Riding a bike is a great way to get fit. Just getting on a bike and riding it somewhere will give you exercise, and exercise is always good for us. So, if you want to get fitter and healthier, and fight aging, riding a bike will help. However, like everything, you can work hard, or you can work smart. Interval training is a way to achieve maximum health and fitness benefits in short periods of time. Interval Training is also referred to as High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT. This post explains the concept, and shows you a simple way to incorporate high intensity sprints into your cycling.
Research shows that interval training on a bike (HIIT) is the smart way to get fitter faster, burn more calories, fight stress and aging, and control blood sugar levels. Read this post to learn more about the exciting benefits of interval training on your bike. It includes the top 7 reasons to do interval training on your bike. Note that you can easily do this kind of training indoors on a stationary bike. Or you can bring your bike indoors and set it up on a trainer.
Related Post: How to Get Started with Stationary Biking
Contents of this Post
- Get Fit the Smart Way
- Reason #1 to do Interval Training on Your Bike: It’s the Fastest Way to Get Fitter while Cycling
- Reason # 2 to do Interval Training on Your Bike: Interval Training Burns More Calories While You are Cycling
- Reason # 3 to do Interval Training on Your Bike: Interval Training Burns More Calories AFTER You Are Done Cycling
- Reason #4 to do Interval Training on Your Bike: It’s an Effective Way to Fight the Negative Effects of Chronic Stress
- Reason #5 to do Interval Training on Your Bike: It’s a Powerful Way to Fight Aging
- Reason #6 to do Interval Training on Your Bike: HIIT Helps to Control Blood Sugar Levels
- Reason #7 to do Interval Training on Your Bike: All of the OTHER Benefits of Interval Training on Your Bike
- How to Do Interval Training
Get Fit the Smart Way with HIIT Training
Reason #1 to do Interval Training on Your Bike: It’s the Fastest Way to Get Fitter while Cycling
Research has made it very clear that the fastest way to get fitter while cycling is to do interval training. If you just go out and cycle at a moderate rate for 30 minutes or an hour every day, your body will very quickly adjust to that exercise. You will get fitter at first, but once your body is used to the exercise, your fitness will stop improving. Interval training keeps surprising your body, because you make short but very intense demands on it. This forces your body to keep adapting to challenges by getting fitter and stronger (source: the American College of Sports Medicine).
Check out our post on 7 of the Best Indoor Bike Trainers. You can use an indoor bike trainer to do interval training in the comfort and privacy of your own home!
The American College of Sports Medicine defines interval training as follows: “high-intensity interval training (HIIT) consists of alternating short periods of intense exercise with recovery periods of passive or mild-intensity movement.”
Intense activity is defined as making you breathless (not winded), with your heart pounding but not exploding, and with you able to speak in single words (not whole sentences). Note that this kind of training is only appropriate for low-risk people and for moderate-risk people who have been cleared for vigorous exercise by a medical professional (source: UC Davis Intergrative Medicine).
Intervals are an easy way to introduce variation to your bike rides, which will keep your body “guessing” and adapting. They are also a way to put increasing demands on your body. For example, when you start doing interval training, your intervals might be only at level 3 on the chart below. But a few weeks later, you could start adding in one or two intervals at level 5, which will really challenge your body and cause it to become fitter.
Cardiac Training Zones, Based on Perceived Rates of Exertion (Talk Test)
|1 (Recovery)||1 to 2||Very light||I'm so comfortable I could do this all day!||40% to 45%|
|2 (Endurance)||3 to 4||Light||I'm a bit sweaty, but I feel good and can easily carry on a conversation||46% to 50%|
|3 (Tempo)||5 to 6||Moderate||I am a bit breathless now, but I can still talk||56% to 60%|
|4 (Lactate Threshold)||7||Somewhat heavy||I guess I could talk if I had to, but I really don't want to, plus I'm sweating like a race horse||61% to 67%|
|5 (Above Threshold)||8||Heavy||If you must ask me a question, don't expect me to do more than grunt. I need to stop soon.||68% to 75%|
|6 (Aerobic Capacity)||9||Very heavy||I am probably going to die||76% to 80%|
|7 (Anaerobic Capacity)||10||Very, very heavy||I think I just died||81% to 85%|
Reason # 2 to do Interval Training on Your Bike: Interval Training Burns More Calories While You are Cycling
As we said above, interval training (or HIIT) incorporates short periods of cycling at a higher intensity. Most people cannot sustain high intensity exercise for prolonged periods of time. So, interval training gives you the ideal compromise: it enables you to incorporate short periods of high-calorie burn into your workout. The overall effect is that you burn more calories in an hour than you would have done in an hour of cycling without intervals. If, for example, you simply cycled at a steady, moderate pace for an hour, you would burn far fewer calories.
