What do you do when it is snowy, rainy or windy? If you are like many cyclists, inclement weather means riding indoors. For many others, indoor training is a year-round pursuit to stay safe, overcome injury or done simply for convenience. In many ways, riding indoors is simpler than going outside, you don’t need to obsessively check the weather, plan what to wear or select the tools to bring in case of mechanical breakdowns.
You should use your indoor trainer like a baseball player would use a batting cage, not as your only training but as a supplement to an overall training strategy that prepares you for a goal event. Your off-season training plan should incorporate strength work, cross-training (e.g., cross-country skiing), skills gained by riding outside as well as higher intensities using a couple of targeted indoor trainer sessions.
Despite the simplicity and convenience of indoor cycling, there are several common issues that can reduce the effectiveness and enjoyment of your session.
TREATING YOUR INDOOR AND OUTDOOR RIDES THE SAME
When you train indoors, focus on workouts that are the most effective (and fun) in that isolated environment. On the trainer, you can ride steadily without disruption. You can do focused sessions to work on your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). Indoors, you can also participate in virtual simulations and group rides that can boost your fun and intensity.
No matter what, you want to make sure your indoor rides aren’t boring. One of my favorite things to do indoors is combine bike riding with strength or other modes of exercise. This might be a 5-minute core circuit interspersed with 10 minutes of riding or it could be a 30-minute run combined with a 30-minute ride.
Conversely, there are some things that just don’t work as well indoors. Standing sprints are hard to do well since the bike can not move side to side — this can also crack frames on some trainers. Similarly, while steady endurance rides and muscular endurance intervals can be done well, that does not mean most cyclists need to ride more than 1–2 hours at a time on an indoor trainer to reach their goals. Save that for outdoors rides, cross-training or the spring if you have time before your goal race.
As with any training pursuit, you should have a goal. It might just be to have fun or to work on a certain aspect of your fitness. You might decide to work on your FTP during a certain session, so your goal for the day would be to complete a warmup with a few sprints and spinups to improve your coordination and then 3 x 10-minute threshold intervals that will help you break up your workout into many little chunks where you focus on different cadences and outputs. This focus is easier to do inside and helps you take advantage of where you are and, importantly, these same little chunks help you avoid boredom or the dreaded junk miles.
GETTING BORED OR UNMOTIVATED
Since there is much less visual stimulation indoors, you’ll want to plan for how you’ll stay motivated and entertained as you pedal away. Having a couple of great music playlists, podcasts, movies or television shows that you only enjoy on the trainer helps pass the time. A cheap and effective way to add some specific visual simulation is to look up videos of races you want to do or races in your goal discipline to watch. It is amazing how you start feeling part of the action, so be sure your workout goals match the intensity of the race. At a higher price-point and with more advanced setups, you can use a smart trainer to simulate courses, participate in virtual group rides and further enhance your indoor experience.
PEDALING AT ONE SPEED
Accelerating quickly and the ability to pedal at a variety of cadences is very important to cycling performance and can also be a great way to break up your ride to help with motivation and focus. Feel free to mix up different types of indoor cycling workouts. You can do spinups where you accelerate the gear you are in over 20–30 seconds, as if you are on a fixed-gear bicycle and you are coming over the top of a climb and into a downhill that you must keep pedaling down since you can’t coast. You can set your cadence to a specific range, say 70–80 RPM, while you are doing a tempo or moderate workload to work on muscular endurance and prepare specifically for steeper climbs where you run out of gears and can only pedal in your easiest gear. For longer rides or intervals, simply dividing the workout into 5–10 minute chunks where you shift your gears to switch the cadence and even your wattage/output, inserts some variety into your ride. Similarly, you can include sprints
FORGETTING ABOUT TEMPERATURE CONTROL
It is very common for athletes to get overwhelmed by riding indoors in hot areas; as discomfort rises, performance drops. Getting too warm increases the load on your body (e.g., decrease wattage) and increases your rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Try using a very big fan and a cool room, or consider moving to a garage or colder portion of the house. You might also practice your warm-weather cooling strategies by using cold drinks, ice packs or stockings (down your jersey or around your neck) as well as sufficient cold water and electrolytes.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The trainer is a great tool, make sure you use it to boost your training when you have to stay indoors and use other tools to fill in the gaps by cross-training, strength training and getting in enough recovery time and possibly a yoga class.