If you’re preparing for a big summer on the bike, indoor training is the most efficient way to build your fitness and fine-tune your form for the months ahead.
Indoor training was once considered a necessary evil for cyclists, reserved for the cold, dark months of winter. However, the advent of smart trainers like the Wahoo Kickr, and indoor cycling trainer bikes such as the Wattbike Atom, alongside interactive apps including Zwift, has changed the way riders view indoor training. Dare we say it, indoor training is fun and the training benefits are plain to see.
“Indoor training allows you to follow a specific training plan far closer,” says Pav Bryan of Spokes Personal Performance Coaching. “When you’re riding out on the road, traffic, weather and unsuitable terrain can all become barriers to completing a quality training session.
That’s good news if you want to fast-track your fitness. Indoor training removes the external variables and distractions found outside, and ensures you can fit a quality session into less than an hour.
Smart devices like the Kickr and Atom can also measure your power, allowing you to train much more intelligently, and are compatible with apps that allow you to measure and track your fitness through a series of tests. Taking a fitness test will also enable you to determine your Functional Threshold Power (the maximum power you can sustain for an hour).
From there, you can set prescribed power targets for each session based on the area of fitness being targeted, with the trainer then requiring you to hold that power so you can complete quality intervals without the temptation to slack off or ride too hard.
“That means you have specificity in training,” adds Bryan. “You can really target certain power outputs to give a specific fitness adaptation, whether that’s focussing on your endurance or climbing.”
Ultimately, by incorporating indoor training into your riding schedule, you can put the building blocks in place to achieve your outdoor riding goals. After all, who doesn’t want to be stronger and faster on the road?
How to train for short, steep climbs
If you’ve got your sights set on a local Strava KOM, Jenner of Rule 5 Cycling Coaching recommends high-intensity intervals to train for punchy climbs. After a ten-minute warm-up, complete four to eight two-minute intervals at maximum intensity, with two minutes recovery between each.
If you are using a smart turbo trainer or indoor training bike, these intervals should be conducted at approximately 110 to 120 per cent of your Functional Threshold Power. Once you’ve completed your efforts, cool down for ten minutes.
“This is a great workout if you’re short on time and will improve your body’s ability to carry oxygen to your muscles when working really hard,” says Jenner.
How to improve your endurance
Indoor training might not sound like the best way to improve your endurance - after all, surely three hours on the road is better than one hour indoors? Once again, however, you’re devoid of distractions - and the opportunity to freewheel - and you can use ‘sweet spot’ intervals to make big endurance gains in a short amount of time.
“Sweet spot is generally considered to achieve positive adaptations without placing too much stress on your body, so you can repeat these intervals regularly,” says Bryan.
Your endurance sweet spot is between 83 and 97 per cent of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and a typical training session should include two or three intervals of ten to 20 minutes, with a ten minute break between each interval.
How to become a better sprinter
While sweet spot intervals can be used to improve your endurance, short sprints can be used to boost your top-end speed. “Start by warming up for 15 minutes, then do five 15-second, all-out sprint efforts, with five minutes of each spinning between each,” says Jenner. “The goal of this session is to improve peak power output.”
Start each sprint from a standstill, Jenner adds, and try to keep your cadence high throughout, without needing to change gears too soon (or at all). Because your sprints should be all-out efforts, this session shouldn’t be completed to a prescribed power - empty the tank each time. Finish with a 15-minute cool down.
Five pre-race fuelling tips
Individual preferences may vary but these eating and drinking guidelines apply to every cyclist, writes Aaron Borrill
Performing well on the bike is as much about fuelling correctly as it is about ensuring you’ve done the training. Riders often forget that the body is an engine and needs to be fuelled in order to perform at its optimum.
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of racing – particularly at the start when riders are jostling for position and the peloton is sorting itself out – but it’s here, in the first hour, where fuelling is most critical.
Failure to ensure a steady flow of energy to the muscles will have a direct impact on your performance and, more often than not, result in low blood-sugar levels and eventually the dreaded bonk. Here are five tips to ensure that you never hit the wall again.
The goal here is to replenish your liver glycogen stores. The body utilises the liver glycogen stores during sleep to maintain glucose balance.
For one-day events, an easily digestible food source is ideal to ensure that there’s nothing sitting in the stomach and small intestine when you start racing. Try two slices of white bread (toasted, if you like) with jam or honey, a banana and 500ml of commercial energy drink will suffice.
Muesli and uncooked oats, nuts and seeds can take anywhere between 8 and 12 hours to fully digest and are more suited for stage races.
You should eat 90-120 minutes before your race.
2. During the race
The amount of carbohydrates required depends on the duration of the event. As a guideline, for any race over 2 hours, aim to consume between 60-90 grams of carbohydrates per hour, as well as 500ml of fluid.
Fluid absorption and gastric emptying peak at around 500ml of fluid per hour – any more than this will pool in the gut and possibly lead to an upset stomach. Look for a mix of 2/3 maltodextrin and 1/3 fructose, which can improve carbohydrate absorption.
3. Bars, gels or fluid?
A combination of a commercial energy drink, bars or gels are most effective. While 500ml of energy drink will deliver 50g of carbohydrates per hour, gels or bars can make up the remaining 10-40g.
4. Caffeine timing
Caffeine is widely known to improve performance. Having a coffee roughly one hour before the start of a race and topping up after 2-3 hours with a caffeine gel/bar can be a useful strategy.
5. Train the gut
Your gut needs to be trained to consume carbohydrates during intense exercise. You should therefore never experiment with anything new come race day, and instead stick to the same nutrition used throughout training.
Indoor training removes many of the variables from your riding performance. In your living room, there is no wind, only a fan which you control for cooling. There are no bad road surfaces generating greater rolling resistance, or cheap wheelsets which increase mechanical drag. Nor is there rain. Or the risk of traffic management. Draining environmental or fatiguing mechanical issues don’t exist with a modern indoor trainer.
If ever you are going to establish where your peak performance outputs are, to set true training benchmarks for your physiology, it will be on an indoor trainer. It might be ironic, but an indoor trainer is perhaps the purest form of cycling and truest reflection of your inherent ability.
Although the traditional environmental and mechanical issues are absent with an indoor trainer, the most significant barrier to accessing your peak potential, is mental. Riders need to develop the discipline to avoid digital distraction when training indoors. Devices should be set to aid training, instead of streaming potentially disturbing media sources. To access the immense potential that a quality indoor training programme and bike can provide, riders must develop an appropriate calibre of mindfulness.
This article is part of a series on indoor cycling, supported by Wattbike