How to Use an Assault Bike to Improve Your All
in: Fitness, Health & Fitness
Brett & Kate McKay • August 17, 2023
An important part of your fitness is conditioning. There are two types of conditioning: anaerobic and aerobic.
Anaerobic conditioning refers to your body’s ability to use glycogen or creatine phosphate to create ATP. The more anaerobic conditioning you have, the more efficient your body is at creating ATP from glycogen or creatine phosphate.
You condition or train your anaerobic system by performing short bursts of intense activity.
Aerobic conditioning refers to your body’s ability to use oxidation to create ATP. The better your aerobic conditioning, the more efficiently your body creates ATP from fat.
You condition your aerobic system by engaging in long periods of slow activity.
There’s a piece of gym equipment that’s effective for doing both types of conditioning: the assault bike.
An assault bike, also known as a fan or air bike, is a full-body cardio machine that combines the leg-exercising movements of cycling with an upper-body workout; as you work the bike’s pedals, you simultaneously pull and push its arms.
Unlike traditional stationary bikes where you manually adjust the bike’s resistance up or down, an assault bike uses a fan to provide resistance. The resistance automatically adapts to your output; the more output you generate, the more resistance you encounter. This is what can make the assault bike so brutal: the harder you go, the harder it gets.
Several companies make assault or air bikes.
While all air bikes are often called “assault bikes,” “Assault” is technically the brand name for a specific manufacturer of air bikes.
We own an AssaultBike Classic. It’s chain-driven, sturdy, and comfortable.
We owned a Schwinn Airdyne in the past. It was okay, but the ride wasn’t as smooth and ergonomically comfortable as the AssaultBike’s. Rogue is another popular manufacturer of air bikes.
One thing to consider when purchasing an air bike is whether it’s chain- or belt-driven. Compared to chain-driven bikes, belt-driven models are more expensive, a little quieter, and require less maintenance. Though all air bikes are pretty low maintenance. Not to mention, they don’t require electricity and access to outlets!
The Assault Bike vs. the Elliptical Machine
Assault bikes and elliptical machines offer the same kind of pedal + pull/push full-body action, and if you’re deciding whether to buy one or the other, I would choose an elliptical. There’s something that just feels better, to me at least, about standing up while exercising, as opposed to the hunched, squatty feeling you get on a bike. But if you have access to both at a commercial gym, or the ability to get both for your home gym, it’s nice to be able to mix up your workout by moving between them. Assault bikes are better for high intensity exercise (it’s hard to get your heart rate as high on an elliptical), while ellipticals are more comfortable for longer, less-intense workouts.
Working an assault bike is challenging; it’s with good reason that they’re sometimes referred to as “misery machines.” Users often have a love-hate relationship with the assault bike, with the love part coming down to the fitness–improving benefits it offers:
Full-body workout: Assault bike workouts engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, including your arms, legs, core, and back. This gives you a whole lot of fitness bang for your buck.
Low-impact: Because the assault bike is a cycling exercise, it’s low-impact compared to jogging or sprinting. Despite being low-impact, the resistance you get on an air bike will leave your metabolic system scorched.
Can be used for anaerobic and aerobic training: The assault bike is versatile. You can go slow and steady on it to get in some nice Zone 2 aerobic training or go fast and short to hit your anaerobic system.
Assault bikes are perfect for high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by rest or lower-intensity activity periods. This type of workout can help you burn calories, boost your metabolism, and improve your cardiovascular fitness. It’s the ultimate anaerobic workout.
I like to do HIIT on the assault bike two times a week. I do it after my lower body workout days.
Here’s how I do it:
That’s it! A HIIT session on an assault bike only takes about five minutes and gives you the appropriate dose and volume for anaerobic conditioning.
As your anaerobic conditioning improves, you’ll need to increase the stress of your HIIT workouts to continue to elicit an adaptive response. You can add stress to your assault bike HIIT workouts in two ways:
Add rounds. If you completed three rounds on day one, try to do four next time. Then, add one round per week. Shoot for 8-12 rounds before changing the other variable (reducing rest). Once you do so, drop back to 4-6 rounds and repeat the process.
Decrease your rest time. Start with a 1:5 work-to-rest ratio. Twenty seconds of intense work followed by 1 minute and 40 seconds of rest will give you that 1:5 ratio. The following week, try going to a 1:4 work-to-rest ratio. That would be 20 seconds of work, followed by 1 minute and 20 seconds of rest. You know your rest is appropriate when you feel a downshift in your effort — a sudden decrease in power output — in the middle of your second to last interval. If you don’t feel that downshift, you’re either not working hard enough during your work intervals or taking too long of a rest interval.
The pyramid workout is a challenging and effective way to push your limits on the assault bike. This workout gradually increases the duration of each interval and then decreases it in a pyramid-like structure. The pyramid workout helps improve your endurance and stamina:
Zone 2 cardio is the optimal way to train your aerobic system.
My preferred method of Zone 2 training is walking on an incline treadmill or doing the elliptical machine, but occasionally I’ll get on the assault bike for my Zone 2. Thanks to the full-body nature of the assault bike and the added resistance you get as you pedal faster, I can get to my Zone 2 heart rate pretty fast and stay there consistently for a long time.
I’ll even hop on the assault bike and pedal for 10 minutes throughout the day when I take a break from working and being sedentary. I can get my heart rate up into the Zone 2 level pretty quickly. It makes for a nice movement snack.
The one downside of doing your Zone 2 cardio on an assault bike is the loud fan. You’ll need to wear earbuds to watch Cobra Kai on your smartphone while you pedal.
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