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

Use the Tabata Protocol to Build Work Capacity

My goal is to find the most efficient workout that can be done in minimal time that gets results. There have been some great workouts that have been developed over the last decade but many of them require 60-90 minutes to complete and usually need specific exercise equipment.

Over the past decade I have followed the work published by researcher’s like Izumi Tabata, PhD., and Martin Gibala, PhD. Dr. Tabata was a former researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Fitness and Sports and has continued his work on high intensity interval training (HIIT) at Ritsumeikan University. He has worked with many high-level athletes including Olympic speed skating athletes and developed the Tabata Method that takes interval training to a whole new level. When starting with interval work, an individual will typically utilize a work to rest ratio of 1:3 – meaning every minute (or less) of challenging work is followed by three minutes of active recovery (or rest) and repeated for a specific number of intervals. With a Tabata protocol, a 2:1 work to rest ratio is used, meaning, every 20 seconds of work is followed by 10 seconds of recovery and repeated for four minutes. Each 20/10 piece is considered one interval and it may look easy on paper but believe me it’s not. A typical protocol would look like this: a 5-minute warm-up, 8 sets of 2:1 work (for a total of 4:00) followed by a cool-down. The original research by Tabata, back in the mid-1990’s, was completed on exercise cycles. Today, people are using it for all types of cardio exercise from sprint intervals to jumping rope to elliptical and rowing machines.

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Another option, for some people, is to use body weight and eventually other forms of resistance (medicine balls, dumbbells etc.) with the same goal of trying to improve work capacity. My first recommendation would be to start out easy no matter what you might read on this type training methodology. I have read some reports that talk about using 30-35 pound dumbbells – great, if you have been pushing the weights for a while but if not, be smart and start with just body weight before progressing to light weight and then progressing from there. The effort needed for this type of workout is very high with a goal of trying to burn maximal calories in minimal time. As Dr. Tabata and others have shown, there is a an opportunity to improve both aerobic and anaerobic capacity with this mode of training (1). In addition, it’s a great way to work many different muscle groups with just a few movements and you have the option of applying this to either cardio (think treadmill, elliptical or rower or even a jump rope), free-weights or even body weight as previously mentioned. Some of the exercises that are recommended are: squats, burpees and thrusters (which is basically a squat to a shoulder press using medicine ball, dumbbells, or an Olympic bar). One of the first times I tried this I used light dumbbells and did a squat to a press (a.k.a thruster) averaging about 15 repetitions for each 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of recovery and repeated this sequence 8 times (120 total reps). The initial goal is to find a weight that enables you to get about 10 reps/set and try to build from there.

One of the first studies completed by Dr. Tabata and his colleagues showed a 14% improvement in VO2 max and 28% improvement in anaerobic capacity. These numbers, however, were a result from training 5x/week for 6 weeks involving high intensity training involving a cycle ergometer. Anything is possible, just remember to begin slowly using body weight as your resistance prior to loading the body. Any type of interval training should be added to an exercise routine using a low dose initially and slowly building from there. Think of HIIT as just another tool in your training tool box, but one with proven results…if done correctly.


(1) Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, Hirai Y, Ogita F, Miyachi M, Yamamoto K. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2 max. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 28: 1327-1330, 1996.

High Intensity Interval Training Burns More Calories, in Half the Time, than Traditional Cardio Exercise

“High-intensity interval training (HIT) describes physical exercise that is characterized by brief, intermittent bursts of vigorous activity, interspersed by periods of rest or low-intensity exercise.”

There are probably more research studies currently in progress, involving various forms of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), than any other exercise-related topic being looked at today. A great deal of the HIIT research (also known as SIT, HIT, and HIIE) that has been published over the past decade by researchers like Martin Gibala, PhD, from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, continue to show amazing results when compared to traditional exercise. Gibala and colleagues offer their definition of HIIT above.

In a study by Matsuo and colleagues (2014), a group of sedentary men performed 13 minutes of high intensity interval training five times a week for 8-weeks. The  (HIIT) group burned more calories per minutes on average than men who performed 40 minutes of traditional steady state cardio. During the study the HIIT group saw a 12.5% gain in maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max) using 27 less minutes of exercise. Tomoaki Matsuo, Ph.D, co-author of the study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, suggest doing three-minute HIIT stages with two-minute active recovery stages repeated for three rounds.

