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Mortal Kombat Cycling Mix – High Intensity Intervals (45 min)

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.)


39 Comments On “Mortal Kombat Cycling Mix – High Intensity Intervals (45 min)

  1. Jon Kemp Reply

    I’ve downloaded cycle timer but I was hoping some one could tell me were I get a “cmt.file” from??


  2. Leila Reply

    Hi Cynthia – I love the way you work this in to a spin workout! I was wondering where you found your music? I can’t seem to find the exact versions you used…? THX!

    1. Cynthia Reply

      Dear Leila,

      Hmm, that is strange. They are all from the Canadian iTunes store. Sometimes certain Canadian artists only appear in the Canadian store (I know I’ve tried to get songs recommended from all over the world and sometimes have difficulty) but these are all international artists. Try searching a keyword in the remix title and looking for a song with the same duration – that’ll be close.

      1. Leila Reply

        Thanks for the update, Cynthia! I don’t know if I can access iTunes Canada here in the States, but I’ll definitely give it a try tonight!

  3. Annie Reply

    Love this and am totally using this ride in my next class…thank you! Ill be sure to give props to you when the cheers come rollin in!

  4. Jennie Reply

    What do you do for the high intensity intervals? Sprints?

    1. Cynthia Reply

      Jennie, they are sort of sprints on steroids. I coach ordinary sprints to hit 85-90% maximum effort. For HIIT intervals, I ask riders to blow past 90% and try for as close to 100% as they can manage. (If someone you loved was trapped in a burning building, how fast could you go to get there?) I can get to get to 90% or even 94% but I have a heck of a time pushing through the last 6%. That’s where I want the riders to go.

  5. aleallegrini Reply

    L’ha ribloggato su Alessio Allegrinie ha commentato:
    Lezione di spinning, oggi. Intensa, molto intensa. 45 minuti tirati. Grazie Cynthia ed al suo blog.

    Questa è la lezione:
    Mortal Kombat Cycling Mix – High Intensity Intervals (45 min)

    1. Cynthia Reply

      Grazie Alessio! Sono così felice che ti sia piaciuto. (So glad you enjoyed it!)

      Here’s the Google Translate version of Alessio’s comment:

      The Allegrinie reblogged Alessio commented:
      Spinning class today. Intense, very intense. 45 minutes pulled. Thanks Cynthia and her blog.

      1. aleallegrini Reply

        Sorry Cynthia, But I haven’t read your comment. However, thanks for your blog. It’ s amazing. I’m using it a lot for my weekly workouts, and I can see the benefit in the output group in Sunday.

        1. Cynthia Reply

          Thanks Alessio!

  6. […] Mortal Kombat Cycling Mix – High Intensity Intervals (45 min) […]...
  7. Marcella Reply

    Thanks for this cool blog. What kind of resistance do you suggest for sprints. I heard a true sprint starts by increasing resistance in the saddle, coming up out of the saddle speeding up and then taking in off and sprinting in the saddle. It sounds like you were doing 60 second sprints. Is that right?

    1. Cynthia Reply

      Hi Marcella,

      You’re thinking of sprints as taught by the Spinning program – they use medium resistance and involve an explosive out of the saddle effort for about 5 seconds and last no more than 30 seconds. Other programs conceptualize sprints a bit differently. For example, Schwinn doesn’t necessarily involve an out of the saddle component and uses true sprints up to a minute long. I was thinking more of that type with this profile.

      The big thing with sprinting is to coach riders to maintain sufficient resistance to avoid bouncing in the saddle. With the right resistance, they won’t go over about 110 RPMs even at an all-out effort. I always caution that fast legs with no resistance = no benefit and if they’re not sure, add more resistance. I still get folks who’d rather bounce at 130 RPM from time to time.

  8. workoutwithdi Reply

    I also wanted to say it’;s not just you cynthia, a lot of instructors I’ve talked to lately are in the same ‘rut’ with things. I’m blaming the weather, end of the year and just the general “blahs”. I am signed up to swap classes with a few instructors to change things up a bit… but yes working too much sucks too!

    1. Cynthia Reply

      Good idea, Di. I have been trying to get to other instructors’ classes for inspiration but realistically, it is not going to happen until December. I am going home with my daughter to visit my Mom for two weeks, so hopefully Grandma will be willing to mind my daughter while Mama goes to a few cycling classes…

  9. workoutwithdi Reply

    I did a halloween spin playlist for 2013… it’s up on my blog today

    1. Cynthia Reply

      Love! Thanks Di. I’ve added a link to your playlist on Lisa’s Hallowe’en Guest post.

  10. Jessica @ Fit Talker Reply

    I’m so with you Cynthia! It’s tough to work a full time job (or 1.5) and teach. The stress and long days do tend to run over in to spin. I teach because I love it and when the love isn’t there, well, I don’t even want to think about that. But yes, there are definitely days where class is just another item on the to-do list.
    I’m glad you got through this patch and am hopeful that I will too.
    Great ride too! I’m doing Halloween this weekend, but may try this for the following weekend, which is the weekend of the NYC marathon, so a tough ride is appropriate.

