Saturday, August 21, 2010

5 Killer Cycling Workouts You Can Do in 20 Minutes

So you don't have much time but you still want to make progress. As cyclists, we tend to think that short workouts aren't worth doing as our goals are to ride fast for many hours. Well here is the secret to getting the most gains from less time training. Go hard. I'm not talking about picking up the pace a bit but really going hard. Sprints, hill attacks, other tough intervals and circuit workouts that demand a huge amount of oxygen and create a lot of lactic acid. The accumulated oxygen debt will overload both the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems leading to improvements in both.

As well high intensity intervals and off the bike cross training workouts spike your bodies production in growth hormone and testosterone leading to an improvement in body function without resorting to cheating. As we age these hormones decrease so spiking them up with exercise will help with fat burning, recovery and growth of new red blood cells. It literally will turn back your bodies internal clock letting your feel and perform younger. Not bad for such short workouts.

Enough of the preamble. You're reading this because you want results, so on to the workouts.

Due to the intensity of my workouts you will want to warm up at least 10 minutes before doing the workout. As you get fitter you will need a longer warm up for optimal performance but a quick one will do to reduce the chance of injury from trying to do these workouts cold.

Tabata Interval Blocks

The basic Tabata interval is becoming well known. The basic premise is 20 second hard / 10 seconds easy, repeated 8-10 times. 8 repeats is a 4 minute block.

If you are pushed for time, do a quick warm up and then 10 x 20 second hard sprints with 10 seconds easy pedalling between the reps. This is a 5 minute workout. Don't be deceived by the length. Even the fittest athlete will get a training overload if each interval is attacked at maximum effort. Due to the intensity level these are best done on an indoor bike trainer. I've done them outside and by the sixth or seventh interval I'm weaving all over the road.

If you have a little more time to work with then I recommend doing a couple of blocks. After warm up, do 8 x Tabata intervals (4 minutes) then a 4 minute recovery and do it again. Two blocks of Tabata intervals overload just about every system in the body and it only takes 12 minutes. As you get fitter you can attempt to add another set during times you want a huge training load.

20 minute Time Trials

Some of you may be familiar with 20 minute threshold repeats. These are up a level in intensity. You can do them indoors or out but if outside find a 20 minutes long hill climb for the lucky folks that live in the mountains or level terrain into a headwind. You don't want the terrain to give you a break so try to find a route that has no downhills. The rest is pretty simple. Cover as much distance as you can in 20 minutes.

A variation of these I use for my clients is a 12-15 km time trial as this takes most fit cyclists around 20 minutes. If you picked the pace right your legs will be burning but you will be just barely able to keep the pace going for the full distance. Because lactic acid is accumulating faster than your body can process it, the last 5 minutes really hurt. These will raise your aerobic capacity and improve your ability to process lactic acid. If you do time trials in competition they are really good for getting a feel for pacing as well. Go out too hard and your legs will blow up. Go out too easy and you won't be as fast as you could.

Mini Velmax Intervals

Velmax intervals are a simple but effective workout that we usually do for 25-40 repeats. In this case you will do 20 to fit in the time limit hence the mini. The intervals are pretty simple 30 seconds at 135% threshold power or 8-9 out of ten perceived exertion if you don't have a power meter. The recovery time is 30 seconds. So you go hard at the beginning of each minute and recover at 30 seconds in. Fairly easy to keep track of no matter how fatigued you get. The first few are hard but doable. Each one after that gets harder until the last few feel like your legs are going to fall off. While you have to get proper recovery between this type of workout they really bring results fast if you put an honest effort in.

Full Body Circuit Workouts

The last two workouts are not on the bike. Sometimes you find yourself without equipment but still want to get a workout in. Other times you will use these types of workouts to balance out the rest of the body. Cycling hits certain muscles hard but neglects others. If you lack muscular endurance in the core and upper body it will affect your performance on the bike. A strong core will increase your power to the pedals both seated and standing. While I'm giving you two workouts, there are almost infinite possibilities when it comes to programing cross training workouts.

To do these workouts you will need nothing more than a pair of dumb bells. For guys I recommend a set of 20 lbs and for women a set of 10 lbs. If you don't know how to do the exercises, do a Google search for "crossfit exercises" or do a search for the name of each exercise. There are videos of most of the exercises.

Before we get to the workouts, a few points about how to do them. Do each exercise in order and once you've gone through one circuit start over at the beginning until you have done the planned number of rounds. The aim is to get the workout done as fast as possible while maintaining good form in the exercises.

Don't rest unless you have to. This type of workout will have a lot of lactic acid and get you huffing and puffing. This is good. This type of workout leads to an increase in your bodies production of growth hormone and testosterone. For those of us over 30, levels of these hormones decrease. This increase will lead to easier fat burning, better recovery and increased performance.

Workout 1

3 rounds

20 Thrusters

20 Sumo Deadlift Highpulls

20 Burpees

Workout 2

3 rounds

10 Manmakers with Dumbbells

20 Dumbbell Swings

30 Bodyweight Squats

When you first do the above workouts, work at your own pace. Give yourself at least 48 hours between workouts. Try to better your time each time you do them. These are tough but effective. Depending on your fitness level these can be done is as little 6 minutes.


By making each minute count and overloading the system, you can get great results with very little time spent training. As a cyclist if you focus on quality over the winter with a longer, moderate ride once or twice a week you will see a big improvement by the time spring comes around. The lack of time is just an excuse.

By making each minute count and overloading the system, you can get great results with very little time spent training. As a cyclist if you focus on quality over the winter with a longer, moderate ride once or twice a week you will see a big improvement by the time spring comes around. The lack of time is just an excuse.

My name is Winston Endall. I'm a bike shop owner and cycling coach. Over the last 12 years I've worked developing my Speed Factory Training System to allow real people like you to maximize their fitness. My system lets people with jobs and families build a high level of cycling performance with the minimum time spent each week. Speed Factory combines bike workouts, crosstraining and flexibility work to make you a stronger overall athlete in as little as 4 hours per week. For more information go to my site

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