You’re on a strict schedule. You’ve signed up to participate in an upcoming cycling race or triathlon and need to stick to a strict training routine. Unfortunately, outside factors may hinder your ability to hit tire to pavement. Maybe the conditions outside include torrential rain or blizzard-like snow. Or perhaps after a night of working late it’s just not a safe enough time to put on your helmet and go on the road. An easy solution? Train on an indoor bike.
Surprisingly, many cycling athletes incorporate indoor cycle training into their workouts for more reasons than we may think. We talked with several experts, including coaches and cyclists, about methods that work for them. They discuss how they successfully incorporate indoor cycling into their exercise regime to help them practice or train for races. Read on as they give their insights and best tips and tricks to utilizing the indoor bike, plus key reminders to not skip out on when training on an indoor bicycle.
How often should you train on an indoor bike?
For Paul Johnson, founder of Complete Tri, an indoor cycling training schedule depends on the weather. “My indoor cycling dominates the winter months with two to three rides per week. In the summer I am usually outside. But the indoor trainer is a great option for those days that are rainy or when you would have to ride at an unsafe time, like during dusk or rush hour,” he says. “During the prime outdoor training months, my indoor training reduces to about two to three times per month.”
Some utilize the indoor bike due to outside weather or circumstances. But some individuals, like USA Cycling Expert Coach Menachem Brodie, use the indoor bike as part of their regular training routine. He factors in a specific time that his clients ride on the indoor bike. “It depends on the level of development you are in,” says Brodie, “and how much fitness you need to gain. But, I’d usually look to implement two to three shorter 60-90 minute sessions on the indoor bike, accompanied with two longer (over two hours) rides out on the roads every two weeks.”
While Brodie recommends indoor cycling for training, he also recommends that cyclist who participate in indoor cycling add additional bike skills lessons in their routine to make up for the habits that may be developed on an indoor bike. “Cyclist should add a 30-60 minutes outdoor ‘bike skills’ session every two weeks, practicing their bike handling and braking/turning skills.”
Indoor Versus Outdoor
The major difference between indoor and outdoor cycling—and the thing that Johnson prefers with indoor cycling—is the precision. “When you’re riding inside, you can gauge your ride on intensity, wattage, RPM, and other very measurable things. When riding outdoors, you are at the mercy of wind, traffic, hills, and other cyclists. Inside, you basically control all of the variables. That can make for a very precise and scientific ride.”
In addition to practicing the exact cadence and output, the indoor bike is great for muscle strengthening. According to Brodie, there are benefits of “predictability and consistency of effort when training on an indoor bike. This allows us to really focus and hit the energy systems and muscle fibers (via cadences and gear selection) that are needed to help one succeed in their goal event(s).”
Benefits of Using an Indoor Bike
“For me, it’s the ease. You can be on your indoor bike and ride within five to ten minutes of deciding to ride. The outdoor rides take time to get the gear on, apply sunscreen, situate your helmet and glasses, and make sure [that] the bike is in good working order,” Johnson says. “I also find that you can get a great indoor ride done within 45-55 minutes. Whereas riding outside often takes longer to get the same burn.”
It’s also the perfect training tool and workout for those with children. According to Johnson, “one of the major benefits of indoor riding is that you can be present with the kids—within earshot—while getting in your workout. You would never think of leaving a three-year-old home alone while you ride outside. But you can easily get an indoor ride in while that same child plays or naps.”
What to Keep in Mind
Change your output. “For mental wellbeing purposes, you should try to cap your indoor bike rides at two and a half to three hours,” Brodie says. Your indoor rides should be about 15 percent shorter than outdoor rides. “This is due to the fact that you need to pedal the whole time on the bike, whereas outside you can coast,” he explains. “While some Ironman Triathletes have been known to go more than five hours on the trainer, one should take a close look at their training, and determine if they are indeed at a level high enough to actually warrant rides that long….most athletes do not.”
Don’t forget to practice outside. As mentioned earlier, riders still need to practice and develop bike skills on the road. “Having coached in the Northeast USA for over a decade, I can tell you that there is a significantly higher amount of avoidable crashes in the early season,” Brodie says. “This is, in large part, due to many riders riding their trainer all winter, and not getting out on the road and purposefully practicing their bike handling skills.” It may be intimidating to hit the outdoors in the cold. However, it’d be beneficial to take advantage of good days in winter to ride outside. Brodie suggests that, if dressed properly, on nice winter days, it’s recommended to stay up to two hours outdoors in the cold weather.