Seven Lessons from Training Indoors
Words by: Lori Nedescu, MS RD CSSD @CadenceKitchen
Settling in to a harsh winter inside is no cyclist's idea of a good time. But moving to icy, snow covered, freezing temps of Minnesota this January put me in just this situation.
What’s a cyclist to do? Get real friendly with the bike trainer set up, that’s what. It's been roughly a month of riding indoors exclusively and I'm about to head into race season. This is not an ideal situation – or maybe it is – to keep a positive mental attitude & high confidence. I've been doing some reflecting on what my month inside has taught me.
With no group ride to get to, daylight hours to worry about , or weather to consider (it’s miserable enough to not even bother checking), nothing else is keeping me committed and on track to my rides. I could hide under the covers all day and no one would know. Of course, I'm pretty sure a month of hibernation would definitely not be a beneficial way to start the race season with strong legs. This means I have to toughen up and get it done. It is up to me to be accountable; schedule the time, get enthusiastic about it, and complete the solo effort.
Training over 'Just Riding'.
In the past, trainer rides would pop up here and there due to a too cold or rainy day and provide a break from hard outdoor rides. I could hole up with a magazine and just pedal. This style no longer works when the trainer is your only training. Without group ride antics and outside terrain to tackle, riding indoors needed to be focused and fierce. Instead of just riding, I loaded workout after workout and traded the magazines for headphones and got to it.
Playing the numbers game.
Riding inside does not provide the same 'high' or natural sense of accomplishment you get from exploring the great outdoors. To make sure I was actually benefiting from riding inside, I became much more familiar with my numbers. Load, power, zones, cadence, heart rate... and how to use these metrics to my advantage. When to work what and when to back off. How to assess my fitness and training load.
Knowing my body.
Without the distractions of riding outside, I've become much more in tune with how my legs feel at different rhythms, how to be steady, how to ramp up without torching my energy, how to conserve and increase cadence to take off the pressure, etc.
Training the weaknesses.
Inside, you have a set environment to work with. While this can get boring, it can also be the ideal platform to work on overcoming weaknesses without excuses (oh, that stop light killed my interval... or the group wanted to stop for coffee...). If I don't hit my goal the first time, I will try again, and again and again.
By the end of my month inside, there wasn't a workout I couldn't complete. There were workouts that would have me in tears after failing previously. Now, I'm powering through each workout with determination and strength. I've also used indoor cycling programs (thanks Zwift!) to create custom workouts to keep me on my toes.
To really try to replicate the intensity, endurance, and variability of outside training, I've gotten quite creative and a bit experimental with my inside training. Instead of just loading a workout and completing it and calling it a day, I might load two different ones back to back, or stop one mid way through and move to something totally different. I've also blended off the bike workouts with my riding. Having a trainer parked right next to weights, a punching bag, and other equipment means I can do a full leg workout right before riding to really feel the burn or transition immediately into core work and stretching post ride for overall body work.
Experimenting with food and drink intake out on the roads is always a tricky game. Will you end up needing a rest stop? bonking? puking? Eek! These terrifying factors causes many athletes to never play with their nutrition leading into a race season. Inside, there is no real worry. Restroom? Go for it, its right there. Didn't plan on enough food? Go to the fridge. I've used this to my advantage by adding new food and drink to my routine.
I've also been able to carefully watch my caloric expenditure throughout the workout and work to keep ahead of my needs and up my consumption. My recovery fueling has also been strengthened with the ability to get off the bike and go straight to the kitchen. These are important training measures that will certainly benefit my performance going into a tough race season.
Have there been times of boredom? Sure. Have there been periods of jealously after scrolling through warm weather friend's Strava uploads of real rides in sunshine? Yep.
But overall, I feel like I've embraced training indoors in a way that has me feeling like I've made real performance gains. Being stuck on the trainer has led to a strong body and mind. I'm also more eager than anyone to get outside and race, so watch out!