There are plenty of old-school cyclists who swear by riding outdoors all the time, no matter what. While riding outdoors comes with a flurry of benefits, the new train of thought in the fitness world is to work smarter, not harder — and indoor cycling is the way to go if you want to get fit fast.
But is one really better than the other? Let’s take a look at the advantages of each so you can determine when to use each form of training.
ADVANTAGES OF INDOOR CYCLING
Yes, bikes were built to be ridden outside and used as a mode of transportation. But as cycling technology continues to progress, it brings a lot of benefits to indoor cycling. Smart trainers, apps and power meters make it easy to complete almost any type of workout you would do outside.
On an indoor trainer, you can make every second count. No stop signs, red lights, traffic or descents means you’ll have to pedal continuously with no built-in breaks. This makes it an ideal choice when you’ve got very little time to train during a busy work week. Setting up a training space in an area like your living room, garage or the gym makes it easy to jump on, get a quick, quality workout and return to your daily life.
While training partners — and even terrain — can make it difficult to maintain a consistent pace or wattage outside, indoor cycling’s current technology makes it easy to create structured workouts with a specific goal in mind — whether it’s to increase your VO2 max or build sprint speed. With apps like Trainer Road and Wahoo Fitness, you can create individualized workouts. Training sessions are created around your lactate threshold test and other factors such as how much available time you have to work out so you can maximize your session.
Riding intervals outside requires a long climb or stretch of road with light traffic and no stop lights so you can maintain a specific wattage or speed for a set amount of time without being interrupted. This could be hard to find, especially for cyclists living in urban areas lacking open roads and long steep climbs. New smart trainers, on the other hand, make this easy to do, and since you’re guaranteed to not have to deal with traffic and other hazards, it’s much safer to do high-speed training.
Whether it’s rain, snow, wind, cold weather or rising summer temps, there are times during the year when it’s probably not a good idea to ride outside. Another advantage to indoor training is it allows you to ride year-round, no matter what the conditions are outdoors. This allows for consistent training in a safe environment at any time of day. The more options you have at your disposal, the more likely you are to actually get on your bike instead of skipping a workout.
ADVANTAGES OF OUTDOOR TRAINING
Even though indoor cycling has some advantages, riding outside has its own, too. Here are a few things to consider about outdoor cycling when building a training plan:
Every ride doesn’t need to be an all-out sufferfest. In fact, lower-intensity rides are needed for recovery and building endurance. Long, slow rides are necessary if you’re planning to complete a long-distance event like a century or Gran Fondo, so you can get used to spending hours in the saddle. Since indoor cycling isn’t typically done for more than 90 minutes to avoid boredom and burnout, it’s best to head outdoors when you want to put in more than two hours on the bike.
There’s only one way to get better at bike-handling. Balance, awareness, cornering, braking and descending are all critical elements of cycling that can only be practiced and refined on the road. To be safe and confident when you sign up for a cycling event or join a weekend group ride, you’ll need plenty of practice on your bike-handling skills. Being exposed to a variety of terrain helps your bike-handling, too, since most cycling races don’t take place on straight roads and require you to brake, shift and make decisions quickly.
Riding an indoor trainer in your basement or garage can get terribly lonely, and while a spin class is a little better, one of the best parts about cycling outdoors is riding with others. After all, cycling is really a team sport. Good training partners can help you build camaraderie, challenge you during tough workouts and help you get comfortable riding in close proximity to others while drafting. It also makes cycling a lot of fun, which is what the sport is all about.
Instead of staring at a computer screen, cycling outdoors can be a great way to get some vitamin D and enjoy nature. Being outside brings welcome distractions which can help you ride further and harder instead of concentrating on the pain or difficulty of your workout. Constantly changing terrain, even if slight, can also challenge you to use different muscle groups and help you become a well-rounded cyclist.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you want to get in shape and work on your speed, indoor training is a great way to build your fitness. But if you’re interested in becoming a better cyclist you’ll need to ride outdoors, too.
To get the most out of your workouts, it’s ideal to do a mix of indoor and outdoor cycling. When you can’t commute to work by bike, are short on time or when weather doesn’t allow, opt for the indoor trainer. Interval training once or twice per week on the indoor trainer can definitely boost your performance on the bike. On the other hand, riding a few days per week outdoors can help you boost your endurance and keep your bike-handling, cornering and balance sharp when you do decide to test yourself with a century.
The important thing to remember is to stay balanced. Use your indoor and outdoor cycling workouts to complement each other so you can become the best, most well-rounded cyclist possible.