Indoor training is a big part of winter training, especially if you want to increase your fitness during the off-season and you don’t live in a warm climate. Even though it’s still just sitting on a bike and cycling, there are a few things you should do differently on an indoor trainer. Let’s take a look at three issues that will help you get the most out of indoor training while avoiding burning out.
Shorten your rides
Simply put, indoor rides should be shorter than similar rides outdoors. Riding on an indoor trainer can be a lot harder. Not because it’s different or because you can set the resistance yourself but mostly because 1 hour of training indoors equals 1 hour of pedalling. Outdoors is very different, you usually spend 10-15 % of your time coasting at 0 watts just because of traffic, downhills, etc. You are also affected by stop signs, intersections, and other unexpected things. That’s why indoor training sessions are almost always more intense and more efficient. For a 2-hour ride outdoors, you only need 1,5 hours indoors or likely even fewer. And if you need a longer time in the saddle indoors, make it two 1,5-hour sessions, not a 3-hour one. The mental strain that comes with indoor training could get to you if you do too much at once.
Mental burnout is a very real thing when it comes to training indoor. Thankfully, we live in a time of endless entertainment choices so you never have to stare at a blank wall. If you haven’t already, make Zwift, Rouvy, TrainerRoad, Sufferfest, Youtube, Netflix, Amazon, music or anything you consider fun a part of your indoor setup. If you are that lucky and you have friends who are similarly inclined, then organizing an indoor group ride could be better than any other entertainment. You just have to figure out the space for all those bikes and rollers. A good spinning class can be an option too but it might be hard to find one that will provide the intensity and duration you want.
Be OK with a lower power output
It is almost impossible to produce the same power on an indoor trainer as on the road. One theory says that it’s because on a stationary trainer, the bike doesn’t move from side to side so there is very little upper body engagement. Another theory says it’s because the inertia load indoors is different than outdoors. Pedalling is made up of micro accelerations with each pedal stroke and the resistance unit on an indoor trainer typically decelerates faster than the road.
But whatever the real reason is, it’s best if you go into indoor training knowing you should expect lower power output than you are used to from the road. You can even do some threshold testing to see what power difference to expect. It’s a good idea to test your indoor power maybe every 2-3 weeks in the beginning to better adjust your training plan to your real watt numbers.
There’s one more thing that just has to be mentioned when talking about indoor training and that’s hot air. The fresh air and breeze outdoors are great at cooling you down most of the year but indoors, there’s none. So, unless you want to make it a very sweaty ride, install a fan to blow air at you while you ride, the comfort increase will be noticeable! The last article in this series will be all about these kinds of support systems that will make winter training more bearable and perhaps even enjoyable.