (high intensity interval training).
Let’s assume you have a resting heart rate of about 60 beats per minute (BPM) (you’re a cyclist, after all!). When you are cycling with your heart rate between 60 BPM to about 120 BPM, you are training in the aerobic zone.
In this range, your body can keep up with the oxygen needs you are imposing on it as you ride. Think of a relaxed bike ride, enjoying the scenery, perhaps chatting with friends. Or perhaps a commute to work (except for any uphill’s, when you may need to save your breath for pumping the pedals).
If you are reasonably fit and used to cycling, you can keep up this kind of cycling for hours without suffering any negative after-effects the next day.
What Aerobic Cycling Training Does to Your Body
The stress caused by exercise causes your cortisol levels to rise. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that helps you cope with stressors. However, during a relaxed bike ride, you are imposing very little stress on your body. Therefore, there is unlikely to be much of a rise in cortisol levels.
Also, provided that you are already fit enough to take a relaxed ride in your stride, your body will not have to do much work at all to build you up to get ready for the next relaxed ride. Of course, if you are just starting out and are very unfit, even a gentle 30-minute bike ride will provoke the body’s response of building up your muscles and cardiovascular system.
Human Growth Hormone
This is a rebuilding and rejuvenation hormone, and is very powerful for anti-ageing. The best way to get human growth hormone hormone into your body is to manufacture it yourself. This is one of the wonderful benefits of cycling – it can boost your levels of human growth hormone. However, during a gentle ride, the impact on your human growth hormone hormone is very low.
Provided you were already fit enough to bike for hours, the boost to your fitness from this kind of cycling will be low. If you are just starting out, it will be higher.
Anaerobic Cycling Training
Going above 120 heart beats per minute, up to about 160, we are getting into the anaerobic zone. This is equivalent to about 60 to 80% of your maximum heart rate. In this zone, you cannot breathe fast enough to completely satisfy your body’s oxygen needs. Also in this zone, you cannot burn fat fast enough to satisfy your body’s needs. You need to rely on sugar and glycolysis. You will be huffing and puffing, and most people can only keep this up for minutes at a time.
What Anaerobic Cycling Does to Your Body
At this higher level of intensity, you are causing a cortisol stress reaction, and a breakdown of your body. (The good kind of breakdown.) If you do this regularly, your body realizes that you are just going to keep on doing this, and quickly rallies to build up your body (muscles and cardiovascular system).
Human Growth Hormone
Anaerobic cycling has a greater impact on your body’s reaction of HGH than does aerobic cycling. Expect a moderate production of HGH during 30 minutes or so of anaerobic cycling.
At this level, you are boosting your fitness level considerably more than when you are just having a gentle bike ride with your buddies.
HIIT Cycling Training
This is high intensity interval training. HIIT is an all-out effort, such as standing in your pedals going as fast as you can up a hill. The intensity is so great that you can only keep it up for seconds, for example, 30 to 40 seconds. You will be exerting at your maximum heart rate, which will vary from 160 to 220. The range is usually 95 to 100% of your Maximum Heart Rate. The variation is based on your age: typically, your maximum heart rate is roughly 220 minus your age. If you are very fit, yours may be higher.
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What HIIT Cycling Training Does to Your Body
At this extreme level of cycling, your body has an extreme cortisol reaction, and will respond by doing some rebuilding of your muscles and cardiovascular system during your recovery time (post workout).
Human Growth Hormone
At this level of intensity, you are powerfully stimulating your body to manufacture HGH. You are likely to be producing 300 to 400% of your normal production of HGH. And this production level stays up for 48 to 72 hours after you are done with your HIIT training. This means that just two HIIT cycling workouts per week will keep you with a high level of HGR for most of the time. (But with plenty of time to rest and recover from the high stress of it.)
Related Post: 7 Reasons to do High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) on Your Bike – And HOW to Add Interval Training to Your Cycling
Fitness Impact of HIIT Cycling Training
At this level, you are boosting your fitness level greatly – even though you are just doing a few minutes of HIIT training per week.
So, which kind of cycling training is best?
As you can see, these three different levels of cycling training have very different impacts on your body. So, how do you choose which type is best for you? Well, start by thinking about your goal.
What is your cycling goal?
If you are a competitive cyclist (or aim to be one), of course you are going to have to do a lot of training that matches your event. If for example you are a triathlete or a marathon cyclist, you are going to spend a lot of time training in the lower end of the anaerobic zone, because you need to be able to maintain that level of cycling for many hours at a time.
But if your goal is just simply improving your health, you have different training needs. Also bear in mind that you need to take your age into account.
Cyclists Aged 20 to 49 – Suggestions for Cycling Training
You probably want to do 60 to 90% of your cycling in the aerobic zone. In other words, the vast majority of your cycling training should be in this zone. Remember, cycling training doesn’t have to hurt. At this level, as you ride you are doubling your heart rate, and tripling or quadrupling your circulation, your drainage, your oxygenation of tissues, your detoxing, etc. Your body experiences all these benefits at a moderate rate of cycling, long before you experience any discomfort. So, you get maximum benefits to your health, with minimal stress on your body.
Then, if you actually happen enjoy cycling at an anaerobic level, also spend some time on it. This might be short races, for example, or short time trails racing against yourself or against virtual competitors. This moderately stressful exercise will yield even better fitness returns than aerobic cycling.
However, if you are not fit enough to do this level of cycling, leave it out. For most average cyclists, anaerobic cycling training should be viewed as a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have.
Finally, if you are sufficiently fit to cycle at full intensity without injury, then definitely include some HIIT training in your routine. This should account for no more than 5% of your training time. Remember, it is exercise that you can only do for 30 to 60 seconds before resting, and repeating. Do this kind of training no more than one or two times a week, unless you are young and extremely fit. These short periods of HIIT training will dramatically increase your HGH, amp up your fitness, and fight ageing.
In short, HIIT training could be rated as need-to-have-if-you-are-capable of-doing-it.
Cyclists Aged 50 to 80 – Suggestions for Cycling Training
You should aim for 70 to 95% in the aerobic range.This will keep you fit and healthy, without injuring you.
If you enjoy it, or are training for an event, then do a little focused anaerobic training.
And definitely try to include some HIIT training, if you are fit enough. To avoid injury, you might consider doing this training on an indoor trainer or stationary bike.
Cyclists Over 80 – Suggestions for Cycling Training
In this age range, pretty much all of your cycling training should be in the aerobic range. As much as 100%.
If you actually enjoy and are capable of anaerobic training, then do as much of that as you can comfortably enjoy.
If you are especially youthful and fit, try to manage HIIT once or twice a week, to stimulate your Human Growth Hormone and fight ageing. However, don’t do it if you are at risk of injury.
Well, that’s about it for aerobic vs. anaerobic vs. HIIT cycling training. We hope you find this useful. Good luck and good health with your summer cycling training!
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