5 Stealth Tactics for Cranking Up Your Cycling Workouts

How to get fitter faster and with more enjoyment


If you want to increase the intensity of your indoor cycling sessions, you could do nonstop sprints for 30-plus minutes. Or, you could tackle a steep climb that could rival a challenging 9 percent grade in the Tour de France. But you don’t have to resort to such drastic measures. The truth is, you can adjust the features on the indoor cycle, regardless of the manufacturer, and your effort to make your training sessions more varied and challenging, which will help you get fitter faster.

Here are five ways to do that:

Change your pedaling. By speeding up your cadence or pace within a given gear or resistance level, you can modify the intensity of your ride. Just be sure to stay in control of your pedal strokes; if you need to add a bit of resistance to maintain control of them don’t hesitate to do so. Pushing the pedals harder and faster will increase your watts (or power output) and the intensity of your workload as a result.

Shift your position. When you pedal in a standing position with moderate to heavy resistance, more of your body weight is placed onto the pedals, which causes more muscle fibers to activate and increases the intensity of the work you’re doing. With proper form, the muscles in your core are also engaged which makes this a more challenging position. In a 2015 study, researchers from the University of Miami compared the effects of body position and perceived exertion during indoor cycling sessions: What they found is that respiratory rate, oxygen consumption, and heart rate were higher when cyclists were in a running position (standing, with hands in position two) and in a standing climb (hands in position three) than in a seated position.

Do high-intensity intervals. By alternating between bouts of high intensity work and rest intervals, you’ll maximize the calorie-burning, aerobic-building benefits of indoor cycling. You can vary the style of intervals, depending on your fitness level. If you’re moderately fit, you might do a 20-minute all-out speed interval with moderate resistance on the bike, followed by a 20-second recovery (at a slower speed) at the same resistance.

If you’re highly fit, you can ratchet the pattern up to a 20-second high-intensity interval, followed by a 10-second recovery phase; this is more of a Tabata-style regimen. Continue whichever pattern you choose for 20 minutes, and you’ll essentially shock your body into greater fitness.

Adjust your resistance. It makes sense if you think about it: When you change the resistance on the bike up or down, you will naturally change the pace of your pedaling, which will shift the intensity of your effort. If you keep your cadence steady (without pedaling too slowly), despite the adjustment in resistance, you will recruit additional muscle fibers, which will also alter the intensity of your workload.

Choose faster music. A 2010 study from the U.K. found that when cyclists rode to music with a faster tempo, they increased the distance they covered, their power output, and the cadence of their pedal strokes, compared to when they pedaled to slower tunes; they also enjoyed the faster tempo music more.

To crank up the challenge, choose songs that have a higher beats-per-minute rate (BPM), somewhere between 135 and 170. It’s a great way to get your groove, your sweat, and your fitness on—full throttle!

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