Cycling Circuits That Take It to the Next Level

by Christy Stevenson on Feb 20, 2014

Most cycling class participants walk away dripping in sweat, satisfied knowing they got a highly effective cardio workout. But do they have any sense of making progress from session to session—or even improving within a single session? Do they have a specific goal they can reach in 1 hour and immediately celebrate? Give participants palpable proof of progress with this easy-to-follow formula designed to challenge all levels!

The Formula

Select three distinct drills that will serve as the “standard” for the workout. Decide the order of the drills, preferably least intense to most intense, but you can also choose a light-heavy-moderate mix. Once you’ve selected three drills and determined the best way to sequence them, create a complementary playlist. For the first round, select songs that are each about 3 minutes long; for the second round, songs about 5 minutes long; and for the final round, songs about 7 minutes long. The best way to find longer music (typical radio songs are 3:30) is to add “DJ remix” to the titles of your favorite songs as you search legal music download sites. Check for explicit lyrics, however, as DJ remix versions are often unedited.

Applying the Formula

Begin with a 5- to 8-minute warm-up. During this time, ensure proper bike setup, cue correct form and get participants excited about the 3 x 3 workout. Remind them to listen to their bodies throughout the ride, but explain that effort levels and intensity should remain fairly high. The goal is to sustain the higher intensities longer with each round. Below are three sample 3 x 3 cycling circuit drills:

Round One: 3-Minute Drills (9 minutes total)

  • Progressive climb. Start a seated climb with a cadence of approximately 60-75 revolutions per minute (rpm). At 30-second or 32-count intervals, have participants increase resistance until they are performing a standing climb. Encourage them to stick to the beat of the music and gauge tension levels accordingly. Increase the length of intervals for longer songs.
  • Seated speed work. Cue participants to begin with a speed that feels like 60% of their maximum effort. Every 30 seconds or every 32 counts, have them increase speed levels to 70%, then 80%, then 90%, then 100%. Return to 60% and repeat. Again, increase the length of the intervals for the longer songs, if you like.
  • Hill plateaus. Start with a climbing tension that is heavy enough to support body weight when out of the saddle. Resistance level should feel like a “good hill” but still be light enough for cadence to remain at 60–90 rpm. As soon as the music hits the chorus, cue participants to sit, back off the tension and increase speed to double time. This is the plateau, a nice flat with some gear on the bike and a quick pedal speed. Once the chorus ends and the verse begins, return riders to heavy tension, stand and climb. Effort level is high. Challenge participants to increase their bike tension/gear if possible after the first half of the verse. Again, when the song reaches the chorus, return to the plateau.

Round Two: 5-Minute Drills (15 minutes total)

  • Repeat the three drills above. Coach participants to sustain them longer by focusing on breathing and form. Monitor heart rates with a simple talk test, or use rating of perceived exertion.

Round Three: 7-Minute Drills (21 minutes total)

  • Repeat the three drills one final time. Now is when participants will need encouragement, form reminders and cheerleading from you. Get off the bike and work the room, praising people by name and pushing everyone to his or her best performance. Remind riders that RPE should be very high by the end of this last round.

To discover how a full class would be put together, complete with music suggestions, please see “Sample Class: 3 x 3 Progressive Cycling Circuits” in the online IDEA Library or in the November–December 2013 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7, for more information.

IDEA Fit Tips, Volume 12, Issue 3

© 2014 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Christy Stevenson

Christy Stevenson IDEA Author/Presenter

Christy Stevenson, FiTOUR ProTrainer and author of Get on the Ball—A Swiss Ball Workout (, has been teaching group fitness classes for over a decade, and has certified with ...


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