Gyms and platforms like FIIT have started introducing assault bike workouts to their rosters, but just how effective are they compared with regular cardio sessions? Writer Ella Glover has been finding out.
When it comes to fitness, I’m very much of the mindset that you get the best results when you do what you enjoy. For me, that usually doesn’t leave room for intentional cardio. On top of my strength training and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practice, the cardio I get comes from cycling or walking to and from the gym.
Sometimes, though, our fitness goals and what we enjoy dovetail, and this year, I want to improve my cardio. Now, adding more cardio into your fitness routine can be daunting, especially because low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio can extend your workout by upwards of 30 minutes.
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But getting in extra cardio doesn’t have to be time consuming. In fact, with the assault bike, one short, high-intensity session per week should be just enough to get cardiovascularly fitter.
Personal trainer and yoga instructor Shona Vertue is a big believer in the assault bike and its benefits: “It’s like a spiritual awakening,” she tells Stylist. “[This is because] it is low impact but incredibly high intensity.
“In addition to the legs, the assault bike works your upper body and core via two arm pulleys that are simultaneously pushed and pulled as you ride the bike (like a cross trainer).”
The assault bike offers an intense, full-body workout, particularly compared to other cardio machines, Vertue adds. “The balanced demand this equipment places on the legs and upper body, while still allowing you to ‘sprint’ explosively, facilitates a rapid increase in heart rate.”
So, for my first workout of 2022, I tried out Vertue’s beginner-friendly assault bike workout.
Before I get into it, it’s important to note that any assault bike workout can be easily adapted to suit all fitness levels – something Vertue is keen to stress. This is because you can dictate the intensity of the workout by choosing how fast you ride. As long as you don’t have any physical contraindications that may implicate your ability to be on an exercise bike (if in doubt, talk to your GP first), this workout can fit into your routine.
The assault bike workout
For beginners, Vertue prefers to see the assault bike as just one element of a full body workout. “Rather than spending the entire duration of your workout on the assault bike,” she says, “you get a rest from it which gives your body a more sustainable way to adjust to something new.”
Given how tough assault bike riding can be, that’ll come as a welcome relief to most people. The beginner circuit she recommends includes a mix of multi-joint exercises that provide active recovery while still keeping the heart rate high.
Complete these exercises in a circuit for five rounds, once a week. To see concrete improvements, time the workout and then use that time as a base against which you can test yourself going forwards. The fitter you get, the quicker you’ll make it through the circuit.
- 5 dumbbell squat to press
- 10 TRX rows (if you don’t have a TRX, try renegade rows)
- 15 shoulder elevated hip thrusts
- 20 second assault bike
- 40 seconds rest
I started 2022 slowly after picking up an ankle injury and navigating a Covid scare. After an elongated fitness break, the thought of attempting a high-intensity circuit filled me with dread.
Are assault bike workouts worth the faff?
Being in a busy commercial gym, it can be difficult to set up a circuit that requires specific equipment. Luckily for me, the one assault bike in my gym was free on that first day back, so I dragged over a small step for the hip thrusts and my weights and got going. For logistical purposes, I had to adapt the workout slightly to swap TRX rows for dumbbell rows (which may have been slightly easier but was equally effective).
For that first session, I decided to pace myself on the bike and keep my weights slightly lighter than I would during a normal strength session. With cardio, you want to move quickly rather than going as heavy as possible and I’d definitely recommend going lighter than usual in a circuit like this, purely so that you have enough energy to recognise when your form is slipping as you become more fatigued.
By the third round, any inkling that this workout was going to be easy had completely dissolved. I was sweating while desperately trying to keep my cool in front of the cardio bunnies. That first workout took me 12 minutes and 20 seconds… after which, I lay on the floor trying to catch my breath. Trust me when I say this workout is not to be underestimated.
But while it was incredibly tiring (in just 12 minutes!), the workout was genuinely enjoyable. The circuit set-up left no room for boredom and the fact that it was able to pack such a punch in a short space of time makes it even more attractive for people like me who tend to swerve cardio workouts. I’ll definitely be adding assault bike workouts into my weekly routine from now on, and who knows, perhaps I’ll have built enough stamina to move on to the intermediate or advanced workouts by this time next week if I stick with it.
So, what does a more advanced assault bike workout look like?
Intermediate assault bike workout: The 5 Mile Challenge
“This workout really challenges your discipline to stay on the bike and sit in the discomfort of a (relatively) long-distance session,” says Vertue.
“While this is challenging you to push your pace, it also teaches consistency of pace, which is something that should be understood before moving onto more advanced lung burning workouts.”
The idea is to complete five miles on the assault bike, which is pretty brutal. Vertue tells me that the first time she tried it, it took her 16 minutes of pedalling. That might not sound like a lot on a regular push bike but it’s tough on an assault bike. All you have to do is jump on and complete five miles as quickly as you can. She recommends trying the workout once a week for four weeks, each time trying to beat your last time.
Advanced assault bike workout: pyramid sprints
Sprinting might sound less intense than a long old slog on a bike, but Vertue explains that a sprint is actually an advanced activity because it requires explosiveness.
“This places a lot of demand not just on your muscles, but your nervous system too, which is why I suggest this workout only to seasoned assault bike users or athletic types,” explains Vertue.
“Of course it can be modified to be a ‘run’ as opposed to a ‘sprint’, which wouldn’t be as intense and could therefore be completed by any level.”
Using the pyramid protocol, you’re supposed to sprint for the allotted amount of time then have an active rest, which means riding at a very low intensity or walking (do not lie down or completely rest until the workout has finished).
The pyramid protocol:
- Minute 1: 10 second sprint, 50 seconds active rest
- Minute 2: 20 second sprint, 40 second active rest
- Minute 3: 30 second sprint, 30 second active rest
- Minute 4: 40 second sprint, 20 second active rest
- Minute 5: 50 second sprint, 10 second active rest
- Minute 6: 40 second sprint; 20 second active rest
- Minute 7: 30 second sprint; 30 second active rest
- Minute 8: 20 second sprint; 40 second active rest
- Minute 9: 10 second sprint; 50 second active rest
Complete this workout once a week.
By the time you get to this level, you may find that there’s a place in your regime for all three kinds of assault bike workouts. The brilliant thing is how versatile the bike can be. My advice? Take it slowly and build up – there’s no need to rush ahead.
For more workout ideas, visit the Strong Women Training Club.