To evaluate the magnitude of the stress on the aerobic and the anaerobic energy release systems during high intensity bicycle training, two commonly used protocols (IE1 and IE2) were examined during bicycling. IE1 consisted of one set of 6-7 bouts of 20-s exercise at an intensity of approximately 170% of the subject's maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) with a 10-s rest between each bout. IE2 involved one set of 4-5 bouts of 30-s exercise at an intensity of approximately 200% of the subject's VO2max and a 2-min rest between each bout. The accumulated oxygen deficit of IE1 (69 +/- 8 ml.kg-1, mean +/- SD) was significantly higher than that of IE2 (46 +/- 12 ml.kg-1, N = 9, p < 0.01). The accumulated oxygen deficit of IE1 was not significantly different from the maximal accumulated oxygen deficit (the anaerobic capacity) of the subjects (69 +/- 10 ml.kg-1), whereas the corresponding value for IE2 was less than the subjects' maximal accumulated oxygen deficit (P < 0.01). The peak oxygen uptake during the last 10 s of the IE1 (55 +/- 6 ml.kg-1.min-1) was not significantly less than the VO2max of the subjects (57 +/- 6 ml.kg-1.min-1). The peak oxygen uptake during the last 10 s of IE2 (47 +/- 8 ml.kg-1.min-1) was lower than the VO2max (P < 0.01). In conclusion, this study showed that intermittent exercise defined by the IE1 protocol may tax both the anaerobic and aerobic energy releasing systems almost maximally.