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10 indoor training tips to improve your cycling speed and endurance

Ten indoor cycling training tips
(Image credit: Wattbike)

Whether it’s by choice or not, many of us are spending more time training indoors than ever. Here are 10 of our top training tips to help you improve your speed and endurance.

Whether you’re snowed under with work, or just need to quickly get some high-quality training in, training indoors can be a very time-efficient way of improving your performance. Less time getting dressed for the cold prior, cleaning your dirty bike after, and riding to-and-from the local hills for your interval sessions all adds up to more time available for structured training. 

Here are 10 of our top tips on how to improve both your endurance and speed on the bike, without stepping outside. 

1. Test your fitness

Once you have your turbo trainer set up, one of the most useful things you can do is assess your fitness. Many of the apps out there, such as Zwift or TrainerRoad, will have sessions where you can do just that. Typically, you can do a ramp test or a 20-minute Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test. The apps will analyse your results, provide you with your FTP in watts, and help you set your training zones accordingly, plus they’re a great way to track your progress.

2. Consistency is key

The huge seven-hour (or 11, if you're Laurens De Vreese) training ride sure looks epic, but it can take days to recover from. There’s no point in doing monster sessions if you’re too tired to complete any other training for days. You’re always much better off completing 4 or 5 good quality sessions, rather than 2 heroic sessions each week. Training indoors is a really-convenient way of being consistent because you can fit a session in at any time of day to suit you, and it can be much more time-efficient than going outdoors.

3. Make use of erg mode

Most modern trainers will allow you to ride using erg mode. Erg mode is fantastic to use during intervals as the power at which you cycle will remain accurate, no matter what your cadence is. This leaves you free to get your head down and focus on nothing else than keeping your legs spinning. It also enables you to lose yourself in a Netflix series or relive your youth with Disney+.

4. Be prepared

Sometimes building endurance on a bike is as simple as spending a long time in the saddle. Whilst you’re doing this outdoors you always have a breeze to keep your cool, but you’ll soon find yourself overheating indoors. Overcome this by buying a couple of decent fans, ensure you have plenty of fluids, and perhaps even some specific indoor cycling clothing. Just as important is to fuel properly for your long rides. Whilst there is evidence to suggest that riding fasted can help you adapt to training, most of the time you will want to ensure that you are well-fuelled for your upcoming session.

5. Group rides

The days of spending hours alone on the rollers are, thankfully, a thing of the past. You can now join one of many group rides on software like Zwift. There are regular group rides from short and punchy 15 milers, up to 100-mile marathons. With several categories to choose from, there’s a difficulty to suit every rider, and the social aspect of the ride can help the time fly by. 

6. Train at sweetspot

“Sweetspot” is on the border between zones 3 and 4, or just below your FTP. Training at this intensity stresses your body and forces it to adapt, but not so much that you can’t do sustained efforts, multiple times a week. These longer efforts are great for stimulating the growth of mitochondria: the cells that produce the energy required to cycle. You can begin by doing two 15-minute efforts as part of your workout, building the duration of these efforts gradually until you can do 30-minute intervals.

7. Short, higher intensity efforts

Sweetspot efforts are great for building mitochondria, but we can also teach those mitochondria to be more efficient at producing energy. An effective way of doing this is by doing high-intensity intervals, during which we put a huge amount of stress on the muscle, forcing them to adapt. Try doing four 4-minute intervals at 120% FTP, with 4 minutes of spinning your legs between sets. Other variations could include doing shorter, 2-minute intervals at 140% FTP.

8. Progress your intervals

One of the fundamental principles of adaptation is progressively overloading your body. As you adapt, your ability on the bike will improve, and identical training sessions won’t put your body under as much stress as previously. You should re-test yourself to see if your FTP has improved, and therefore alter your training zones. Alternatively, you could increase the duration of your long rides slightly and increase your target power by 5 watts during your intervals.

9. Standing sprints

An effective way of improving your speed on the bike is by doing standing-start sprints. Get your bike in heavy gear, with your legs barely spinning, and accelerate as hard as you can for about 20 seconds before pedalling easily for 2 minutes. This type of training is great at forcing neuromuscular adaptation, teaching your body to use more of its muscle fibres with each maximal contraction. Begin by doing 1 set of 3 sprints and build up over a few weeks until you are doing 5 sets of 3 sprints in each session. 

10. Acceleration work

Whether it’s chasing down your mates in the club ride or an attack in a race, most sprints happen instinctively and at high speeds. Rolling sprint exercises can improve your acceleration when you’re already travelling quickly and will help you react to other people’s attacks, or help your attacks be more effective. Start by pedalling at a normal speed and then accelerate as hard as you can for 20 seconds, by which point your legs should be spinning out, followed by 1:40 of cycling easily. Try doing 4 sets of these in a session, where each set involves 4 sprints.