Sitting in a room pedaling to nowhere sounds like torture to most cyclists when compared to breathing fresh air and enjoying panoramic vistas. But with summer heat, busy schedules and a few other scenarios, sometimes training indoors is the best option — and more rewarding than you may have thought.
THE WEATHER TURNS NASTY
Let’s face it, bad weather happens. Even professional cyclists use indoor trainers or rollers to warm up for inclement races or get rides in while the weather is too hot or too cold. If you are a mountain biker and the local trails aren’t rideable in wet weather, then an indoor trainer workout might be a great balance to your usual routine. For road riders, a short, intense trainer workout might give you something you have been missing during long summer group rides.
Many riders could use a touch up on their low-end aerobic intensity and coordination skills, so doing 30–60 minutes with some one-leg and high rpm pedaling can be a nice break and make the time go quickly. Keep your indoor training equipment set up or at least organized so you can pivot to an indoor session and boost your training when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Here are a few more reasons you might want to take your training indoors:
YOU’RE REALLY BUSY
For the time-crunched cyclist, there are only so many hours in the day. I tell my busiest clients to use indoor strength and riding sessions once or twice a week (usually early in morning, at lunch or late in the evening) to ensure they get in the critical intensities.
While it is possible to do intervals outside, it requires a safe area, longer hills than many cities have, and the time to get to the training area. Indoors, you can target specific intensities, see progress each week and increase in a stepwise fashion, just like strength training.
Try it: 1–2x a week, hop on your indoor trainer or an indoor bike at the gym and do a quick warm up (10–15 minutes with some high cadence work and 2–3 x 10-second sprints) before doing 3–5 x 2–3 minute hard efforts. Aim to hold the same wattage each session until you can do 5 x 3 minutes, and then decrease to 3 x 2 minutes with increased wattage.
YOU REQUIRE STRENGTH, ATHLETICISM AND VARIETY
For those who are aging or taking part in disciplines that require power and explosivity (this is almost every cyclist), strength training is key. For older athletes, maintaining muscle mass is imperative and for anyone not making their living riding in Pro Tour racing, bone-density and functional movement throughout daily living activities is also an important consideration. If you spend two days a week on a simple, repeatable strength or core routine, or movement practice as I prefer, and maintain it through your competitive season, you will not regret the feelings of control, balance and health on and off your bike — and you might just find yourself winning a few sprints or KOMs!
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YOU LIVE IN A CITY
The reality for many city cyclists is the risks of riding outside are real, especially if you plan to go fast during your rides. In a perfect world, we could ride great traffic-free roads or epic singletracks all day, but this is just not possible for most of us. Safety is something each cyclist must assess themselves, but there may be days you prefer to ride without the stress of traffic.
YOU STRUGGLE TO DO EASY RECOVERY SPINS
While the focus of our training should be on skill and event-specific terrain, an area many cyclists struggle with is recovery. Too often, recovery rides are too hard: add a hill here or a town-side sprint there and pretty quickly the whole next week (or month) is thrown off with fatigue. Instead, enjoying a 20–30 minute spin before work while catching up on a favorite TV show may be the best thing you can do for your fitness and might save you some time each week to boost your training, recovery and maximize time for all that other stuff you have to do each day.
YOU HAVEN’T FOUND A GREAT COMMUNITY OR TRIED ONE-ON-ONE COACHING
One of the most popular episodes of the Consummate Athlete, the podcast I co-host, features my coaching mentor Steve Neal of the Cycling Gym in Toronto, Ontario. Neal runs a strength gym that also does trainer classes for cyclists year-round. He is a big advocate of this indoor model for training in the city and we discuss this concept on the show.
What is often overlooked about attending a weekly (or twice weekly) strength and/or cycling class is the close contact you can have with awesome people, without getting dropped or having to ride singlefile and not talk. Being social while riding at a targeted pace for you means the training is perfect for you, but still social and fun for everyone on the ‘ride.’ Having a coach watching you ride can help you make adjustments to your posture, power and mechanics, which can lead to quicker progression than riding alone on the road.
Cycling is a sport — and just like a baseball player spends time in the batting cage, a boxer skips or a football player practices catching the ball — cyclists can do a better job of focusing on elements of our sport and optimizing our training for our location. We take advantage of tools for strength and indoor cycling training in the offseason, often to reach our best fitness of the year, but, once summer comes, we lose sight of the targeted efforts, easy rides and fundamental movements that got us so fit.