During the winter, there will be times when it’s impossible to get outside on the bike. Whether it’s due to dwindling daylight, below-freezing temperatures or snow, your indoor trainer or the spin bike at your local gym are likely your next best options. And in some instances, they can be even more beneficial than the real thing.
The next time you’re trapped indoors, give these seven drills a whirl, and improve your efficiency and speed while you wait for the warmer days ahead.
Not every ride on the trainer has to be a leg-smashing interval workout. In fact, the off-season is the perfect time to focus some of your energy on becoming more efficient on the bike. Whether you’re short on time or need to recover before or after a hard workout, pedaling drills can help you get faster without all the suffering.
Here are a few you should try to incorporate each week to improve your pedaling efficiency:
Unclip one foot, and rest it behind you on the frame of your trainer or on a chair. For 20–40 seconds, focus on pedaling in smooth circles with only one leg. Try to keep your cadence between 75–90 revolutions per minute. Repeat with the opposite leg, and aim for 6–10 sets.
To do this drill, you’ll need to know your baseline cadence. Most cyclists average around 90 rpm, but monitor yours with a cadence sensor for a few rides to establish your average. To complete the workout, spin for 5 minutes at 15–20 rpm higher than your average. Pedal at normal cadence for 2–3 minutes, and repeat. Complete 3–4 sets.
THE PULL DRILL
This drill is done using a low cadence of around 70–75 rpm and an elevated front wheel to simulate a climbing position. After a good warmup, concentrate only on the upstroke or pull phase of the pedal stroke (6–10 o’clock) with the left leg for 3 minutes. With the right leg, concentrate only on the push phase (from 1–5 o’clock). This will take some practice to perfect and may feel awkward at first. Recover for 1 minute with easy spinning, then repeat, switching the pull phase to the right leg and the push phase to the left leg for another 3 minutes. Complete 3–5 repetitions with each leg.
If you want to get better at climbing, it’ll take a lot of practice. Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for sunnier skies or a trip to the French Alps to get started. These two intervals for the indoor trainer or spin bike are good for building the power and endurance needed to conquer the toughest climbs once you’re able to get back out on the road:
This set will improve your VO2 max, which is needed to sustain power during a long climb. With your front wheel elevated on a riser block, warm up for 10–15 minutes. For the main set, ride all-out for 2 minutes with a cadence that simulates your normal climbing cadence — usually 75–95 rpm. Recover for 1 minute, and repeat 6–8 times. Depending on your fitness level, you may need to spin easy for 5 minutes at the midway point of the set (after 3–4 intervals). Cool down for 10–15 minutes.
Following a good warmup and with your front wheel elevated, begin your 5-minute interval set by pedaling in the seated position at a cadence of 90 rpm and a perceived exertion of 8 out of 10 (10 is an all-out effort) for 2 minutes. Without recovering, stand and pedal for 1 minute, switching to a slightly harder gear and upping your perceived exertion to 10/10. At the end of your 1 minute of standing, move back to the seated position. Pedal for another 2 minutes at 90 rpm and 8/10 exertion. At the end of your 5-minute set, recover for 2 minutes. Repeat 4–5 times before finishing with a cooldown.
Since speed and sprinting intervals can be difficult to complete on the road when you have to worry about traffic and stoplights, the time you spend on the indoor trainer during the colder months of the year can be a great way to build your top-end speed.
After a warmup, stand with your hands in the drops, and sprint as hard as you can for 30 seconds. Decrease your resistance, and spin easy for 30 seconds before ramping up for another all-out 30-second sprint. Complete 5 intervals, then spin easy for 5 minutes. At the end of your recovery, complete 5 more sets of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off so that your workout consists of 10 total sprints. Cool down for 10–15 minutes.
Following a 10–15-minute warmup, stay seated and sprint for 60 seconds at maximum effort. Recover for 1 minute, and begin the next effort for 50 seconds. Continue down the ladder for 40-, 30- and 20-second efforts, pedaling easy for 1 minute in between each effort. At the midway point, spin easy in a high cadence of around 100 rpms for 5 minutes. Reverse and head back up the ladder, repeating your efforts of 20-, 30-, 40-, 50- and 60-second sprints with the same recovery in between each effort. On the second round up the ladder, stand for your sprints instead of sitting. Cool down for 10–15 minutes of easy spinning.