Training

Why You Should Consider Indoor Training On The Bike

Andy Potts regularly turns in top bike splits off of mostly indoor training. But can that strategy work for age-groupers?

Andy Potts regularly turns in top bike splits off of mostly indoor training. But can that strategy work for age-groupers?

As indoor riding studios and power meters become more prevalent, there are many age-groupers who credit their improvement to riding mostly indoors. Heather Gill, a competitive age-grouper who does all her midweek training inside, credits this method for improving her outdoor confidence. “It has made me a much more confident cyclist, which led me to try to grab the back of pace lines of people much faster than me, which each time has made me a little bit stronger and faster. In longer races (half-Ironmans) my speed increased 1–1.5 miles per hour and for sprint distances (12–15 miles) my speed has increased almost 3 miles per hour.”

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Why you should consider moving inside

Convenience. It’s no secret that the average weekend four-hour group ride can actually take up most of the day by the time you factor in drive time, regrouping time and fuel breaks. If you’re like most busy age-groupers and have other obligations in life besides training and recovering, it’s extremely refreshing to have a one-hour ride literally take only one hour.

Safety. If you live in a high-traffic area or worry about safety on the roads, this benefit is obvious. You can hit your higher intensity and recovery rides during the week and ideally have time to head to a quieter area and join a group on the weekends.

The challenge. Riding indoors allows you to push yourself to a level that may not be safe in a road situation. Gill notes, “Before I trained indoors I had a different mental threshold for what my Zone 5 was. When training indoors you can push yourself to limits that you may not feel comfortable doing out on the road, and eventually it helps you to incorporate those intensities into outdoor rides for short periods once you are confident you won’t implode.”

Specificity. No need to worry about what the group is doing, or making on-the-fly adjustments due to terrain and stoplights. It’s only you, your planned workout and the numbers.

Redefining hard work. Many cyclists, especially newer ones, have not experienced what really pushing on the bike is like. Setting zones and using metrics on indoor rides can help cyclists get a grasp of what constitutes actual “work.” Whether you’re using heart rate or power, set up a time to test yourself, then follow a structured plan. If you’re not familiar with the types of workouts you should be doing, an easy way to get up to speed is to check out the programs available on Trainer Road (Trainerroad.com).

Mixed company. If you’re fortunate enough to have access to a group indoor cycling option, you get the chance to pedal next to folks who are at or above your level on the roads. That can then motivate you to raise your game by working harder and smarter.

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The bottom line

You can do nearly all your workouts indoors and succeed, but you should incorporate some occasional outdoor rides to account for a slightly different position on the road, and to practice bike-handling skills and other nuances like reaching for bottles. Also, although there are some cons to always hitting the group rides, an occasional group ride is great for getting you out of your comfort zone and helping you break new ground.

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Indoor Translation—How to structure your indoor training

Typical outdoor ride
Intervals or hill repeats: You join a weekly group ride and whoever’s in the pack dictates the intensity and duration of the “intervals.” Unless you have an extremely disciplined group of triathletes following the same plan, those intervals are often too short or too hard to be very specific to your training.

Tempo: You try to ride steady intervals at half-iron or Olympic effort but are consistently interrupted by lights, stops and terrain.

Easy: You and your friends head out for a “recovery ride” but a showoff in the group turns up the heat every single time.

Trainer workout example*
Intervals or hill repeats: Using a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio, aim for something like 3×4 ON/4 OFF in a big gear (65–75 RPM) to simulate pushing up a grade.

Tempo: Try an “over/under” workout where you spend 5 minutes at race-pace intensity, 5 minutes at 5% above RP, and then 5 minutes at 5% below. Repeat 3–4 times.

Easy: No steep hills or peer pressure to keep you from meeting your recovery goals. Also, you can make the time more productive (and keep it interesting) by using the easy day to practice high cadence or one-leg drills.

Indoor translation
Intervals or hill repeats: You dictate the exact work interval and rest according to your training plan.

Tempo: You can do intervals much more specific to actual race day while staying in the zone and in the aero position. No coasting or modifications necessary!

Easy: No steep hills or peer pressure to keep you from meeting your recovery goals. Also, you can make the time more productive (and keep it interesting) by using the easy day to practice high cadence or one-leg drills.

*Using Dr. Andrew Coggans’ zones.

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