Challenge Bike Workout #4: Tabata Intervals

In this final Challenge bike session, cycling coach and expert Matt Bottrill has some short, sharp Tabata intervals waiting for you—get ready!

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

He saved the best for last—and in this 60-minute session from bike coach Matt Bottrill, you’ll be hitting a series of Tabata-style 20-second maximum effort intervals, which are designed to get you firing on all cylinders ready for this weekend’s Challenge. This is the fourth and final workout from Bottrill and it is designed to lead you to your best 40K time trial, which will be one part of the virtual Olympic distance “triathlon” challenge (a 15-minute strength circuit, 40K ride, 10K run) next weekend. 

Bottrill is a world-renowned bike guru, cyclist, and coach who works with pro triathletes such as Tim O’Donnell, Tim Don, Matt Hanson, and Justin Metzler. He also works with the Lotto-Soudal pro cycling team as time trial bike fitter and planner. 

Throughout these workouts, Bottrill uses Levels 1 through 7 (listed as L1, L2, etc.) to determine effort or RPE. If you prefer to train by power or heart-rate then he has those listed too. See below (beneath the workout) for a full explanation of levels and their respective heart-rates and wattages. 

Of this final workout, Bottrill said: “Tabata intervals are some of the most intense and you’ll need to be really fired up for this block of work. Remember the gains are mainly made in this zone!”

He added: “This workout is best performed with high cadence, don’t control it—hit it hard!”

You’ll begin with a 15-minute high cadence warm-up (90-100 RPM) before doing two rounds of four minutes of Tabata intervals: 20 seconds at maximum effort into 10 seconds recovery for four minutes. Do 20 minutes recovery riding and then repeat that four-minute block, before going straight into 10 minutes at Level 2. Wrap it up and cool down with seven minutes of easy riding at high cadence. 

Challenge Bike Workout #4: Tabata Intervals


15 min. @ L1, high cadence 90-100+ RPM 

Main Set

4 min. as: 20 sec. @ L7 into 10 sec. @ L1-2

20 min. @ L1 recovery

4 min. as 20. sec @ L7 into 10. sec. @ L1-2

10 min. @ L2


7 min. @ L1, high cadence recovery

Explanation of Exertion Levels

1 ACTIVE RECOVERY (VERY LIGHT ACTIVITY)  Hardly any exertion, but more than sitting down < 55% <68%
2 ENDURANCE (LIGHT ACTIVITY) Feels like you can maintain for hours. Easy to breath and carry conversation  56-75% 69-83%
3 TEMPO (MODERATE)  Breathing more heavily. Still somewhat comfortable but slightly challenging  76-90% 84-94%
4 LACTATE THRESHOLD (FTP, Functional Threshold Power)  Breathing more heavily. Still somewhat comfortable but notably more challenging 91-105% 95-105%
5 VO2 MAX (VIGOROUS)  Borderline uncomfortable. Short of breath, can speak but not sentence   106-120% >106%
6 ANAEROBIC CAPACITY (VERY HARD ACTIVITY)  Very difficult to maintain exercise intensity, can barely breath and can only speak a few words   121-150% N/A
7 NEUROMUSCULAR POWER (MAXIMUM EFFORT)  Feels almost impossible to keep going. Completely out of breath. Unable to talk  N/A N/A

Trending on Triathlete