fall_bike_rideI’ve been thinking about high intensity interval training (HIIT) for a long time, but I wasn’t sure how to incorporate this wildly effective training tool into my classes.  Short, Tabata-style, intervals would have the working part of the ride over in 8 minutes… but my shortest class at the gym is 45 minutes long.  So I explored longer intervals, like 60 seconds on/60 off – which I’ve been doing for years – but mulled over the coaching aspect.  HIIT works best when exercisers push hard on their limits.  Seriously hard.  The working interval has been described as “extremely unpleasant”, “feeling like you’re about to puke”, and “feeling like you’re going to die.”  How could I motivate riders to go to such a brutal place in an indoor cycling class?  How could I accommodate riders of all levels in a HIIT class?

I was reading the newspaper on Monday (Toronto’s Globe and Mail) and came across this interesting article on HIIT.  The article relates a Queen’s University Study that had “two groups doing a cycling workout alternating 60 seconds hard with 60 seconds easy for eight to 10 repetitions. One group did the hard intervals at 100 per cent of peak power, while the other group used a more moderate intensity of 70 per cent of peak power. Both groups made gains in muscular and metabolic health, but in the most important health marker of aerobic fitness, the high-intensity group gained 27.7 per cent in three weeks while the moderate-intensity group gained just 11.0 per cent.”

Bingo.  I knew just what I needed to do, and I had a pretty good idea of how I’d coach it.  But crap, I didn’t have a HIIT profile in my book of rides.  I decided to turn one of my previous rides into a HIIT ride and chose the ride below, which I put together in response to a request by one of my most stalwart regulars for a Mortal Kombat ride.  I’d run it a couple of times but hadn’t even put it on the blog because, well, it was sort of meh.  Just okay.

And if I am being totally honest?  A lot of my classes lately have been just okay.  I’m working very long hours these days (1.5 FT jobs) and realized on the bike last week that I wasn’t enjoying the ride – my class was just another thing on my to too-long to-do list.  I’d lost my mojo.  I am a perfectionist.  I am not okay with just okay. 

It occurred to me: maybe it’s time to hang up the cycling shoes.  And then: Whoa.  Where did THAT come from?  I’ve never thought about quitting before.  I continued mulling it over on the way home when it hit me: it’s not just indoor cycling.  I’m not enjoying ANYTHING at the moment, because I am working too damn much.

Fortunately, this too shall pass.  The contract that’s got me squeezed (great work, just too much of it) ends on November 30 and life will return to… normal, or something like it.  (Assuming I don’t stupidly say “sure!” to the next shiny penny interesting project that comes along.)  For some reason, knowing why I’d lost my mojo was oddly comforting.

So today I pulled out this just okay ride and my teeny-weeny mojo and the ideas I had about how I might coach a HIIT ride.  I took the class sign up sheet and scrawled “High intensity intervals today!” across the top and I’m pretty sure I ended up poaching three or four riders from the extremely popular aerobics class that runs in the same time slot.

And you know what?  It worked.  By God, it worked.  It was a GREAT ride.  The best ride I’ve done in months.  And I could tell from the sucking wind and spontaneous whoops that my riders thought so too.

Now, the little ride that could is blog-worthy.  Here it is.

Sexual Healing (Original Mix) – Alibi vs. Rockefeller (6:53):  Warm up for the first four minutes while explaining the basic principles of HIIT.  I told the class we were going to do 5x 60 second high intensity intervals today but that to get the maximum benefit, they had to prepare themselves to take it beyond, to something that would feel “extremely unpleasant,” might make them drop f-bombs, “I think I’m gonna puke” territory.  “I want you to hate me when you finish this,” I told them.  Then I made a joke about my CPR being up to date.

I explained that if riders didn’t feel quite ready for “I’m gonna puke” there were still very good gains to be had even if the maximal effort was at 70% rather than 100% and as always, to ride their own ride.

When not working at high intensity, I asked riders to stay between 55-75% of maximum effort – enough to feel they were working but not so hard that it would be difficult to speak in complete sentences.

From 4:00 – 6:15 we moved into a fast flat, and from 6:15 – 6:53 slugged some water and prepared ourselves to begin.

Palladio (Symphony Mix) – Silent Nick (9:44):  Let’s start with a big hill.  (I didn’t say we’d do the intervals right away).  Hill first.  From 0 – 2:45 a standing climb; 2:45 – 3:10 break; 3:10 – 5:10 seated, heavy climb; 5:00 – 5:25 break; 5:25 – 6:45 standing climb; 6:45 – 7:20 seated climb; 7:20 – 9:20 standing climb; 9:20 – 9:44 recover.  Ha!  I distracted you with intervals and snuck in a 9 minute hill.

Control – Traci Lords of Juno Reactor (6:27):  Our first tune from the Mortal Kombat soundtrack.  A bit more recovery from 0 – 0:27, then let the high intensity intervals begin: 3x 60 second intervals with 60 seconds for recovery in between.  With the explanation I’d given, I could tell that the riders really were digging deeper, pushing harder, looking for that extremely unpleasant place.

At 6:15 we fell back to ride easy and suck wind until 6:27.  I checked in with them.  Did they get to that place?  I saw nodding heads.  I asked them to take as much time as they needed and join me when they felt ready to work again.

Jump (Malinchak Dub Mix) – Flo Rida (7:01): Jumps on a hill: 8 counts from 0 – 2:53, switching to 4 counts from 2:53 – 6:30 and moving to recovery from 6:30 – 7:01.  Remember, nothing over 75% here.  The hero stuff comes later.

Juke Joint Jezebel – KMFDM (5:16):  Another Mortal Kombat tune and a combo-drill: two standing climbs, two seated flats.  Climb from 0:15 – 1:15, seated flat from 1:15 – 2:15, back to climbing from 2:15 – 3:15, and a second flat from 3:15 – 4:15.  From 4:15 – 5:15 you could do a third standing climb, but if you’re heading in to the last two high intensity intervals, I’d take it for recovery and preparation.

Theme from Mortal Kombat – Utah Saints (3:00):  Two more high-intensity intervals: 60 seconds on, followed by 60 seconds off, and a final gruelling 60 seconds on.

Going Wrong – Armin van Buuren (5:36):  Cool down.  I told the class that while HIIT feels AWFUL while you’re doing it, many people say that once they’re done, they feel like a million bucks.  (“Like I just had a big poo!” one of the riders at the front volunteered.)  I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that little tidbit of TMI so I just thanked them for riding with me (I always do) and said I hoped they enjoyed the ride.

I got great feedback – more than half the class made a point of stopping to tell me how much they liked it.  And you know what?  I felt like a million bucks for the rest of the day myself.

Are you using high intensity intervals in your classes?  How often?  How many?  How long are the intervals?  How much recovery in between?  What are your favourite songs to use for these intervals?

I’ll leave you with a bit of virtual archaeology.  A Facebook cycling group I belong to recently unearthed this 1995 Youtube gem: a supremely fit Johnny G, sporting a mullet and expounding on his brand new Spinning program.  The excitement from participants at fitness conferences is palpable.  “This is it,” one of them says.  (Look for a cameo by actor Kristin Davis, who was cast as Charlotte in the Sex and the City series in 1998.)