article by Landry Bobo
As EVOQ.BIKE’s head coach Brendan Housler often says, there really is no “off-season” in cycling. If you want to reach your full potential, year-round training is essential. Yes, a short 2-3 week break at the end of your season is a good idea to reset mentally and physically– but after that, it’s time to lay the foundations for success next year.
There’s no sugar coating it, cycling takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but it’s SO worth it when you find yourself doing things you never thought possible. It’s the challenges you set for yourself in life that are the most rewarding.
The winter months of hard work are what will allow you to reach these new heights. I like to call this time of year “gains season,” where you focus on your overall development as an athlete. Athletes who take advantage of gains season are almost always the ones kicking butt in the spring.
However, for many of us, when the days are short and weather is unfavorable, riding outside during gains season is oftentimes not an option. Staying motivated when you’ve been stuck on the trainer for three weeks straight can be quite the challenge.
We want motivation to be riding high all winter long. More motivation equals higher quality training and you’ll head into the spring stoked rather than feeling mentally burned out. The good news is, with the advent of smart indoor bicycle trainers and apps like Zwift, indoor training is more fun than ever!
Back in the day, I would put my bike on the “dumb trainer” and slog through long trainer rides simply counting down the minutes, feeling mentally depleted by the end. Now that I have a great Zwift setup and a nice stationary bike trainer, training indoors is honestly pretty fun.. So, how can you make riding indoors more fun and how can you bust out 3+ hour trainer rides no problem?
If you follow me on Strava, you’ll see I do a lot of long rides on the trainer– and I have fun doing them! People often ask me how I can stay motivated on these long trainer rides. In this guide I’ll let you in on some strategies and equipment choices that will keep you stoked to get on the bike every day during gains season so you’ll be RIPPING in the spring.
See Also: Zone 2 Endurance Bike Training For Cyclists
The most important part of indoor cycling is of course your indoor bicycle trainer set up. Don’t underestimate the importance of having a nice direct drive bike trainer. I had trained on a wheel-on “dumb trainer” for the better part of nine years and thought it was fine. Once I tested out a smart stationary bike trainer I could never go back to riding my dumb trainer!
With a wheel-on trainer, you will feel like you are pedaling through quicksand. The harder you go, the more the trainer fights back. A direct drive bike trainer will simulate the “feel” of riding on a real road. This makes for a much more immersive experience and if you use a cycling training app like Zwift, you might even forget you’re riding inside.
Another big benefit of having a nice home bike trainer is that you will have an easier time transitioning from indoor to outdoor training. The muscle recruitment patterns of riding indoors can be quite different from what you would experience while riding outside. The problem with this is that not all your gains will transfer from your indoor cycling training to the outdoors. The more similarly you can replicate outdoor riding, the easier this transition will be.
What type of bike trainer is best? A direct drive smart trainer. There are lots of good options to choose from– Wahoo, Tacx, and Saris tend to be the most popular. You will have to invest more money than you would with a cheaper wheel-on trainer, but if you spend a lot of time indoors you will not regret it.
See Also: Cycling Training Plan For Beginners
What do I need for an indoor bike trainer? There are a couple essential accessories you will need to make your smart bicycle trainer set up complete:
Fan: This is definitely the most important accessory to have for your at home bike trainer. When you are outside, the wind provides cooling effects to prevent you from overheating. Inside however, you’ll be drowning in sweat within minutes without a good fan. Excessive heat will cause a significant decline in your performance, so this is a must.
Best Fan For Indoor Cycling:
A height adjustable fan like the Lasko Adjustable Height fan is great because you can put the height exactly where you want for maximum cooling. Place the fan far enough away from you so it blows on your torso and head.
Floor Mat: Do I need a mat under my bike trainer? If your bike trainer stand is placed anywhere in your house, absolutely yes. You will be sweating all over the place, dropping crumbs everywhere from energy bars, and grease/dirt can fall on the floor from your bike. You can get a nice cheap mat like this one
Over the last 5 years or so, many cycling training apps have become available. Smart trainers and power meters have made virtual training apps incredibly immersive experiences. Thanks to cycling training apps, indoor cycling is not only bearable, but downright fun (most of the time).
