How to train intensively

Just four minutes of interval training offers a high-intensity workout

Train intensively using this program to improve your cycling

Incorporating high intensity interval training (HIIT) into your weekly exercise can be a shortcut to improved endurance, fat burning and weight loss. Cycling Plus magazine looked at the method and how to do it.


Based on studies by Professor Izumi Tabata in the late 90s, HIIT is a workout of ultra-hard intervals that alternate equal-length, high-intensity anaerobic efforts with less intense active recovery intervals.

The idea is that by breaking up your high-intensity efforts with recovery periods, you can do more high-intensity work per workout. Studies have shown that HIIT improves aerobic and anaerobic capacity, and makes the body burn fat more efficiently – and also, by raising your resting metabolic rate for up to 24 hours, it keeps you burning extra calories long after the session.

How do you do it?

According to Professor Tabata, the high interval effort needs to be almost flat-out – beyond your lactate threshold and above 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. The low effort should be at about 50 percent of your maximum heart rate.

The difficulty of the workout is varied by the ratio of recovery time to work time in a particular session. Tabata’s total workout time was only four minutes for his ultra-high intensity sessions (see below), but even for sessions with a higher ratio of recovery, the total session time shouldn’t last any more than 20 minutes.

Beginner’s session

If you’re not super fit, start with a high recovery to sprint ratio, such as 9:1 – after each all-out effort you should do an active recovery interval of soft pedalling up to nine times longer before the next full-on effort. As you get fitter reduce the recovery ratio (6:1, 3:1, 2:1 – even 1:2 when you’re at peak fitness) and do more sessions – up to three a week.

  • Warm up for 5-10 minutes
  • Sprint for 30 seconds flat out (>80 percent max HR)
  • Recover for 90 seconds (50 percent max HR)
  • Repeat 10 times (20 minutes total)
  • Warm down for 5-10 minutes

Super-tough Tabata

This is the workout that Tabata put the Japanese speed skating team through. It only takes four minutes in total, but the short efforts are absolutely flat-out, and the recovery periods minimal. Do this properly and you’ll raise your resting metabolic rate and burn extra calories for the next 24 hours. Don’t do HIIT intervals like this on consecutive days or you’ll overtrain.

  • Warm up for 5-10 minutes
  • Sprint for 20 seconds flat out (>80 percent max HR)
  • Recover for 10 seconds (50 percent max HR)
  • Repeat eight times (4 mins total)
  • Warm down for 5-10 minutes