The Interwebs have been on fire this week with discussion around indoor cycling and it’s effectiveness for triathlon training. The camps are as divided as those who like Perpetuem and those who don’t, but that’s the topic of another blog post.
Earlier this week in The Endangered Outdoor Ride, triathlon coach, author and expert Matt Fizgerald reported how some of our sports top cyclists do the vast majority if not all of their riding indoors. Athletes Meredith Kessler, Tyler Stewart & Andy Potts are staunch supporters of indoor cycling and believe their stationary suffer-fests are much more effective than riding outdoors.
Why do these athletes believe their indoor rides are so effective? They are extremely intense and extremely focused. I’m going to go out on a limb here: most age-group / weekend warrior types who ride indoors don’t follow the protocol necessary to make indoor training as effective as an outdoor ride.
Indoor-only riding is for pool/gym rats
It’s worth noting that the types of professionals who have succeeded with indoor riding are. . . . .swimmers. Fizgerald writes:
the indoor trainer, much as the pool does with swimmers, encourages athletes to divide their workouts into variable-intensity segments to stave off the boredom of training in a confined space. Consequently, athletes spend more time working at higher intensities on indoor trainers than they do outdoors—and they get fitter in the process.
So these are athletes who use highly structured and intense workouts.
Additionally, equipment plays a huge role as well. I wonder how many of these athletes are using basic fluid or resistance trainers, or are they using more sophisticated (read: expensive) CompuTrainers.
This from Andy Potts (via M2Rev.com):
“I train on a CompuTrainer (indoor trainer that measures watts) six days a week. It’s a very controlled environment and you can document your progress very methodically. It could be that I gravitate towards that because of my background in swimming where it’s a very controlled environment. I don’t do the computer with it. I just ride ergometer mode and train towards watts and power. I probably ride outdoors maybe thirty times a year. I don’t ride very long. The longest CompuTrainer workout would be 2 hours 20 minutes.
I spent a lot of time training on a CompuTrainer last summer preparing for IMAZ 2010. My sessions were usually hilly, hammer fests that lasted somewhere between 1:15 and 2 hours and were often followed by a transition run. I also did a few multi-hour rides on the IMAZ course. I found all of this training valuable. But I rode those hilly rides essentially at threshold, and had a ton of data on the screen to look at to keep my workout on target.
For the average athlete at home, a CompuTrainer is likely not a viable solution. A more affordable, yet still effective option is to invest in a set of Spinervals DVDs. Created by Troy Jacobsen, these workouts develop power and speed quickly. What you put into any workout determines what you ultimately get out of it, and that is definitely the case with Spinervals.
A typical Spinervals workout usually involves a warmup, some quick spin-ups at lower resistance, just to make you feel like a cycling stud capable of climbing the steepest routes in the Alps or outsprint the mighty Cavendish. Then after a short rest, you end up doing some very intense (read: cruel) intervals that make you want to pitch your bike like this guy. In the end, you do a lot of riding at or just below what I like to call “barfing speed.”
And you know what? It works. But. . . . .
Indoor riding should be limited to once a week MAX
Triathlons are not done indoors. They are held in the out-of-doors on sometimes very hilly roads, often with poor riding surfaces, and if you race here in Arizona, extremely hot & windy weather. All those elements require an athlete to have really solid bike handling skills and a strong core.
Riding indoors does absolutely nothing for your bike handling skills nor does it use those core & back muscles that riding outside & racing utilize. Unless you’re an athlete that does a ton of strength and core work, you’re likely going to notice these weaknesses if you’re doing a lot of indoor cycling training. Trust me, if you are a newer athlete who is not used to riding in a group or race setting, you can really unnerve your fellow athletes. Get out there and do some group riding before you race.
But wait. . . .there is an exception
If you are an athlete that lives in a seasonal climate and you have to deal with long, dark, cold, wet winters, then indoor riding makes a lot of sense in the off season. I did a TON of indoor riding when I lived in Portland. But I still managed to get out on the road when the weather cooperated or I wanted to play “Hell of the North” or “Tour of Flanders”.
How to make riding outdoors as effective as indoors
- Find cyclists who are are as fast or faster than you and ride with them in a group setting.
- Use routes that have few if any stops (right turns are your friend!). Good courses exist even in cities like Scottsdale.
- Ride at your max effort, don’t sandbag.
- Carry a structured workout set to help you stay focused, and aim to hit targets (time, HR, watts, etc)
- Have fun. Experiment with new routes. Challenge yourself.
If you ride indoors
- Ride freaking hard, use structured sets. Be prepared to enter your pain cave
- Write up targets for your workout (time, HR, watts, etc) and post them where you can see them, and do your workout.
- Don’t get sucked into a movie, TV show or play video games (Get on the trainer, focus on the workout, and get off)
- Use fans to prevent overheating
- Purchase a Spinervals DVD(s) — they are well worth the price
- Got a gym membership, hit a spin class.
- Avoid mindless pedaling: if you are getting off your bike a lot, playing with your phone, flipping channels, etc, you are not training.