Best Cycling Training Apps
The big kahuna: ZWIFT. I was actually one of the first to beta test Zwift in 2015, there was basically one small Island called Jarvis Island with one tiny loop about 2 miles long! Oh how things change…
I’m probably biased because Zwift is my go-to, but I think Zwift is definitely the best indoor cycling app available. Many Zwift competitors have cropped up in recent years, but there’s a reason why Zwift is the king of indoor cycling. There’s just so much to do…
Hundreds of miles of roads to explore across multiple worlds
Competitive racing and group rides with people all over the world
Hundreds of achievements to accomplish
Countless pieces of unlockable gear
Import structured workouts or use Zwift training plans
That’s a lot of things to do, but just how much does Zwift cost per month? Given the hundreds of hours it’s saved me from staring into oblivion during the winter and preserving my mental sanity, $14.99/month sounds like a pretty fair price tag to me.
If you have a smart trainer, you likely already have everything you need for your Zwift set up. You can use Zwift via Windows, iOS, Android and Mac by connecting your smart trainer via bluetooth.
See Also: Endurance Riding For The Time Crunched Cyclist
Want to go against the grain and try something new? There are also lots of Zwift alternatives to choose from. I have not used all of these virtual cycling apps, but here’s a list so you can check them out on your own.
So you’re all set up and ready to show winter who’s boss. While indoor bicycle trainers and cycling training apps help, there are some other indoor cycling tips that will help you stay motivated to grind every day. With some of these tips, you might even find you can knock out 3+ hour trainer rides without much issue.
Wear your best bib shorts
I used to always wear my old, ugly bibs on the indoor bike trainer because no one else was watching and I wanted to “save” my nice bibs for the outdoors. The problem was, the chammy was usually not in the best condition so things could get uncomfortable pretty quickly.
When sitting static on the trainer and drenched in sweat, it’s a lot harder to keep things comfortable down there. I’ve found wearing my best bibs (my EVOQ.BIKE kit from Eliel) makes things a lot easier. If you’re getting ambitious and wanting to go really long on the trainer, changing your bibs midway through can help a lot.
Some high quality chamois cream is a total game changer. Yes, I have had to skip training days because of a saddle sore. Lessoned learned, don’t mess around with this. Coach Brendan swears by the cream from Hello Blue.
How can you make riding the indoor bike trainer more fun? Snacks of course! When you’re on the trainer, it’s a lot easier to access food than when you are out on the open road, so this is a great time to enjoy some different ride food. Pretzels, rice krispie treats, gummy worms. Eating snacks every 30 minutes definitely makes the time go by.
See Also: Nutrition And Cycling Performance
Change Your Position
When riding outside, you are constantly switching from the tops, hoods or drops and getting in or out of the saddle. This allows you to work different muscles to help mitigate fatigue to one muscle group. One thing that can make the trainer much more challenging is that you are often static in the same position; this causes certain muscles to become overworked and cause you to fatigue more quickly. Shifting your position regularly can help prevent this. On my trainer rides, I will ride on the hoods with my pelvis on the front end of the saddle to simulate climbing, then I will switch to the drops and shift back in the saddle as if I were going downhill. I also shift up a few gears and get out of the saddle every 5-10 minutes. It helps a lot!
Vary Your Cadence
One other thing that helps to mitigate saddle fatigue on the stationary bike trainer is switching up your cadence. Not only does this help to keep things more engaging, but it will also help work different muscle groups and disperse fatigue. This can be accomplished by riding a hilly course on Zwift with the resistance on. Keep the power steady but ride in the same gear as you go up and down the hills and vary your cadence with the terrain. This doubles as a great cadence workout.
Time of day
I’ve found that riding the trainer first thing in the morning makes the time go by much quicker. As you go through your day, you are constantly bombarded with stimuli from your phone or computer that can make riding the trainer seem unappealing. First thing in the morning, you are in a state of low stimulation, which means trainer riding feels a lot more fun and engaging.
This might seem weird, but it works. When I’m doing a 3+ hour indoor cycling workout, I will spend the first half of the ride not allowing myself to listen to or watch anything (I will only have Zwift on my computer). This serves two purposes. One, it makes me look forward to the second half of the ride where I can listen to music. Secondly, when I finally do get to listen to music, it makes it a lot easier to get through the second half!
The EVOQ.BIKE podcast
The last indoor cycling tip I have is to check out the EVOQ.BIKE podcast. There are hundreds of episodes ranging from tips/tricks to interviews with professional cyclists. You’ll hear the soothing voice of coach Brendan to get you through your trainer workout.
ERG mode, either you love it or hate it. While there is no correct answer to which one is better than the other, there are pros and cons to each. Specific sessions might be better suited to ERG, where others you might be better off without it.
Pros of ERG Mode
Zone Discipline: In particular for zone 2 rides, ERG mode can help keep you accountable to stay in the correct zone. If you’re one of those masochistic types who fights the urge to go full-send every time they get on the bike, this is a good way to keep it under control.