    1. Cynthia Reply

      Thanks Jessica. I just saw an ad for a local ‘Everest climb’ here in my hometown of Halifax. Basically, instead of Everest, they’re going to climb and descend local landmark Citadel Hill 80 times to approximate Everest’s 8,848 metres. (I am not sure where they got their math – my math suggests it would be more like 150 ascents to get to 8,848 metres.) I found something very intriguing about the idea of climbing the equivalent of Everest right at home (though of course, MUCH easier.) Wonder if you can give a nod to the marathon in your class next week?

      1. Jessica @ Fit Talker Reply

        Kind of funny to read “local everest climb”. :)

        1. Cynthia Reply

          Yup – and when I did the math on the elevation of the hill, 80x doesn’t equal the height of Everest, though perhaps they’re only counting from base camp. Anyway, it was a cool way of conceptualizing it, I thought. “I know, let’s climb the biggest hill in town eighty times!” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

  11. LB Reply

    Had to adapt a little to ride this ride for my 50 minute class.. but kept much of it the same. Loved the cuing of how hard to push. Anyhow, most of the class loved it, and said they felt great after. One rider and I experienced calf cramping trying to go all out. And one guy, who tends to complain about at least one song, didn’t like Palladio because it sounded to him like Christmas music (Mannheim Steamroller). But, he did enjoy my addition of Motley Crue’s Kickstart My Heart instead of Mortal Kombat, and Billy Idol’s Speed for the extra time. Thanks so much for posting your profile. I needed the kick in the butt, and like others, I wait with baited breath to see what you’ll come up with next. Keep spinnin’, keep rockin’.


    1. Cynthia Reply

      LOL Laura, I didn’t think there was a Christmas angle to Palladio but it has been used (and used and used) in a jewelry commercial that airs around the holidays. Thanks for the reminder about Kickstart my Heart – a perfect HIIT song. Speed is pretty good for high intensity intervals, too.

  12. Lisa Reply

    Here is the Spotify link:

    CAUTION: I was unable to find the exact versions for several songs, so timing is a little off.

  13. Rebecca Reply

    Cynthia, thank you for your blog, your honesty, and for not hanging up the shoes!

    The past few months I have been reading about HIIT (love everything about it!) and thinking about how to incorporate this method in a 55 minutes spin classes. My routines generally have Tabata drills sprinkled in the mix and I have been ending my classes with a fun little “game” of Red Light Green Light. It is a 2:1. Ten seconds all out standing sprint, followed by five seconds freeze. We do this 8 times for a total of 2:00. It is a killer and a fun way to end the class. Thanks for this post! Would love to read more post from you on this topic.

    1. Cynthia Reply

      Thanks Rebecca! I will be blogging about HIIT more as I use it in my classes.

  14. Helen Reply

    Hi Cintia, thanks for latest post – can you just tell me what you were doing for the hiit intervals i.e. climb, sprint etc.

    Also I empathise with

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Cynthia Reply

      Helen, I coached the class to do whatever got them to that wildly uncomfortable 100% effort. For me, it was a seated flat, but I’d guess that 30-40% of my riders chose standing sprints instead.

  15. Kevin Reply

    Very honest post, I really enjoyed reading it. I have a studio in Ireland and I instruct 10 classes a week plus a full tine job. Motivation has been low for a few weeks and I know I need to freshen things up. HIIiT sounds like a great idea. Great job I love your blog ….

    1. Cynthia Reply

      Kevin, FT work AND 10 classes a week? Okay, THAT’S busy. Thanks for the kind words about the blog.

  16. Lisa Reply

    Jennifer — are you on Spotify? Tomorrow, I will put it together on Spotify (so I can listen to it too!) and you can follow the playlist there. I’ll post the Spotify link here when I have it (since Cynthia doesn’t have Spotify in Canada).

    1. Cynthia Reply

      Awesome Lisa – thank you!

  17. Stacey Mickey-Neustadt Reply

    Cynthia, I look forward to your rides. Thank you for not putting away your spin shoes.

    1. Cynthia Reply

      Thanks Stacey! I don’t actually want to stop cycling.

  18. Jennifer Reply

    I absolutely loved this post, Cynthia. I am so very inspired to try this with the spin class I teach at a fitness club in Nothern Minnesota. I am quite picky about music and am wondering if there is any way I can get this actual playlist in YouTube form, or buy it from iTunes. Half my problem is i MUST feel the music to buy in to any class, so i spend hours fine tuning my own playlists so i will have others bit in. This playlist looks, well…kick a**!
    I haven’t had much luck finding spin play lists on ITunes. Any help in getting this exact playlist would be so appreciated.
    Unrelated, I love your writing style and clarity!
    Love this website.

    1. Cynthia Reply

      Dear Jennifer, thanks so much! You made my day. All of the songs on this playlist are available on iTunes (the Canadian version, at least) so it should be a matter of a few bucks to recreate it. We don’t have Spotify in Canada yet so I’ve no way to share it with you intact.

    2. workoutwithdi Reply

      Unfortunately about 2 updates ago iTunes changed everything and it’s impossible to make playlists anymore :( I used to do this and now “poof:” they dissapeared… so the problem is iTunes is either hiding the option or it’s been removed completely!

      1. Cynthia Reply

        You might want to re-install iTunes. I am running the current version (10.6.3) and all my playlists are intact, and I’m making a Hallowe’en one now.

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