Some people would consider me a crazy person: I ride my bike inside year-round. I have two young children, and it's the best way for me to continue doing the sport I love most. During the winter months, however, you may find yourself needing to do the same. In this blog, I'll give you some tips about how to stay sane AND make the most out of your time on the dreaded trainer.
Indoor Cycling vs. Spin Classes
Spin classes are group fitness classes performed on a gym's spin bike. They are generally resistance based intervals built on heart rate and sometimes a full body workout. High energy instructors lead them with music and fellow classmates to get you motivated.
Indoor cycling is generally done on your own outdoor bike attached to a trainer in your home. The advantage is you are able to ride your own bike, fit to you, and do whatever type of workout desired. Another benefit of using a trainer is that it's more mobile than a spin bike, which allows you to take it to a friend's house for a group fun ride, or to a race for warming up, or really anywhere your heart desires!
Peloton is also very popular right now. If you happen to have a Peloton bike or something similar, you can join a group class or create your own ride! You can't, however, take it wherever you want.
Training with Power
Depending on your goals, one of the first things you should do when you start indoor riding is to determine your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). FTP is the amount of power that you could theoretically sustain for an hour of all out riding. Newer smart trainers have a power meter built into them so you don't even need a power meter on your bike. There are a variety of ways to determine your FTP, but here is one common workout:
- Warm up: 10-15 min
- 5 min all out
- Ride easy 8 min
- 20 min all out time trial effort. (Your FTP will be 95% of the power you do for this 20 min effort)
- Cool Down
Once you know your individual FTP, you can use this to create customized structured workouts that will appropriately challenge you and work the desired energy systems. You can periodically re-test to track improvement and make sure your training is effective.
Training with Heart Rate
If you do not have a power meter or a smart trainer to measure power, another option is to train using heart rate. While not as informative or accurate as power, it is a very cost effective option and can provide valuable insight. To train by heart rate, it is good to first determine your threshold heart rate. Here is one common method:
- Warm up: 10-15 min
- 10 min all out effort
- Ride easy 10 min
- 10 min all out effort
- Cool Down
Look at the average heart rate of both 10 min efforts. Take the higher average heart rate of the 2 intervals, multiply it by .93, and that is an estimate of your threshold heart rate.
Heart rate is not very effective for sprint training because it takes awhile for your heart rate to respond to the effort, but especially for longer duration efforts (threshold, tempo, endurance, etc), training with heart rate is definitely a viable option.
Virtual Training Buddies
With the introduction of virtual training apps such as Zwift, TrainerRoad, Rouvy, RGT, and more, there are so many options to make indoor training legitimately fun. (I am a HUGE fan of Zwift! If you have any questions about that, shoot me an email!)
Using an interactive app makes time go much faster. Many of them also create a sense of community. It helps that you don't feel like you are riding by yourself in your basement while staring at a blank wall! If you just want an easy recovery ride, you can always stream your favorite Netflix chick flick that you that no one else wants to watch with you!
Indoors = Efficiency
Riding indoors is an incredibly efficient use of time because there are no interruptions. There are no stop signs. No tempting coffee shops. And no snarling dogs. You can do a perfectly structured workout, do a "meet up" group ride with friends while you chat on Discord, jump in a race or group ride with people all across the world, or just explore the virtual roads. You eliminate the 30 min it takes to decide what to wear and get dressed. Ideally your bike is always set up on the trainer so all you have to do is get on it. It really could not be easier!
There is no exact formula, but many suggest that 60 min of indoor riding is equivalent to about 100 minutes of outdoor riding.
Since indoor riding is so efficient, you don't need to put in the volume that you necessarily would outdoors. There is no exact formula, but many suggest that 60 min of indoor riding is equivalent to about 100 minutes of outdoor riding. The length of ride varies on the experience of the cyclist, but anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours is generally sufficient, with most rides being 60-90 min. Since the volume and ride times are lower, it is good to incorporate higher intensity efforts into your training. Do this 3 to 5 times per week, and you're sure to build fitness!
Essential Equipment for Riding Indoors
- Bike and Trainer/Rollers OR a smart bike
- Fan (or multiple!)
- Water (other nutrition if riding longer than about 90 min)
- Heart rate monitor
- Power meter
- Device to run a virtual training app
- Block to raise front wheel
- Mat under bike to catch sweat
Indoor riding has never been better (or more fun!) than it is right now. While there is an initial investment (equipment!) and a learning curve, the immersive experience and quality rides make it well worth it.
Enjoy! I hope to see you on the virtual roads!
Hi! I'm Liz Van Houweling, a personal training and cycling coach. I am a mom to two toddlers, so I understand the importance of making exercise fit into your busy life. I have a passion for fitness and think it actually makes us better people (and parents!) if we can find time to feel good about ourselves.
I have experience racing road, mountain, cyclocross, and track cycling as well as sprint triathlons and half marathons. With the two little children, I currently do a lot of Zwift (virtual cycling!) racing...and I can't believe how much I love it!
As an ACSM certified personal trainer and USA Cycling certified coach, I want to help make your fitness dreams come true. I offer in home (in person) and virtual training. If you're looking for a personal trainer and/or monthly customized coaching plans for cycling, I'd love to talk with you!