The Ultimate Stationary Bike Workout: Short, Intense and it Gets Results!

When we are given a choice to ride a bike – we typically go outdoors to get it done – but if you get stuck due to time constraints, weather etc. – your good intentions may travel South and never materialize. You now have another option to fall back on and it can even be done indoors. I have been doing some riding indoors myself and gave this new training protocol a try. The first thing I can tell you is it definitely packs a powerful punch. When were riding outside, it’s easy to ride for an hour or more at a comfortable pace but when you’re training inside, if you’re like me, you want an intense workout in minimal time that gets results and when it’s backed by science it’s even better. Research was published recently (in PLoS ONE, an online scientific journal) that showed there is a workout that can do just that.

In the research that I mention, a group of men were placed in one of three groups: a control group, a SIT (sprint interval training) group and a traditional cardio group. The SIT group consisted of a short warm-up on a bike followed by 20-seconds of intense, all-out work with a two-minute slow “recovery” ride. This was then repeated for two more rounds. In the end test subjects performed 1-minute of all out work and 6-minutes of easy riding to recover. It was all said and done in 10-minutes including warm-up. The 20-second bouts of work, however, were carried out at a high intensity (500 watts on a bike) and if you have not had the pleasure of riding at that intensity before it will surely elevate your heart rate – let’s just say you probably won’t be carrying on a conversation with anyone.

Researchers, led by Martin Gibala, PhD, (on Twitter @gibalam) from McMaster University in Canada had the groups of men work out three times a week for 12-weeks and the training results were significant. Let the results speak for themselves: VO2 peak increased compared to pre-training by about 12% after 6-weeks in both groups. VO2 peak increased further after 12-weeks compared to 6-weeks, resulting in a 19% overall increase versus pre-training. In addition, insulin sensitivity and other indices of cardio-metabolic health also improved. The results of the study are important learning for all especially if you happen to be diabetic or for those that are pre-diabetic (the majority of whom have no idea that they are).

In summary, Gibala et al. research reported:  “that a SIT protocol involving 3-minutes of intense intermittent exercise per week, within a total time commitment of 30-minutes, is as effective as 150-minutes per week of moderate-intensity continuous training for increasing insulin sensitivity, cardiorespiratory fitness and skeletal muscle mitochondrial content in previously inactive men.”

We know that the majority of people do not like to exercise and that “lack of time” is the answer most often given when asked why not? So if something is added to a daily routine, that is short, intense, and gets results in minimal time, it may be just what the doctor ordered and eventually turn into something that becomes habitual. With that said, let’s be realistic for a moment – the research is not trying to say that you should start exercising for only a minute a day but what it is trying to get across is that it’s important to shake up your current workout routine. Adding in some brief bouts of sprint interval training during the week – at high intensity (i.e. – cannot carry on a conversation) will have positive results across all fronts. The group of men in the SIT group ended up working out for a total of only 30-minutes a week (3 days x 10-minute/sessions) compared to the cardio group who perform 150-minutes a week (3 days x 50-minute/sessions).

Here is what the training protocol looks like and remember to substitute an intensity that works for you. One of the key takeaways is that more of something is not always the answer – it’s about the quality of the work that you’re doing.

Stationary bike protocol:

3:00 warm-up (easy @50 watts)

20-second sprint @500 watts

2:00 easy pedaling at 50 watts

20-second sprint @500 watts

2:00 easy pedaling at 50 watts

20-second sprint @500 watts

2:00 easy pedaling at 50 watts

Total time: 10:00

Maintain about 70-80 rpm – novice

and 100-125 rpm – experienced rider



Gillen JB, Martin BJ, MacInnis MJ, Skelly LE, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ (2016). Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0154075. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0154075


  • Ken Haduch says:

    Hello Michael –

    Just wondering about this working and how you might recommend trying it at KokoFit on an elliptical? There is no setting for watts, but I tried to apply this during my cardio workout today by keeping the crossramp around the 7 to 9 range, and for the 20 seconds (I did approximately 30 seconds) of work, I cranked the resistance up to 20. And I actually did 5 rounds of the heavy workload part. I have a graph of my heart rate from my chest strap, and it definitely got up into the high 140 to low 150 range on the heavy work times. Nice workout – I’d like to try and do it, just wanted your input on how to make it work at Koko? Thanks!

    • michael wood says:

      Hi Ken – Watts on the bike is equivalent to resistance on the Ellip – play around with finding the most challenging resistance you can handle – with proper form – for 20 seconds

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