One of the most common issues I see as a coach is everyone riding (or running!) at the same intensity or pace for every workout. Break it up! Our bodies are smart and will adapt to what we do, so if we do everything the same, we most likely will stop seeing improvements in our fitness.
Almost everyone runs or rides at a moderate pace if left to their own devices. So, use a trainer to challenge yourself to learn to do some rides slower and some faster, some easier and some harder. You have the benefit of not having traffic, weather, or terrain to worry about, so you can just focus on form and changing up your effort. Add in those intervals that will make you vary your leg speeds and break you out of those moderate zones.
For triathletes and cyclists, indoor cycling can give you the opportunity to work on specific pedaling drills or do interval workouts that are hard to do when you have to take into account terrain, vehicles, weather, stop lights, etc.
It’s fine some days to do a very easy recovery spin or mix up an easy ride with drills. Go for time and be OK with not hitting a particular distance. Ironically, the hard work on these rides is to keep an easy ride easy.
For any athlete coming back from injury, cycling is a terrific, non-impact exercise that will build both muscular and cardiovascular endurance. Often it is one of the first activities a doc will let someone do when coming back from injury. If using cycling as an injury recovery tool, make sure to clear it with your doctor and start with very easy (no resistance) spinning for a short amount of time.
Make it Fun!
If you groan at the thought of a trainer ride, there are some good options to up the fun.
Keep in Mind
Indoor cycling counts for a longer workout than the same time outside. Why? With a ride outside, you have periods where you coast or have to stop for traffic lights. Indoor cycling has no breaks and is typically thought of as 20 - 30% longer effort, meaning a 45-minute indoor ride is comparable to an hour’s effort, approximately.
Even an easier ride will probably feel harder inside. Why? Outside you get the wonderful effect of cooling air as well as the little breaks from the changes in terrain, shifting on your saddle or stopping for lights or traffic. You may not realize it, but these constant and minute changes over time make a big difference in overall effort.
Having your bike fitted is always important. I make sure each of my athletes has done it at least once, and sometimes we need to do it again as our mechanics, strength, and fitness change. On a trainer, an athlete may more easily notice the fit isn’t right as the position is so constant and the motion so repetitive. Outside, just like I mentioned above, the constant little changes can mask some of the fit issues because we can just shift around to get comfortable.
So no matter if you are a runner, cyclist, or triathlete, it is important to get a really good bike fit done, especially if you are riding inside. Many bike shops can do a rough fit, but I encourage you to find a physical therapist who does bike fitting, as they can take into account your specific mechanics and pair them with the measurements and angles recommended to get you the best fit.
Drills & Workouts
Indoor cycling is a perfect opportunity to work on a smooth, consistent pedaling stroke. Smooth and consistent translates to more power for less effort. Try these simple drills and workouts to keep your cycling skills up and break up the indoor ride. Make sure to spin easily for at least 10 minutes first, gradually increasing cadence and speed to warm up.
Isolated leg drill
Take one foot out of the pedal and rest it on a box or the back of the trainer. Do 100% of the work with the other foot clipped in to work on your pedaling form. Drive toes forward at the top of the stroke, “scrape mud” off the bottom of your shoe at the bottom of the stroke. Focus on making a smooth transition to the top. Use an easier resistance if you need.
Do 6 sets of the following to start:
30s right/30s left - spin both feet in for 1:00
5:00 easy spin and then repeat the leg work.
Use the rest of the time as an easy endurance ride and cool down.
Throughout a workout, insert high-cadence intervals of 1 - 3 minutes. During each of these intervals, increase your cadence to a level which is just slightly uncomfortable and before you start to bounce. Maintain it for the length of the interval. Use a low (easy) gear. Recover between the intervals for several minutes while pedaling at your normal cadence. Over the course of several weeks, extend the duration of each interval and the combined interval time for the workout.
Cadence is one of the two components of power. High cadence reduces the force on leg muscles, allowing you to go further before running out of gas. For those using the bike to cross train, the higher cadence produces less muscular fatigue keeping you fresher for your runs with less stress on your knees.
Form cue drill
Toe touch - Every time your foot approaches the top of the stroke, imagine that you can push your foot forward in your shoe, touching your toes to the front end of the shoe. Of course, you won’t really be able to do this, but trying will cause you to transition more smoothly through the top of the pedal stroke.
This workout can help build both mental and physical strength.
Ride 2 minutes at 75-80 rpm with moderate resistance and then 2 minutes at an easier resistance but 90 rpm. Repeat this 3 more times. Spin easily for the remainder of the workout. These intervals can be increased 1 to 2 more minutes.
Ready to Ride?
Remember that indoor cycling is just that. It’s indoors only, and while it will definitely help prepare you for riding outside, it is not a substitute for hills and wind, or for learning how to ride out of a saddle, or for proper gear shifting and bike handling skills. If you want to ride outside for commuting, social reasons, recovery, or an event, at some point it is important to get out on the roads.
When you do get out on the roads, remember that you are not used to looking around and watching for traffic, other cyclists, pedestrians, traffic signals, pot holes and a host of other distractions. Make sure you are focused and thinking of safety.
Your bike is fitted, you’ve got something fun to watch or someone fun to ride with, and at the end of your workout, you’ll be that much closer to spring. And now, to quote Freddie Mercury, “get on your bike and ride!”