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The Benefits of Indoor Cycling

The Winter months are well and truly upon us here in NZ and the motivation for completing road rides in inclement weather starts to wain in even the most dedicated roadies. While I’m also an advocate of getting out in all weather at least a few times per week, to encounter conditions you are likely to face on race day, the benefits of incorporating some indoor training into your week are many.

The most common thing I hear when mentioning indoor trainer sessions is that it’s boring. Usually this argument is brought about by someone who jumps on a stationary bike with no plan in their head or even better, written down. Except for that hardened fraction of the population who believe that they are earning “tough points” by riding for hours on end going nowhere looking at a wall, most of us can make time go quicker by having an interval session mapped out.

For those of you not convinced that this is for you I’ll go over what I see as the benefits.

  • Safety – as winter approaches and daylight hours diminish there is little choice for those of us with jobs than to get out in the dark to get some road riding in. Why not cut down the risk and substitute some of your rides with an indoor session. Not much chance of having an accident there, unless you’re doing something really wrong.
  • Stay warm and dry – as above. Indoors you can control the climate. I’ve heard of some keen beans riding inside a garden shed with the heater on to get ready for Kona, but for the rest of us, we can control the climate with a fan or by adjusting our choice of clothing so that we remain comfortable.
  • Specificity – you can complete intervals without interruptions such as traffic, terrain or wind direction. It’s easier to train to specific zones of intensity according to what you are trying to achieve on that day or in that phase of training.
  • Social – if this is what you crave then it’s possible in most NZ cities to join a class where many like-minded cyclists can all complete the same session side by side. Unlike the road, cyclists of all abilities can ride together. You can’t get dropped. Each can put in as much effort as they see fit and get as much benefit as each other. In this way indoor cycling is a great equaliser.
  • More efficient use of your time – on an indoor bike, you are able to keep pedalling the whole time. As long as you are not lazy, your time spent is about 15-20% more effective than riding on the road. In a city especially, we spend about this much time free-wheeling down hills and up to stops. If you are short on time, you can warmup quicker indoors (no wind cooling), hit your specifics, then a quick warm down and you’re done.

 

Tips:

  1. It’s preferable to use your own bike on a wind-trainer. Spin bikes or gym bikes will achieve a good cardio effect also but muscles operate in a way that isn’t as specific as riding your own bike. Specificity of training is one of the key principles               to effective training.
  2. Have a towel handy. Due to no wind rushing past you the bodies cooling system struggles to work as effectively and you will sweat a lot.
  3. Drink more – due to 2 above. An interesting exercise to figure out how much to drink is to take a before and after weight. If you drank a bottle say in an hour (about 750g) and still lost 1kg, then you need to drink another 1 litre next time.
  4. Invest in a wind-trainer specific skewer for your rear wheel. This will avoid any slippage.
  5. All windtrainers are not created equal. Choose wisely when purchasing. They need to be matched to ability and in some instances weight. In general, a heavier rider (and also a highly competitive rider) will be able to push more power. Some of       the very basic indoor trainers simply won’t provide enough resistance to be effective. For the beginner, almost any type will suffice.

 

Sample program:

Legspeed session: Purpose: to improve oxygen uptake and help coordination. This is a good session in your foundation phase of training.

Warmup 10min

Tempo 6min

Recovery 2min

Tempo 6min with 10s sprints every 2min (keep in the same gear and wind it up to high rpm)

Recovery 3mins

10 x (20s legspeed sprints, 1min40s easy recovery)

Extra 2min recovery

Microbursts 4min (15s ON / 15s Float)

Recovery 3mins

Microbursts 4min (15s ON / 15s Float)

WD 10min

KEY:

Tempo: 7/10 intensity / moderate / 80-90% of maximum observed heart rate @ 95+rpm.

Legspeed Sprints: use a couple of gears harder than tempo gear. Stay seated and from a rolling start, sprint hard to get cadence up around 125-135rpm. Maintain a strong core to stop “bouncing” on the saddle. Experiment with gears a little on these. You should be in a gear you can just hold in that cadence range for the full 20s.

Microbursts: Using a similar gear to legspeed sprints, accelerate almost as hard for 15s, then “Float” for 15s, On 15, Float 15 etc for the full 4mins. For the float section, keep pressure on the pedals but less. Don’t stop pedalling completely as this will only make it harder to build back up to speed again in the ON phase.