Trainer workouts for the time crunched cyclist

No one wants to do Long Steady Distance on the trainer and intervals seem like a no-no this time of year for the cyclist who wants to be competitive in April. So what to do? Cross train? But I’d rather ride my bike. Cross Country Ski? Great, more gear to buy. Ice Fishing, Snow Mobiling and Beer? Yes! I mean no, no. We’re cyclists for god’s sake and most of us want to still resemble one for the spring thaw. So the only real solution is to use your trainer as it was intended.

I was recently reintroducing myself to the trainer after a long hiatus from tethering myself to it’s manacles. In the search to spend less time on it and still reap the benefits of training I sought to find workouts that would give the greatest cardiovascular benefits in the least amount of time. The main goal here is to lose some of that holiday and beer drinking like a carnival worker weight. Having a decent base and the memory of what it feels lke to perform at peak I have a good feel for what I need to do to acheive this. Basically, a lot of work a better diet and several small miracles. My time allowance to workout is about an hour to an hour and a half a day, plenty right? Well, I didn’t think so, so I was doing shorter, higher intensity intervals and mixing in high cadence efforts @ 120 rpm in between sets to keep my heart rate up high. Without much science behind this I started to feel the benefits after a week and looked into some medical studies on short interval vs. long interval training. What I found confirmed my suspicions that I had stumbled on an easy way to get the trainer sessions over and done with and come out lighter and more fit. Here’s one article:

Research on Sprint Workouts

Sprint training is becoming a popular way to train for elite as well as recreational exercisers because it works. Recent studies of sprint training with cyclists showed greater cardiovascular results in less time. In fact, one study found that just six sessions of four to seven all-out thirty-second sprints (with four minutes of recovery between sprints) could be as effective at improving cardiovascular fitness as an hour of daily moderate-level aerobic exercise.

The subjects in one study showed an astonishing 100 percent increase in endurance capacity (from 26 minutes to 51 minutes) versus the control group who showed no change. In another study by the same researchers, subjects improved their cycling time trial performance by nearly 10 percent in the two weeks.

Similar to Interval Training

These short bouts of intense exercise (not unlike interval training) improved muscle health and performance comparable to several weeks of traditional endurance training. The muscles of the trained group also showed a significant increase in citrate synthesis (citrate is an enzyme that is a marker of the tissue’s ability to utilize oxygen).

Other findings have shown that short, high intensity exercise burns more calories than the same amount of moderate-level cardio exercise.


How to Do the 30-Second Sprint Workout

The following sprint workout can be done while running, swimming, cycling, or almost any other cardiovascular exercise.

  • Safety. Because this is a high-intensity exercise it is recommended that you check with your doctor and review the PAR-Q before beginning a sprint workout.
  • Base Fitness. It’s also important to have a strong base of fitness in the activity you are using for sprints. To build a base of fitness follow the 10 percent rule, and gradually increase your training volume.
  • Muscle Soreness. Launching into a sprint program may be difficult or cause delayed onset muscle soreness if you haven’t done much training prior to this workout. I recommend having about 3 to 4 weeks of base fitness before beginning.
  • Warm Up. Getting injured during a short, high-intense burst of exercise is possible if you aren’t prepared with a thorough warm up.

Sprint Workout Step-by-Step


  • How Often? Perform sprint workout routines three times a week with plenty of rest between workouts. Because of the intensity of these workouts most athletes shouldn’t do sprint work more than three times a week.
  • Warm up. Before sprints, warm up thoroughly with easy exercise for 5-10 minutes. Perform the same exercise you will be using for your sprints.
  • Sprint. Perform your first sprint at about 60 percent max intensity. If you feel any muscle tightness or joint pain, back off and continue to warm up.
  • Recover. Recover for 2 minutes by slowing to a comfortable pace, but keep moving. This can be an easy jog or a walk, depending upon your fitness.
  • Sprint. Perform your next sprint at about 80 percent max intensity.
  • Recover. Recover for 2 minutes.
  • Sprint. Perform the remainder of your sprints at 100 percent max intensity or all-out efforts of 30 seconds. You should be pushing yourself to the max for each one.
  • Recover. Recover for 2 to 4 minutes after each sprint to allow your breathing and heart rate to slow to the point that you can hold a conversation without gasping.
  • Repeat. Repeat the sprint/recovery routine 4-8 times depending upon your level and ability. For your first workout, you will want to stop at 4 sprints. That’s fine. Try to build up to 8.
  • Workout Goal. The goal is to do this workout six times in two two weeks and then back off to twice a week for maintenance for six to eight weeks before you change your workout.
  • Rest and Recovery. Allow at least one to two days of rest or other easy exercise between sprint workouts.If you like your results, you can continue longer. But it’s a good idea to vary your routine every few months, and throughout the year. This type of workout is intense, and you may need to take a break and perform some longer slow workouts for a while. Feel free to modify the routine as you like; see for yourself what works best for you.

    Sprint training offers an option for those who don’t have much time for exercise, but still want to improve their cardiovascular system. While this type of training is demanding and requires a high level of motivation, it can lead to dramatic improvements in a short period of time.


    Kirsten A. Burgomaster, Scott C. Hughes, George J. F. Heigenhauser, Suzanne N. Bradwell, and Martin J. Gibala. Six sessions of sprint interval training increases muscle oxidative potential and cycle endurance capacity in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology, February 10, 2005;

    Burgomaster KA, Heigenhauser GJ, Gibala MJ. Effect of Short-Term Sprint Interval Training on Human Skeletal Muscle Carbohydrate Metabolism During Exercise and Time Trial Performance. Journal of Applied Physiology, February 2006.




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