5 HIIT Workouts You Can Do On and Off the Bike

by selene yeager
Photo credit: South_agency - Getty Images

From Bicycling

By now you’ve heard all the (well-earned) hype surrounding high intensity interval training, or HIIT for short. These short, very intense workouts boost your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, improve insulin sensitivity, and burn off fat all while helping you maintain lean muscle mass, and of course, make you faster and stronger on the bike.

HIIT workouts are also clutch for when you’re strapped for time and have to make every second count (and have no fear, you’ll be counting the seconds when you do these!). Plus, research has shown that HIIT can improve brain function and lower your risk of cancer.

You also don’t even need a bike to get them done. Here are the best HIIT workouts you can do both on and off the bike to help you get started.

On the Bike

Here are three quick HIIT workouts you can do on your bike. Twice a week is plenty for these hard-hitting sessions because your body needs the time to recover so you can come back stronger. If you’re super strapped for time, you can cut out one interval set to make it even shorter. Grab your timer and go!

Quick and Dirty 30s

Thirty seconds is the ultimate HIIT duration-just long enough that you can really ramp it up full throttle, but not so long that you fizzle out before it’s over. Experienced riders can follow the Dirty 30s as outlined here; beginner cyclists should extend the rest interval to 90 seconds. (Advanced riders can shorten the rest interval to 30 seconds.)

Photo credit: Colin McSherry

Descending Miracle Intervals

Olympic coach Gale Bernhardt, author of Become a Fat Burning Machine prescribes a type of HIIT interval she likes to call “miracle intervals”-not because you need a miracle to finish them, but because they deliver the high-intensity, fat-burning, top-end fitness benefits of traditional HIIT bouts without completely flogging you. “I like giving longer recovery intervals because you can really generate high, all-out power for each ‘on’ interval,” Bernhardt says. This workout is 45 to 55 minutes.

Photo credit: Colin McSherry

Race-Winning Intervals

These intervals were created by Hunter Allen, founder of Peaks Coaching Group, and simulate exactly how an athlete must ride to win a race. “You must attack hard enough that no one gets on your wheel, and you establish a gap,” Allen says. This is why intervals incorporate both in- and out-of-the-saddle pushes. To close out, the final sprint simulates the final sprint to the line. Each interval is measured in rate of perceived exertion (RPE), on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being easier than a soft pedal while 10 is an all-out effort.

Photo credit: Zack Kutos

[Want to fly up hills? Climb! gives you the workouts and mental strategies to conquer your nearest peak.]

Off the Bike

Research conducted by the American Council of Exercise found that HIIT workouts using kettlebells were “off the charts” in terms of their potential to raise your heart rate, burn calories (20.2 per minute!), and improve maximum and explosive power-all in about 20 minutes. Another study found that incorporating kettlebell snatches into your workouts can improve VO2 max (how efficiently you consume and use oxygen). Bonus: Kettlebell workouts produce an impressive “afterburn” effect, so your metabolism stays elevated for hours after you’re done. Here are two workouts you can do when you don’t have the chance to saddle up and ride.

The Swing & Push

This full-body “Tabata-style” or roughly one-minute workout combines high-energy swings with military-style push-ups to hit every single muscle in your body and keep your heart rate high.

  • Warm up with a few easy calisthenic moves (like jumping jacks).
  • Perform a “Swing & Push” interval set:
    • Do kettlebell swings for 30 seconds.
    • Rest for 15 seconds.
    • Do push-ups for 30 seconds.
    • Rest another 15 seconds.
  • Repeat 4 times.

Kettlebell Swing


  • Start in a high plank position, wrists beneath shoulders; legs extended, feet about hip-width apart so body forms a straight line from head to heels.
  • Bend elbows and lower chest toward the floor until shoulders are in line with elbows. Keep core tight and don't let hips lift or dip.
  • Press back up to starting position and repeat.

Sumo Pull to Press, Push-up to Side Plank

This dynamic combo targets all your major cycling muscles as well as many of your smaller supporting muscles. Plus, it's absolutely killer for your core, to boot.

  • Warm up with a few easy calisthenic moves.
  • Perform a Sumo Pull to Press, and Push-up to Side Plank interval set:
    • Do sumo pull to presses for 30 seconds.
    • Rest 15 seconds.
    • Do push-ups to side planks for 30 seconds.
    • Rest another 15 seconds.
  • Repeat 4 times.

Sumo Pull to Press

  • Stand with your feet just wider than shoulder-width apart, toes turned out about 45 degrees, holding a kettlebell with both hands.
  • Squat down and place the kettlebell on the floor between your feet. Stand up and lift the weight to chest height with elbows out wide.
  • Flip your grip to grab the sides of the handle and push the kettlebell straight up overhead.
  • Lower it to chest and assume the original grip before placing the kettlebell on the floor and return to the starting position.

Push-Up to Side Plank

  • Start in a high plank position, wrists under shoulders; legs extended, feet about hip-width apart.
  • Bend elbows and lower chest to floor until your shoulders and elbows are in line.
  • Press back up to start, then immediately roll to the right into a side plank, reaching to the sky with your left hand. Roll back to push-up position. Repeat to the left and continue to alternate.
  • To make the move more challenging, add a set of light- to medium-wight dumbbells as shown above.

Images: Julia Hembree Smith and Ian Tuttle

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