While indoor training used to be the preserve of dedicated racers looking to maintain fitness through winter, the latest advances in tech have made indoor cycling more appealing – and more beneficial – to a wider range of riders than ever.
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Regardless of your goals in 2024, indoor training can benefit your cycling performance, particularly over the winter, when opportunities to ride may be limited by the weather and lack of daylight hours.
Here are eight ways in which a structured programme of indoor training can supplement your outdoor riding, helping you to become a better rider and achieve your cycling objectives for the coming year.
You can also learn more about how to use indoor cycling to help you train effectively in our BikeRadar Podcast series with Wahoo’s Mac Cassin.
1. Get structured
When riding outdoors, it’s easy to get into a routine of similar-length rides with comparable effort levels over many of the same roads or trails.
Riding at similar intensity isn’t the best way to work on your winter fitness though and is most likely to result in you reaching a plateau that’s below your optimum capacity.
“It’s important to have intent and purpose to your training,” says Mac Cassin, principal sports scientist at Wahoo. “If your goal is to improve, sometimes you’ll need to do stuff that you don’t want to do. It’s about having a clear plan and periodisation to your riding, having something you’re working towards, maximising the use of your time available and hitting specific targets.”
A more structured training routine, which mixes steady recovery rides with higher-intensity efforts, has been shown to result in quicker adaptations, which result in increased exercise capacity. It’s also important to plan in recovery time, to help your body adapt to training stress.
Even if you prefer outdoor rides, indoor training is a great way to supplement these and provide a more varied exercise regime, which will reap benefits later.
2. Become a better climber
Indoor cycling enables you to work on your climbing. You can put in a concerted effort against a consistent gradient, often for far longer than you could on a real hill, short of travelling to the Alps.
If you want to ride simulations of real climbs, pair up your Wahoo trainer with Zwift and you can ride Alpe du Zwift, which replicates the length and gradient of the most famous climb of all. You’ll generate the additional stamina that makes shorter climbs a breeze.
Wahoo makes climbing drills even more realistic with its KICKR Climb, which ramps up the front of your bike so it’s at the actual slope you’d experience. That helps you to recruit the muscles you’d use in a real climb, rather than those you use when riding on the flat. It makes out-of-the-saddle efforts much more authentic and helps you to pace your climbing efforts better.
3. Go longer
If you’re aiming for a longer event next year, whether that’s a first century ride, a big sportive or LEJOG, the winter is a great time to build a base of fitness. However, most people don’t have the time to do more than a couple of long rides a week, particularly with the short winter daylight hours.
That’s where higher-intensity training sessions on a Wahoo trainer can really help. Yes, you can spend your winter evenings on steady turbo rides, but it’s much more time efficient to mix in shorter, higher-intensity sessions such as short intervals, which will kick-start your body’s adaptation to higher-volume riding at greater effort levels come summer.
A polarised training programme that mixes up these higher-intensity turbo sessions with lower-intensity endurance rides – which you might prefer to do outdoors – and with recovery days, will get you ready for longer efforts come the summer.
4. Get stronger
It’s important to work on the strength of your whole body, not just your leg muscles. Core muscle strength in your torso has been shown to enable more efficient cycling, making you more stable on the bike and also helping to prevent injury.
Wahoo’s sports scientists say the stronger your core, the less fatigued your legs will be and the easier it will be to maintain your position on the bike.
A comprehensive indoor training programme will address your overall musculature, not just your pedalling. Wahoo SYSTM includes off-bike exercises to work on your core, so you’ll be a more efficient rider and less likely to suffer from aches and pains or injuries when riding.
Riding on a smart trainer indoors, you’ll also avoid the risk of a crash if the weather is poor or conditions are icy, which could put your training back by weeks.
5. Work on your weaknesses
It’s not just your strengths that winter training can address, it’s an opportunity as well to assess your relative weaknesses and to improve those. While the power output you can maintain for an hour – your functional threshold power, or FTP – is a useful and frequently used measure of your fitness level and how it is improving over time, Wahoo SYSTM assesses your power output to derive other metrics too.
Its 4DP analysis includes shorter efforts: your five-second power output, your five-minute power and your one-minute maximum anaerobic power. These provide a more comprehensive view of your capabilities on the bike, which you can use to target your training to improve overall performance.
“It’s important to look at your numbers, but you shouldn’t obsess over them,” says Cassin.
6. Go faster
If your aim is to go faster, indoor training is a great way to increase your FTP and VO2 max, offering structure that’s difficult to achieve when riding outdoors. While the need to keep alert to what’s going on around you, and even just the availability of suitable quiet roads, can be a handicap to really working on your training, working out indoors avoids such problems.
You can concentrate on your planned workout, watch your output numbers and follow a training routine much more easily without distractions on a turbo trainer. This will enable you to work on drills that will make you faster outdoors once the better weather comes around. The in-built power meter in Wahoo’s smart trainers gives you the numbers to quantify your effort and ERG mode ensures you’re meeting the prescribed outputs.
Many riders find indoor cycling uncomfortably hot, although a powerful fan such as the Wahoo KICKR Headwind can help to keep you cooler. However, although the heat build-up when riding indoors may feel unpleasant, it has advantages, says Cassin.
Your body will adapt by increasing blood plasma volume to help carry the heat to your periphery, which in turn increases cardiac output. Over time, this is likely to increase your VO2 max.
7. Finesse your technique
Following on from this, the distraction-free indoor environment offers the opportunity to really work on your pedalling technique, to improve your efficiency on the bike.
High-output, low-cadence drills, mixed with fast pedalling exercises, will train your muscles to work more efficiently in propelling you forward. This will help not just with power delivery but also add to your ability to take on longer rides with less fatigue come the summer.
Wahoo SYSTM has a series of drills it recommends to improve your cycling strength and efficiency.
8. Find balance
Finally, exercise during the winter shouldn’t just be about time on the bike. It’s important to build off-bike recovery time and other exercise into your routine too.
Wahoo SYSTM provides a comprehensive suite of off-bike activity, including yoga, strength and flexibility improvement, and mental training to help you improve your focus and stay positive.
Its content includes documentaries and ride-throughs of iconic routes, helping you to relax, and clarify your aims and objectives for your cycling in 2024.
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“The best way to maintain your motivation is to have goals that you’re working towards,” Cassin concludes.