Research presented in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise shows that when test subjects exercised using high-intensity intervals, the total amount of calories their body expended during one-hour post workout was elevated up to 107 percent more than with low-intensity, short duration exercise, and 143 percent more than with low intensity, long duration exercise! That’s because interval exercise peaking at levels above a 70 percent maximum-intensity effort, speeds up metabolism for up to three hours after exercise – a benefit not found with low-intensity exercise.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology (1990) by Makrides et al., showed that 12-weeks of high-intensity training produced greater increases in total work accomplished in 30 seconds in old (60-70 year old, 12.5%) than young (20-30 year old, 8%) test subjects.

One study in the journal Metabolism compared 20-weeks of aerobic training with only 15-weeks of high intensity interval training (HIIT) in which participants did 15 sprints for 30-seconds and lost nine times more body fat than the aerobic and control groups. They also lost 12 percent more visceral belly fat than the aerobic group.

A study in the International Journal of Obesity compared the effect of 15-weeks of HIIT with aerobic exercise. The HIIT group resulted in significant decreases in overall fat mass (3.3 pounds) while the aerobic exercise group had a fat gain of 1 pound on average. The HIIT group also had a significant 9.5 percent decrease in belly fat, while the aerobic group increased their belly fat by 10.5 percent by the end of the study. A 2012 study at Colorado State University found that test subjects who worked out on a stationary bike for less than 25 minutes, with just a few sprints mixed in, expended an additional 200 calories a day, due to excess-post oxygen consumption (EPOC) or commonly known as the after-burn effect.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by Falcone and colleagues, compared the energy expenditure of single exercise sessions using resistance, aerobic, and combined exercise involving the same duration. The test subjects were young, active men. All sessions were 30-minutes. The resistance training session used 75 percent of their 1-RM, the aerobic session, on a treadmill, used 70 percent maximum heart rate while a high-intensity interval session (HIIT) session was done on a hydraulic resistance system (HRS). The HRS workout used intervals of 20-seconds of maximum effort followed by 40-seconds of rest. The HIIT session using the HRS had the highest caloric expenditure of the three workouts. The data suggest that individuals can burn more calories performing HIIT with HRS than spending the same amount of time performing steady-state exercise.

A 2007 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology looked at moderately active women who in their early twenties. The subjects were tested for power output on a stationary bike to determine what their VO2max was and then made to ride for 60-minutes at 60% of VO2max intensity. These tests were then repeated again at the end of the study to gauge the effectiveness of HIIT for this particular subject group. This particular training protocol showed some of the following results: a lower heart rate in the last 30 minutes of the 60-minute session, whole body fat oxidation increased significantly by 36 percent in only two-weeks using just 7 workout sessions.

A final study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism (2012), observed healthy but inactive people who exercised intensely. The research concluded even if the exercise was brief, it produced an immediate change in their DNA. “While the underlying genetic code in the muscle remains unchanged, exercise causes important structural and chemical changes to the DNA molecules within the muscles.”

Adrian Peterson, Leon Hall

As the HIIT research continues to demonstrate, it would be advantageous to supplement your current exercise routine with at least one HIIT session each week to maximize your training results. HIIT continues to show significant results when looking at total caloric expenditure, gains in VO2max, and elevated post oxygen consumption (EPOC).


Matsuo T, Saotome K, Seino S, Shimojo N, Matsushita A, Iemitsu M, Ohshima H, Tanaka K, Mukai C. (2014). Effects of a low-volume aerobic-type interval exercise on VO2max and cardiac mass. Sports Exerc. 46(1):42-50. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182a38da8

Falcone PH, Tai CY, Carson LR, Joy JM, Mosman MM, McCann TR, Crona KP, Kim MP, Moon JR (2015). Caloric expenditure of aerobic, resistance, or combined high-intensity interval training using a hydraulic resistance system in healthy men. Strength Cond Res. 29(3):779-85. doi: 10.1519/JSC.000000000000066

Makrides L. Heigenhauser GJ. Jones NL (1990). High-intensity endurance training in 20- to 30- and 60- to 70-yr-old healthy men. Journal of Applied Physiology. 69(5):1792-8.