Indoor Training Part 3 – In the previous two posts about indoor training, we covered my journey to a largely indoor-focused program for cycling. We are going to step away from the subjective view to the more objective view. In other words, going from why I choose to ride indoors because I feel like it to choosing to ride indoors for specific workouts or safety concerns.
First, let’s tackle the inputs that lead to the easy choice to ride indoors, safety concerns. Many of us have wonky schedules, live in dangerous places (could be traffic, crime, or extreme weather), or live in places where certain times of the year means fewer hours of daylight each day. Riding indoors provides you a greater level of flexibility as to when you ride without having to fit the training period into traffic patterns or around hours of darkness or inclement weather. Remember, riding during hours of limited visibility puts you at greater risk. Drivers may be less likely to see you, despite the absurd number of lights and reflective apparel items we may have, and you have a reduced ability to identify and avoid road hazards. Additionally, rain, fog, snow, or ice conditions affect more than visibility. Road surfaces may become more hazardous, increasing the likelihood of a crash. By having the option of riding indoors, you can avoid increased risk of an incident and avoid missing a workout.
Second, riding indoors provides a rider the opportunity to control for all factors that can impact a training session and hyper focus on specific tasks or targets. In my training, I have found that environmental factors do not always align with training for a specific race. Living in Santo Domingo now and Key West, Florida, previously, I have had only two types of courses to ride outside, hot and flat and hot, flat, and windy. I didn’t get to choose which, as the weather gods thrust that decision upon me. Unfortunately, most of my races had other characteristics that I could not replicate outdoors. Riding on my trainer (smart or dumb) afforded me the opportunity to simulate virtually any course, and by manipulating fan speed or the air conditioner, I could simulate the heat or feeling of the wind. Granted, it’s not perfect, but it is markedly better than any other option available to me on a daily basis. Apart from terrain simulation, indoor riding affords me the opportunity to do hyper-focused workouts. Unless you live in really remote areas of West Texas or Iowa, it is highly unlikely that you can find a flat, straight road with no intersections or traffic signals that can force you to change position or effort for an extended period of time. On my trainer, I can set my target wattage via erg mode on my Kickr or just as a mark to hit and simply hold it for the duration of the interval. That could be for 20 minutes or 3 hours, but I am only bound by my workout plan and my ability to hold my target effort. The same goes for heart rate training. When riding outside, too many factors can cause a wild deviation from your plan. When I lived in Kentucky, it was usually dogs running loose in the country. They always seemed to turn a nice Zone 2 or 3 effort into a ride-for-my-life sprint session. Let’s just say that some of those country dogs are HUGE and have a very good 1-minute peak speed. That’s why the dog scene in American Flyers is a cross between humor and traumatic flashback for me. Anyway, back to our discussion. That ability to focus the workouts in a highly targeted manner also leads to a more efficient use of time. My indoor ride may only take me an hour, whereas it may be another 30-45 minutes outside for the same effect. Remember, other than trainers with a forward drive mechanism to simulate downhill riding, you can’t coast without a measurable loss of momentum. Thus, you are always working. For those with tight schedules this can be critical to fitting in all of your workouts and hitting all of your targets.
Third, and last, riding indoors allows you to push harder without the risk of flying off the road or riding into traffic due to hypoxic blindness. Who hasn’t put forth an effort so hard that you see stars or have to close your eyes in agony because your body has summoned all energy to keep your legs moving and lungs processing? I know I have. In fact, I almost had a disagreement with a car and potholes on more than one occasion, as I could see nothing but little stars due to the throttling I was giving my body. After one very close call, I decided that I had to stop that practice, and moved it inside. Unfortunately for my wife, she has to sometimes endure some Lionel Sanders-esque grunting and yelling, but she would rather deal with the noise than have me splattered across the road (my life insurance isn’t that high). Being that I could really push my limits in a safe manner, I was able to realize significant gains in my threshold power as well as holding a higher power for longer periods. That directly translated to faster run times off of the bike, as dialing my effort back just a bit allowed for fresher legs while still having a fast bike split.
Now, please don’t feel that I am advocating that we should only ride indoors except for race day. Riding outdoors is great, and I love to do it when possible. There are crucial skills that can only be learned outdoors such as bike handling, dealing with head and crosswinds, and riding in a group or around other riders. Too often, these skills can be neglected and can mean the difference between a podium position and just another finisher (worse yet a crash victim). For proof of this, watch any number of World Tour cycling events or the road race from this year’s Olympic Games. It wasn’t the strongest riders who won but the best bike handlers. So, don’t forget the entirety of the skill set that makes one a great rider.
To sum things up, riding indoors can be an effective tool in your training kit. If you need to maximize use of your time, minimize risk, or really focus on hitting a target during a workout, throwing your bike on a trainer or set of rollers is one way to increase your chances of a performance boost. That’s it for now. More to follow about getting ready for next season in the weeks to come. I also just got in my new Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 action camera, so I will start getting some strength and conditioning videos as well as some running and cycling tips up soon.