Getting the most out of an indoor workout

By Kevin Lee, USA Cycling-certified coach

It was a cold Saturday morning in the low 30’s, maybe high 20’s, but at least it was dry. The days plan for riding was to be on the bike for 4 hours and to ride at endurance, zone 2, pace in most sections, but to maybe hit some of the hills at more of a tempo pace. After the first 2 hours I couldn’t feel my hands, even though I had on the correct gloves rated for the ride. The wind cut directly through 2 layers of wool socks, small plastic bags, cycling shoes, and winter booties. It was just too cold to be out on a bike in the North Georgia Mountain foot hills. My training day was ruined because I had cut it short and didn’t accomplish the day’s objectives. In the back of my head I knew that I should have gone with the back up plan of riding on the indoor trainer, rollers, or maybe last case scenario use a spin bike.

The good news is that as a certified cycling coach, a personal trainer, and group exercise instructor (spin certified), I have back up plans for days like that. Even though I teach spin a couple nights per week at my local gym, I prefer to do my indoor workouts alone at home with a radio jamming my favorite tunes and a space heater to make the room hot. You may be thinking, no sir, I get hot enough when I exercise inside, but the heater is more to keep me accustom to the Georgia summers. Acclimating to hot sticky weather can really happen in a relatively short amount of time, but clinical testing from the Dept. of Human Physiology of Eugene Oregon, has shown that heat acclimation can improve Vo2 performance by as much as six percent, and improve overall aerobic conditioning in moderate climates.

Beyond getting comfortable, what needs to be done on the bike during your workout is ever so important. Spin classes may be a bit too short, have too high of an intensity level, or too much of a focus on gimmicks. Maybe that is one of the reasons why my classes only bring the serious road riders and the general fitness people don’t like it so much. The exact opposite scenario is spinning inside by your self and not really getting up to any kind of intensity level. I am going to run you through a few training situations that may help you make it through the winter without missing many workouts.

The first thing I suggest is to plan your day well. Most all cyclists, I know, are also part time weather men. Spend a bit of time to decide if you want to risk missing a workout, or if you are just going to need to be inside. Also know that training inside must be done with either a heart rate monitor or a power meter. Some gyms are starting to equip the spin bikes with power meters. Then keep in mind that time on the bike on a trainer or spin bike is constant pedaling. This is great for a track cyclist, but if you’re a roadie you may be surprised at the time spent freewheeling while riding on the road. I generally think ten to fifteen minutes per one hour is spent not pedaling or light pedaling.

First never count the five or ten minute warm-up as part of the “main set “of the workout. If your workout was for a short two hour ride, your spin may be an hour and a quarter or one and half hours. Let’s also say your workout was to be in your endurance zone for that two hour ride. I break down the workouts like this. The workout will be one and one half hour total on the spin bike.

1.5 hours (endurance/short range tempo)
5 min warm up to zone 2
3X25 min (15 min zone 2, 5 min build up to zone 3, 5 minutes active zone 1 recovery)
10 minute warm down and stretch
Or build up to this as winter moves on.
1.5 hours (endurance/ mid range tempo)
10 min warm up to zone 2
2X35 min (20 min zone 2, 10 min build up to zone 3, 5 minutes active zone 1 recovery)
10 min warm down and stretch time
Or late winter almost spring
1.75 hours (endurance long/mid range tempo)
5 minute warm up to zone 2
2X45 min (30 min zone 2, 10 min build up in zone 3, 5 minutes active zone 1 recovery)
10 min warm down and stretch time
I feel that these are good endurance/tempo scenarios that replicate good base period rides. Maybe you warm up for ten minutes, and then spin for two forty minute segments, with the last ten minutes building up to zone three, with five minutes of “flat road” or active recovery  in the middle of the sets. The trick is to have a bit of a progression as winter moves on and to keep them at an hour or hour and half.
Riding inside is also a good time to think about your form. If you have issues ridding in the drops for a long period of time, then spin in your drops. Maybe have a day where you do one foot speed/form drills.   I know this one sounds crazy, but if you have a hard time grabbing your bottles while pedaling, then put your bottles in the cages and practice keeping a consistent pedal stroke while grabbing bottles from them. The point of what I am saying is that if you’re “stuck on a trainer”; you need to use your time wisely honing the skills that may have hurt you last season.
Finally a good thing to keep in mind is that a coach will know to plan alternate work outs for you. He or she might have already scoped the weather for the week in your area, and planned the days where you may need to ride inside. A good coach will have notes telling you what to do if can’t ride outside on a particular day, and then change that day’s with Tuesday’s workout and use the alternate for Thursdays. Having a coach to think about those aspects for your training is a load off your training stress, but if you don’t have coach, think about the goals of your planned ride and modify to accommodate to differences between indoor and outdoor riding.