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How to get fit on an indoor bike in 50 minutes

Effective cycling workouts for when time is at a premium

Exercise bike
(Image: © Shutter_o / Shutterstock)

When you have a small window to work out in and don’t fancy jumping on a treadmill, grabbing the weights or doing a HIIT class in front of the TV, you could get on an indoor bike and get that fitness hit there instead.

The good news is you don’t have to spend huge amounts of time in the stationary saddle to feel the benefits of a good indoor bike workout. In fact, if you’ve got less than an hour to play with,  you’ve got the right workouts at your disposal and the ideal bike setup in your chosen pain cave, then you should be good to go.

So how do you make the most of that time on your indoor bike? We asked trainers and coaches for their tips on how to do just that and get some sessions you can work into that time on your bike.

Stick to a plan and be realistic

That’s the advice from Matt Rowe, who is head cycle coach at Rowe & King and is a co-host on the Zwift PowerUP Cycling Podcast. “Having a plan provides structure to your training and holds you accountable,” says Rowe. He added that getting into the right mindset and looking long term is key here too. 

“Try and find that blend of indoor cycling and IRL riding that works for you and your other life commitments (family, work, social etc). You want to establish a realistic cycling – life balance, that you can sustain for the long term. Just remember, indoor training is hugely time efficient and frighteningly effective. You don’t need to spend hours and hours training in the cold, wet and dark. You can achieve a lot via indoor training.”

Get your setup right

The bike is the main component and getting things in the right place is one of the key things to do. “Your seat height should be roughly around hip height,” explains Dani Dellarco, a spin instructor with interactive fitness equipment maker Echelon Fitness. “You will want to be able to fully extend your leg in your pedal stroke without overextending at the bottom.”

You’ll need to think about the other things that will be useful to have at your disposal and close to hand when you’re getting sweaty. Matt Rowe says investing in a fan is a wise move. “While there are physiological benefits to manipulating your training environment to make it really hot (reducing airflow and not using a fan), there are also drawbacks. All things considered, for the vast majority of riders, I advise keeping cool. You will be able to produce more power and get stronger quicker.”

Indoor bike workouts to get you fit in 50 minutes

Now you’ve got the advice, it’s time to work out exactly what to do with that time on your indoor bike. We asked our experts to provide those workouts that can fit into that 50 minute window.

Workouts should be straightforward to apply to most indoor bikes, though you may see a reference to RPM and RPE. RPM stands for revolutions per minute and relates to pedal or cycling speed. The number that usually precedes it indicates how many times a pedal makes a full revolution in one minute.

RPE is also known as rate of perceived exertion, and relates to a scale used to indicate effort levels. That scale goes from 1 to 10, with 1 meaning you’re doing nothing on the bike, to 10 being an all out 100% sprint. 

You can see a breakdown of the scale here to get a better sense of the effort levels required in the workouts described below.

 1. Sweet spot training session 

From Zwift

Workout duration: 35 minutes

    • 5 minutes from 4/10 to 8.5/10 RPE

    • 4 x 5 minutes at 9/10 RPE

    • 5 minutes at 8/10 RPE

    • 5 minutes from 7/10 to 8/10 RPE

2. The Pyramid

From Olivia Neely at Starks Fitness

Workout duration: 50 minutes

Warm up: 6 minutes at 4-6 RPE

Pyramid scale (minutes of intensity; RPE 7-9):

    • 5 minutes on / 1 min rest

    • 4 minutes on / 1 min rest

    • 3 minutes on / 1 min rest

    • 2 minutes on / 1 min rest

    • 1 minutes on / 1 min rest

    • 2 minutes on / 1 min rest

    • 3 minutes on / 1 min rest

    • 4 minutes on / 1 min rest

    • 5 minutes on / 1 min rest

    • Recovery: 6 minutes at 4-6 RPE

3. The Wringer

From Zwift

Workout duration: 43 minutes

    • 8 minutes from 3/10 to 10/10 RPE

    • 30 seconds at 10/10 RPE

    • 2 minutes 40 seconds at 3/10 RPE

    • 30 seconds at 10/10 RPE

    • 2 minutes 35 seconds at 3/10 RPE

    • 30 seconds at 10/10 RPE

    • 2 minutes 30 seconds at 3/10 RPE

    • 30 seconds at 10/10 RPE

    • 2 minutes 25 seconds at 3/10 RPE

    • 30 seconds at 10/10 RPE

    • 2 minutes 20 seconds at 3/10 RPE

    • 30 seconds at 10/10 RPE

    • 2 minutes 15 seconds at 3/10 RPE

    • 30 seconds at 10/10 RPE

    • 2 minutes 10 seconds at 3/10 RPE

    • 30 seconds at 10/10 RPE

    • 2 minutes 5 seconds at 3/10 RPE

    • 30 seconds at 10/10 RPE

    • 2 minutes at 3/10 RPE

    • 30 seconds at 10/10 RPE

    • 1 minute 55 seconds at 3/10 RPE

    • 30 seconds at 10/10 RPE

    • 1 minute 50 seconds at 3/10 RPE

    • 30 seconds at 10/10 RPE

    • 5 minutes from 4/10 to 3/10 RPE

4. Intervals and climbs-based workout

From Dani Dellarco, spin instructor at Echelon Fitness

Workout duration: 45 minutes

Warm up: 5 minutes at medium intensity

9 minutes of speed intervals consisting of: 

    • 1 minute moderate intensity at 80-90 RPM

    • 1 minute at hard intensity at 90-100 RPM

    • 1 minute at all out intensity at 110-110 RPM

    • Repeat twice

6 minutes of hill climbs getting out of the saddle to climb

    • Add 60-70 RPM so your legs are slow

    • Keep your hips back and shoulders relaxed and loose grip on handlebars

    • Each minute alternate climbing in and out of the saddle

3 minutes of heavy climbs

    • Add resistance to slow the legs, around 55-60 RPM

    • Ride steady out of the saddle for duration

    • Avoid going slower than 50 RPM

5 minutes of seated flush

    • Drop RPM to 80

    • Six sprints in total

    • First sprint at 80 RPM for 30 seconds, then 30 seconds all out

    • Repeat six times

3 minutes of active recovery (ride at an easy pace)

6 minutes hill climb pushed

    • Ride out of the saddle for one minute at 60-70 RPM

    • Drop into saddle, push up RPM as hard as you can for 30 seconds

    • Repeat 4 times

3 minute speed intervals 

    • 1 minute medium intensity at around 80-90 RPM

    • 1 minute push RPM up increase intensity (around 90-100) 

    • 1 minute all out push around 110-110 RPM

3 minute cool down (ride easy with RPM, keep legs moving and allow heart rate to come down)

Michael Sawh

Michael is a freelance journalist who has covered consumer technology for over a decade and specialises in wearable and fitness tech. Previously editor of Wareable, he has written for publications including Wired UK, GQ, Men's Fitness, BBC Science Focus, Metro and Stuff. Michael is a keen runner and swimmer and is also the co-founder of YouTube channel The Run Testers.