I get plenty of questions – and understandably so – one way or another related to my fascination with the fixed-speed (or fixed-gear) bicycle. Well, one aspect of the fixie experience that I covet — aside from the cycling purist’s love of the unbroken convergence of body, machine and pavement – is the ability to absolutely thrash a high intensity interval training (HIIT) session on each and every fixie ride. The fixed-speed machine lends itself well to HIIT sessions due to the fact that an all-out effort can be achieved virtually right out of the blocks, and for the fact that this effort can be maintained for the duration of the sprint – whether that sprint lasts 5 seconds, or as long as a full minute – which happens to be the top end of the range, for my particular purposes/goals. On a fixie machine, if the wheels are spinning, your legs are humping – coasting is not an option – and slowing down requires a direct opposition to the momentum you’ve previously established. The legs, in other words, are under constant assault. “Huckin it fixed” imparts a huge overall energy expenditure coupled with a very fast power output/energy ramp-up requirement (if one so chooses to push the ride in this direction) that is unique to a fixed-gear set-up. By way of analogy, I think you could look at the difference between a fixed-gear ride and a single/multi-speed ride as being the difference between a stadium step sprint session and a long, slow jog.
The spill-over efficacy of HIIT-like training, into the more endurance-ended demands of cycling, have been born out to me time and time again. I never train for endurance per se, yet when I engage in endurance rides, my conditioning is more than equal to the task. The link cited above references many of the most informative university studies on the efficacy of HIIT training. If you’re endurance minded, looking for a conditioning boost (great preparation for the upcoming football season!), or if you simply want to kick-start (or maintain) some serious fat-burning potential, do yourself a favor and don’t overlook this method of training. Of course sprinting is the easiest way to implement a HIIT-like protocol, but any exercise modality can be modified to work – weight training, biking, rowing – the possibilities are truly endless.
This I can tell you: a short HIIT session – whether that session involves riding, sprinting or weights — will leave your body in metabolic hyper-drive for many, many hours following the session – much, much more so than any prolonged-slog or plodding trudge will ever do. For instance, on Monday I did a short series of sprints totaling approximately 8 miles and 30 minutes – approximately 4 miles/15 minutes to the coffee shop, 4 miles/15 minutes on the return. Now, 8 miles is no big deal on a bike – especially since I kick back with a red-eye and a good read for an hour or so in the middle of it all — however, each leg of the trip was marked by a series of hard sprints and easy “spins” (“spins” being at a light, recovery cadence). What was the sprint-to-spin ratio? Well, it varied – hey, this is real life! — the key is that I sprint until I have to stop due to exhaustion or traffic obstacle, and I spin until I recover “adequately”, or until I have another opportunity to sprint. In this way, the sprint/spin ratio is highly fractal/variable, and that’s the way I like it. Sometimes I’m fully recovered from the previous sprint before diving into the next, sometimes I’m still heaving like a freight train. The bottom line is that little bit of work jacks my metabolism for the remainder of the evening and into the night. The buzz in the legs, the elevated body temperature, the ravenous appetite – yep, those are the signs of a metabolism in high-gear; the same prolonged indicators you’ll never enjoy following a long, slow and excruciating dull session.
Of course, endurance types attempting to better performance in a particular event – or modality, for that matter — can always combine more precise and directed HIIT training together with heart rate monitoring/tracking in order to maximize training effect. For example, check out Dr. Mike Nichols’ take on heart rate training, here (note: this is part 5 of the series, which is, as of this writing, the final installment on the topic. Make sure you check out all the installments, though. Very, very informative stuff indeed!). It’s a little more than I care to manage at the moment, but hey, there may come a time when I’ll want to train in a more directed manner. It’s always good to have options, and to understand the science behind those options.
Tuesday’s Iron Works –
Basic? You bet. Effective? No friggin’ doubt. Remember, the mind might require novelty, but the body doesn’t give a damn. The body’s job is to overcome a stress, and be better prepared to face that stress next time around. Simple as that.
Beating the coming rain acted as added incentive, both in busting out a fast fixie sprint session heading into the gym, and getting my ass home following.
Kicked things off with the following superset:
front “military” press (strict, no “push”): 115 x 5; 135 x 5; 155 x 3; 165 x 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2
straight bar muscle-up (pull-up variety): bodyweight x 2 reps each round.
good mornings (wide stance, slight knee bend): used red bands on all sets – 135 x 6; 155 x 6, 185 x 4, 4, 4
then a quick superset of –
db triceps roll-out extensions (from floor): 50 x 10, 9
ez bar bicep curl: bar + 80 x 12, 12
then, as a finisher –
Nautilus 4-way neck: front and each side – 50 lbs x 10; back – 65 lbs x 10 (last 4 reps rest-pause)
A cool front is punching its way down south tonight. Sweet relief 🙂
Thank you for all your fixie related posts and how they seamlessly fit into a paleo/ev fitness lifestyle.
As you say it gives an off the scales hiit workout; can be used for cruising around with for pure recreation; is a great for of urban commuting,super low maintenance and is a serious (hipster) hot chick magnet (or so i’m told)! They are truly the best addiction one can acquire.
Thanks for making the paleo/fixie nexus. I believe you are the first to do so. Too bad too few of my fixie friends are receptive to paleo ways. My hyperlipid practices are met with derision. The road racing model of carb addiction seems to be common practice. Many guys seem to survive on pizza and beer. Keith, your love of fixie riding and eloquent postings are effectively promote the sybiotic relationship between the fixie/paleo worlds and will win more converts to both.
Thanks for the good words, Nathan. Sooner or later the cycling crowd (fixie, road, mountain, etc.) will come around to the Paleo way. Loren Cordain has already convinced a large contingent of the endurance running community of the performance enhancement benefits of eating a Paleo diet correctly skewed toward a bit higher carb content. And it doesn’t take much in the way of additional carbs either — a sweet potato here, more carrots there. Keep being a Paleo ambassador out there, Nathan — the tides will eventually shift.
I copied your Tuesday workout verbatim, except I subbed pull-ups with a grimace and a little flailing struggle at the top for muscle-ups.
Good stuff! Did it do ya right?
Definitely… my shoulders feel pretty jacked. It’s funny how hard the military press is without the “push.”
I always have great success with your workouts, unless there’s a movement in there that I just can’t replicate due to lack of confidence in my form.
Yeah, it’s hard to fight the urge, especially in the later rounds of the press, to bring the hips into play. Glad to hear you’re enjoying my little creations 🙂