Training indoors… Sadly for most cyclists it’s a necessary evil this time of year. But indoor trainer time doesn’t have to be a mind-numbing, soul-crushing experience. Indeed, riding the trainer can actually be a great way to get some serious on-bike work done in a relatively short amount of time. And hey, you can catch up on your favorite reality TV shows. Keeping Up With The Kardashians, anyone?
To help make you time on a trainer the best it can be, RoadBikeReview.com called on pro cyclist Tom Zirbel. The Optum Pro Cycling Team rider is one of the best time trialists on the U.S. racing circuit, and in his down time he’s even taught a few indoor cycling classes in his hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Here are Zirbel’s top tips for training indoors.
Everybody is different when it comes to listening to music or watching TV, but one thing you need to have is a fan. You generate a lot of heat and if you get too hot your performance will go down. So make sure your set-up includes a fan.
Change Your Shorts
This is a little personal, but I change my shorts after about an hour. I mean seriously, no one likes swamp ass. Just being able to get off bike and change clothes makes me feel better, and I’m like, Okay I can do another hour.
Take Care Of Busy Work
One of the good things about indoor workouts is it’s a great place to do the little busy work that often doesn’t get done out on the road. I do pedaling drills, one leg, high cadence, low cadence, little things that are annoying outside when you just want to ride your bike. Pedaling and efficiency drills are actually really important. If you are doing one foot for example, just really focus on pedaling circles. Usually I can make it 2-3 minutes, but even one minute is good. You realize very quickly how uneven your stroke is and how weak that hamstring is when pulling up on pedal because we tend to just push down. It’s a good way to bring to light your weaknesses.
Ramp Up Your Cadence
High cadence is also a good drill to work on. For example do 5 minutes at 120rpm. This will get you out of your comfort zone, because outside you likely have your sweet spot of 85 or 90 rpm, and you probably don’t vary much. So drills like this force you out of that comfort zone to work on different things to hopefully improve your pedal stroke.
Don’t Go Too Long
Generally I try to avoid those long, 3-hour indoor sessions. I have found that they are just bad for the head. So usually I try to condense workouts. Instead of 3 hours, I’ll do 75-90 minutes and go a little harder than I would have outdoors. It’s important take a long term approach to the sport, and know that if you miss a day or two of long rides, it’s not end of the world. It’s important to keep things sustainable.
Most people only have a trainer, but I like the rollers for the true pedaling action they provide. It’s more engaging. You can’t just fall asleep, you have to pay attention. That said, if I’m doing a set of hard intervals where I have to focus on power or heart rate, then I use the trainer. On a trainer you can zone out and focus on the one thing you are trying to do. When you are on the rollers, always make sure you are next to something you can grab. Crashing on rollers is not good.
Mix It Up
The longer you are in this sport, the more you seem to loath the trainer. But sometimes it has to be done if you get a streak of bad weather. One thing I do to mix it up is I will ride an hour on the rollers and then get off and do an hour on the trainer. Just swapping back and forth to have some variation can help pass the time.
Use A Power Meter
If you have access to a power meter, use it. Having power is key for indoor workouts. It’s an absolute gauge of the quality of your workout, and it gives you something to focus on and work off during your workout. Heart rate is an okay second choice, but you will find that heart rate varies a lot with cadence so power is much better for indoor riding.
Try This Workout
One of my favorite basic workouts is one where I play with my cadence. I’ll do a tempo workout that starts in the 53×11. I’ll do 5 minutes there, then shift to the 53×12 and do five minutes at the same power, and just keep shifting up every 5 minutes, always trying to maintain the same power output. So I am getting this wide range of torques at essentially the same power. It’s a good way to mix it up and it’s easy to do. I think you get a lot out of a workout when you get out of your comfort zone.
There are a lot of good trainers out there, but one brand I really like is Kinetic. They feel solid and roll smooth, and I like the fact that you can get larger flywheel. What you don’t want is a loud trainer, or one with a lumpy feel. Quality really matters.
Take A Class
Another great way to make training indoors more tolerable is to take a class. It can be really motivating to be around other people, and a good instructor will be able to provide structure and help you set and work toward achieving goals.