HIIT vs. Steady-State vs. Progressive Indoor Cycling – and Beyond!

HIIT vs. Steady-State vs. Progressive Indoor Cycling – and Beyond!

In the world of indoor cycling, conventional wisdom states that there are two types of workouts to pick from: either (a) high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or (b) steady-state riding.

Is it true?

At Shimano, we believe there's so much more to indoor cycling. To bust the myths & unlock what you can achieve on the bike, we’ve brought together several luminary experts to walk us through the facts:

Emily Booth

Master Educator - Indoor Cycling at Life Time Fitness & Stages Indoor Cycling, Member NASM Scientific Advisory Board

Emily has been teaching indoor cycling for over 20 years. With a lifelong background in both musical performance and competing in endurance sports, she considers indoor cycling the ultimate fusion of her two greatest passions and loves nothing more than sharing it with others.


Orlando Deral

Founding Group Fitness Instructor at HEIMAT, Group Fitness Instructor at Equinox

Orlando is an elite, well-rounded instructor in Los Angeles, coaching indoor cycling, running, circuit and strength, and HIIT classes. Orlando is a Certified Group Fitness and Personal Trainer, holding cycle certifications from Schwinn, Spinning®, & Stages, and is actively pursuing his yoga certification.


 Brianne Murphy  

Owner & Founder, Empower Cycle

Brianne Murphy is the heart and soul behind Empower Cycle in Bonita Springs, Florida. With a background deeply rooted in athletic training and a lifelong love affair with cycling, Brianne's journey to founding Empower Cycle was a natural progression fueled by her passion for empowering others.


Ben Kohler

Master Educator - Stages Indoor Cycling, Subject Matter Expert at the American Council on Exercise, and Fitness and Wellness Director at University of Minnesota

Ben Kohler is a 12 year Fitness Professional, with a MS in Kinesiology from University of Minnesota. His interests focus on the behavioral aspects of physical activity and creating inclusive fitness environments that promote positive physical activity experiences for everyone. 

With such a high caliber panel lineup, we know their insights will help take your riding to the next level!

Every cycle class is either HIIT OR Steady-State. True or false?

Are the rumors true? Emily and Ben cut straight to the chase:

"All Cycle Classes are ‘HIIT or Steady-State’ is inaccurate,” asserts Emily. “The possibilities on a bike that goes nowhere are immense, versatile, and adaptable. There is well established science that, based on a wealth of evidence, points to the importance of including both steady state AND high intensity interval training in the right doses for not only improved fitness, but also (and perhaps most importantly) optimal metabolic health and longevity.” 

“I feel that this ‘all or nothing’ thinking isn’t fair to the sport of cycling or group cycling classes,” shares Ben. “As riders and instructors, it is our job to encourage a well-rounded training schedule that incorporates both styles of training, regardless of whether it is indoor or outdoor riding.”

In fact, this debate reminds us of another false dichotomy amplified by cycling conventional wisdom: riding to music vs. metrics. The real answer is much more nuanced!

The 101: HIIT, Steady-State, & Progressive Training

From key definitions to synthesizing the science, each expert has several key pointers to offer:

“HIIT is super high intensity where we are on a high and then we go back down to a low. Steady-state would be riding or training on the same level for a duration. A progressive example - if we were climbing, we would start on a flat, then work our way up to a small hill/climb, and this climb would gradually build over time,” explains Orlando. 

“At Empower Cycle, we believe in creating our classes to cater to the diverse needs of our riders,” shares Brianne Murphy. “To me, HIIT, steady-state, and progressive training represent different tools in the fitness toolbox, each with its own unique benefits.”

“There is truth and evidence to support that the 80/20 principle is solid,” offers Emily. “In the context of these three concepts, my advice is a ‘good, better, best’ approach. Good is spending 80% of an individual's available exercise time performing aerobic effort below threshold, (e.g., not hard, a conversational pace). Then, doing 20% of the time at a very high intensity (breathless, fatiguing muscles).”

“As Fitness Professionals and Fitness Enthusiasts, we know that at the root of cycling are the three energy systems that the body uses to convert fuel into energy,” Ben specifies. “Targeting all three of these energy systems is essential to well-rounded physical fitness, so simply focusing on only one is really a disservice to our riders.”

Feeling empowered with insight yet? As it turns out, there’s so much more to training on a bike than conventional wisdom may lead us to believe…


There’s more to optimizing training than just these three riding modes.

Our contributors shared their take on fitness optimization beyond HIIT, Steady-State, and Progressive workouts:

“In consideration of a ‘general’ rider, I believe it is important for the individual to understand the continuum of goals that range from health, to fitness, to performance,” explains Emily. “Who is the rider? What do they want to gain by participating in class? Is it body composition change? Is it stress relief? Is it cardiovascular health? These are all very different goals that can be achieved by different methods. Knowing what you want is the first step.”

“There are many types, shapes and sizes of clients that come in and take my classes. Each person may be on different levels,” highlights Orlando. “Riders can maximize their benefits to train on the bike by first showing up and being present and ready to give all they have on the inside of them to give. It’s really about the mindset.”

“By carefully designing our class schedules and varying the intensity and focus of each session, we aim to provide a well-rounded fitness experience that keeps our riders motivated and challenged,” shares Brianne. “But to us it's much more than fitness, this is a home, a therapy session, and a party with so many of your people…Beyond physical fitness, we're committed to fostering connections, building confidence, and empowering individuals to become the best versions of themselves both on and off the bike.”

“It is important that before starting any new exercise program, you consult your physician to note any variables that might impact your cardiovascular training,” guides Ben. “After getting clearance, I always suggest focusing on setting an aerobic base as a foundation. Spending a few weeks riding longer intervals, starting at a comfortable pace and increasing at a progressive difficulty will ensure that your cardiovascular system has a strong start. You can then incorporate some light anaerobic interval training into your program to challenge the lungs and heart. Focusing on listening to your body, honoring the journey, and not comparing yourself to others is essential to long term success and injury prevention.”

In addition to these on-the-bike pointers, there are also several important ways to enhance your performance with off-the-bike methods.

Advice to take home!

Before you hop back in the saddle - several of our panelists offer some inspiring end-notes:

“Consistency is the most important component to creating change,” underlines Emily. “If an individual loves to use indoor cycling as their primary mode of getting aerobic exercise, that is wonderful. However, too often, indoor sessions are pure ‘sufferfests’ without specific goals. My advice is to pick a few workouts a week (no more than two) to really ‘go for it,’ and let the rest be on the lower end of the intensity zone. Let go of the ego, let the instructor know you will be holding back intensity, but that you love the music, energy, and companionship. Instructors with their priorities in line will honor and celebrate it.”

“My number one piece of advice is to focus solely on yourself,” advises Ben. “The only person you are competing against is yourself. I think one of the common errors of new (and experienced) riders is letting their ego drive their training. Just because the person next to you is pushing more watts or RPMs than you doesn’t mean you are a failure. You don’t know their fitness level, fueling strategy, recovery time, etc. If you show up and do YOUR best each workout, you will be on your way to success in no time.”

“Riders should always start off by giving themselves grace,” adds Orlando. “Especially if they are just starting with indoor cycling. They should keep in mind that even as challenging as this modality may be, it’s also super fun.”

Thank you Ben, Brianne, Emily, and Orlando for sharing these incredible indoor cycling insights!

If you’re feeling inspired by our experts and want to take your indoor cycling knowledge to the ultimate level, here are our top pointers on how to become indoor cycling certified