Reason # 3 to do Interval Training on Your Bike: Interval Training Burns More Calories AFTER You Are Done Cycling
After an interval training workout, your metabolism will be higher because of the intense exercise, so you will burn more calories for up to 12 hours after you finish your workout (source: Australian Family Physician). And according to the American College of Sports Medicine, you will burn 6 to 15 percent more calories for two hours following HIIT.
Reason #4 to do Interval Training on Your Bike: It’s an Effective Way to Fight the Negative Effects of Chronic Stress
There is overwhelming evidence that long-term, chronic stress leads to weight gain. By contrast, HIIT gives you short bursts of stress, which are actually good for your health and alleviate chronic stress.
We all know about the fight or flight response. If you were in a forest being chased by a wolf, you would explode into action, either beating up the wolf or running away really fast. This action would be fueled by a release of glucose, and of amino acids from your muscles. Your explosive actions would trigger the release of testosterone and HGH (human growth hormone). Both of these promote muscle repair and draw on fat stores.
However, it seems our bodies don’t distinguish well between sudden acute stress and long-term stress. If you are chronically stressed, your flight or flight response still kicks in, but less intensely, and it sticks around for longer. It makes your body release adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. This gets you ready to fight or run. But if you just sit around in that traffic you were dreading, feeling stressed, with all those hormones in your body, it does you no good at all. You have extra glucose and your muscles are releasing amino acids, but you are not doing anything with that fuel. Worse of all, you don’t do anything intensely physical, so you don’t get the restorative release of testosterone and HGH.
The advantage of interval training is that the intense bouts of exercise mimic that whole beating up the wolf or running away thing, and have the same positive effects on your body. As you suddenly accelerate into faster cycling, your body releases restorative testosterone and HGH. You might not be aware of it in the moment, but you are actively combating any negative effects in your body from long-term stress.
So, basically, interval training mimics a healthy response to a challenge, and releases restorative hormones into your body, instead of destructive hormones.
Source: Journal of Affective Disorders – Sweating away depression? The impact of intensive exercise on depression.
Reason #5 to do Interval Training on Your Bike: It’s a Powerful Way to Fight Aging
Researchers have found that interval training is an effective way to fight aging. Specifically, they have found the most impressive anti-aging results in older people who did high intensity interval training on stationary bikes.
A study at the Mayo Clinic compared groups of younger (18–30 years old) and older (65–80 years old) adults who did one of three kinds of exercise regimes for 12 weeks:
- resistance (strength-building) exercises;
- high intensity interval training on stationary bikes; or
- a combination of light resistance training and moderate-paced cycling.
The researchers found that by far the most effective exercise for combating aging was high-intensity interval training on a bike. Interestingly, this benefit was greatest in older people. This suggests that embarking on a program of high-intensity interval training on a bike will be even more beneficial for you if you are an older person.
The older participants experienced dramatic improvements at a cellular level. Scientists found that after just 12 weeks, almost 400 genes in the older participants who did high-intensity interval training on bikes were working differently. In the younger group, only 274 genes changed. In the older group, a change was seen in only 33 genes for the weight lifting group and only 19 genes in the moderate exercise group.
Many of the genes that changed are believed to impact mitochondria. Every day, microscopic aging occurs in our cells. The almost inevitable weakening of our muscles as we age is caused by the fact that the cells in older muscles do not regenerate easily. The mitochondria inside muscles cells decrease in number, and also become weaker, as we age. These are the critical cells that produce energy for activity and protein regrowth.
Researchers believe that the decline in the cellular health of muscles that is caused by aging was actually “corrected” by exercising – especially by doing high intensity interval training.
Reason #6 to do Interval Training on Your Bike: HIIT Helps to Control Blood Sugar Levels
Researchers have found that interval training could help the millions of people who need to control their blood sugar levels because they have prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes. The researchers were surprised to find that interval training helped with this, while steady exercise had no benefit at all on this aspect of health. While this study focused on walking, there is no reason not to extrapolate to cycling, as the principle is identical. As study author Prof. Thomas Solomon explained:
“It’s this switch between the intensities that we think is critical here. You’re able to work hard, and then rest hard … rather than just walking at a fixed pace.”
You can read more in this study published in the journal Diabetologia.
Reason #7 to do Interval Training on Your Bike: All of the OTHER Benefits of Interval Training on Your Bike
There are so many benefits, it is hard to explain them all in one post. So, I am going to quote the American College of Sports Medicine, who summarize the benefits of HIIT in this way:
- “improved aerobic and anaerobic fitness
- improved insulin sensitivity, glucose tolerance, and lipid profiles
- reduced arterial stiffness and improved blood pressure
- increased skeletal muscle fat oxidation
- increased post-exercise metabolism
- enhanced weight loss
- reduced abdominal and subcutaneous fat
- increased exercise adherence.”
You can read the complete study about how stationary cycling interval training combats aging in Cell Metabolism here.
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