Ten essential time-efficient cycling training tips

How to make the most of your time on the bike

It’s a feeling many riders are familiar with. You start the season with lofty goals, whether that’s to race, achieve a personal best on your local time trial course or complete a mountainous sportive, but work, family and social commitments mean your training plan takes a back seat.

If you have a limited time to train, it’s still possible to hit the summer season in peak form - you just need to be smart about how you spend your time in the saddle.

We caught up with two top cycling coaches to uncover ten time-efficient cycling training tips.

1. The indoor trainer is your friend

Indoor training gives the best bang for your training buck, removing the external variables that can affect the quality of a session and allowing you efficiently target a specific area of fitness in a short space of time.

“The quality of an effort can be guaranteed as there are no cars, traffic lights, roadworks, corners or downhills to break up the efforts,” says James Spragg of Spragg Cycle Coaching.

2. Use the turbo trainer year-round

Indoor training is typically associated with winter, when the weather is poor or there’s limited light. However, using the indoor trainer year-round allows time-crunched riders to add consistency to their schedule, according to Ian Jenner of Rule 5 Cycling Coaching.

“Consistency is everything,” says Jenner. “Being able to ride indoors when you can’t get out for a long road ride really helps keep you in a training rhythm and gets you into the habit of making exercise a part of your daily life.”

3. Keep it sweet

‘Sweet spot’ training is considered to be the most effective way to efficiently build endurance, according to Jenner, and is between 83 and 97 per cent of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).

“Working within these percentages pushes up your FTP without incorporating the training stress of true threshold efforts,” he adds. “It will help you build an aerobic base and is great for those with limited time to train.”

Apps like Zwift and TrainerRoad allow you to test your FTP (the maximum power you can sustain for an hour) if you ride with a power meter or smart trainer. Jenner says sweet spot intervals should be between ten and 20 minutes in length, with two or three intervals per session, and a five to ten minute break in between each. Remember to warm-up and cool down before and after.

4. Plan ahead

Planning is key if you want to balance your training with work, family and social commitments, and will allow you to squeeze in a session to a tight schedule.

“Try to plan ahead,” says Jenner. “Look at the week in front of you and figure out where you can
find time to do a session. Book in that personal time so you’re mentally prepared to train, even if it’s only 30 minutes.”

5. Be prepared

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, as the old adage goes. As well as planning your schedule in advance, having your indoor training setup ready and waiting removes another hurdle that could stop you from riding.

“Leave your bike on the turbo,” says Spragg. “That way you can just change and jump on. And have a good fan!”

Alternatively, a dedicated indoor training bike like the Wattbike Atom is always ready to ride, meaning you don’t have to worry about attaching your regular machine to the turbo every time you want to train indoors.

6. Take advantage of technology

Zwift has revolutionised indoor training, with the virtual roads of Watopia providing much-needed stimulation when turning the pedals.

Whether you want to join a virtual group ride, race, follow one of the app’s dedicated training plans or simply spin the legs, Zwift provides a living and breathing virtual world to immerse yourself in when training indoors.

7. Make the most of your commute

If you’re able to ride to work, you can use your commute to squeeze in valuable training time. “There’s no such thing as junk miles,” says Jenner. “Time on the bike always has a benefit, from nailing your pedalling technique to using your commute to squeeze in a training session.”

Jenner recommends using the quietest leg of your commute for intervals. He says: “Sprint away from every set of traffic lights or every telegraph pole. Simply choose something that works on the route you take. Use the other leg for recovery.”

Above all, stay safe on the roads. “Be smart,” Jenner says. If the traffic is heavy one day or the weather isn’t great, then move the session to a time when it’s safe to do so.”

8. Remember to recover

Recovery is often neglected in the constant pursuit of fitness but it’s vital to rest up and allow your body to make the adaptations triggered by your training sessions.

“Don’t get so caught up that you forget your recovery days and easier workout weeks,” says Jenner. “You need to allow the body to adapt and absorb all that hard work.”

9. Don’t forget about bike handling

If you’re short on time, indoor training is the most efficient way to improve your fitness - but technique matters, too. Riding outside enables your to hone your bike handling - particularly important if you’re training for an event that placing a particular emphasis on technique, like descending or cyclo-cross skills.

“Riding indoors gives you a structured workout where you can really hit your targets but it can’t compensate for improving your bike handling skills,” says Jenner. “Riding outside helps you work on bike handling, cornering, descending and the general confidence you can’t get inside.”

10. Enjoy it

Above all, cycling should be fun. Juggling an ambitious training schedule with countless other commitments can be stressful, but be flexible and don’t lose sight of why you ride.

“It’s good to remember why we all like riding bikes,” says Jenner. “The outdoors, the views, the climbs, the places we visit and the friends we meet.”

This article is part of a series on indoor cycling, supported by Wattbike

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