Bike workout in a hurry: 20 min drill

Short on time but determined to get a good bike workout done? The 20 minute drill is your answer.

| January 16, 2019 | TRAINING

Photo >Frank Wechsel / spomedis

I created the 20 minute drill out of necessity. I had returned to school, studying journalism in a very demanding program. Added to the workload was a three and a half hour daily commute, not to mention coaching and personal training, which was helping pay the bills. Despite all that, I was determined to race competitively the next summer.

I figured I had 35 minutes three mornings a week to complete a bike session. With a 10 minute warm up and a 5 minute warm down, I had 20 minutes of quality time to put in. The goal was to be able to push as hard as I could during that 20 minutes. While hammering for 20 minutes straight worked out sometimes, I quickly found that I could actually get more out of the session if I split things up a bit.

My goal with this workout was to get my heart rate up as high as I could and make sure it didn't drop too low during the recovery. The vision was to do the intervals at a heart rate (HR) above my anaerobic threshold (AT) and then to keep the recovery HR within 10 percent of my AT. Here's how the set looked:

10 mins w'up

1 x 3 mins hard/ 2MRI (Minutes Rest Interval)

1 x 4 mins hard/ 1MRI

1 x 5 mins hard/ 2MRI

1 x 3 mins hard

(You can also make this set a bit more challenging by only taking a minute rest after the 5 minute interval and finishing with a 4-minute effort.)

So, did the set work? I did this set once or twice a week throughout the winter and enjoyed one of my best race seasons ever the following summer, including a win at the Tupper Lake Tin Man triathlon, an event that I'd finished in every position from second to fourth five times over the years before I finally managed to get the elusive win.

If you find yourself pressed for time, give the 20 minute drill a shot. To get the most out of it, though, you do need to be ready to push yourself extremely hard, monitoring your HR to ensure that you keep working, even through the recovery. There were more than a few times when I finished the set and almost fell off my rollers. The set remains a mainstay in both my own training and for the athletes I coach.

In addition to being the editor in chief of, Kevin Mackinnon is a long-time triathlon, running and cycling coach. He's worked with numerous age-group world champions and pro athletes, including Lori Bowden, Lisa Bentley, Mark Bates and Wenke Kujala.