Better For Complex Workouts: If you have a workout planned that contains a lot of steps with different percentages, ERG mode can make life a lot simpler by adjusting the resistance for you.
Helps You to Push Through: If you are one of the riders that tends to falter when in the hurt box, ERG mode can basically force you to keep the power down. As long as the power target is physiologically within your limits, all you have to do is keep pedaling and eventually you will get through it. There’s no slowing down with ERG. However, there is a flipside to this that I will get to later.
Cons of ERG Mode
Does Not Train Power Modulation: I’ve come across athletes who have become so dependent on ERG mode, that when they try to ride without it, or ride outside, they have a very difficult time controlling their power zone for endurance rides. It is a very important skill to learn to modulate your power when out on the open roads. For an endurance ride, it’s important to roll with the terrain and keep it in the proper zone. If we are talking time trials or hill climbs, it’s also very important to learn how to control your power and ride steady. I often find that ERG athletes struggle to properly pace efforts when outside. Riding without ERG mode on the trainer is a perfect time to master the art of power control before heading outdoors.
Hold You Back: On the flipside of the aforementioned “pro,” ERG mode can conversely hold you back from digging deeper. For a tough workout like a 5×5 VO2max cycling workout, you really need to empty the tank to get the most out of it. Sometimes you might get on the bike and feel really strong like you can push above the power target, but if you stick with the prescribed power range, then ERG mode can prevent you from getting more out of yourself. Off of ERG mode, you can adjust on the fly like you would outside. If you feel awesome, you can ride harder.
You Get Bogged Down (and sometimes quit): The last “con” of ERG mode is that, when an athlete begins to struggle with a workout, their cadence slowly drops until ERG mode forces them to stop altogether, and the interval is wasted. Some days when you’re not feeling it, you just need to keep plugging away even if the power is lower than you’d like. Off of ERG, if the power starts to dwindle, you just keep going like you would on the open road. Even if you can’t fully hit a power target on a tough workout, you’re still getting something out of it.
See Also: Sweet Spot Training for Cycling
I’ll make this simple. As long as you have good weather and good roads to properly execute a workout, you should always ride outside. The “feel” of indoor riding is not quite like riding outside and so the more you can practice your sport in real life, the better.
However, in some cases, even if the weather is good, it might be better to actually do your workout indoors if it means proper execution. If you live in an area with no good places for intervals or a lot of interruptions, it might be best to ride indoors to make sure you nail the workout. The interval sessions each week are often “key” workouts, and you need to ensure you are doing it right, even if it means riding the trainer.
Training inside does in fact have profound performance benefits. No stoplights, no downhills, no flat tires, no interruptions. I have found that riding on the trainer for 4-5 hours straight with zero interruptions has given me cycling endurance like I’ve never had before.
See Also: What is Polarized Training?
This is highly dependent on what roads you have access to nearby, but in general any interval workouts around FTP or below are best suited for the trainer. The harder you go on the trainer, the more difficult it becomes to generate power like you would outside. For this reason, you should try to schedule your neuromuscular power zone sprint workouts or VO2max workouts outside if you are able.
Why is anaerobic training so much harder on the indoor bicycle trainer compared to outside? Anaerobic intervals are much more than just a leg workout, they often require every ounce of energy from your arms and your core to put out the most power possible. When doing these types of workouts, you will be in and out of the saddle, torquing the bike very which-way; this is quite difficult to replicate inside!
Longer intervals, like tempo training or over/unders are very well suited to the trainer. You likely will not have any decrease in power compared to outside, and for those who don’t have access to open roads for longer intervals, the trainer is a godsend. The good news is, during the winter you will likely be doing mostly lower intensity intervals anyways!
When I go to visit family in Colorado Springs, I don’t have access to roads for intervals much longer than 10 minutes. I also don’t have very many roads steep enough for my usual regimen of low-cadence training in the winter. I will almost always do those low cadence sessions inside on the stationary bike trainer to ensure proper execution. In the summer though, I will always head outside for my cycling VO2max intervals.
See Also: How to Increase Anaerobic Capacity
With a proper indoor bicycle trainer set up, now all you have to do is have a solid plan and put in the work. Figuring out your offseason training can be a challenge! Check out our blog, YouTube or podcast for loads of free training content.
Want to take your training to the next level? Learn more about our one-on-one cycling training programs or our $39 power file analysis by one of our expert coaches. Please contact us for any questions or inquiries and we will be happy to help.
Landry Bobo has raced on the road since his junior days and currently races in the elite categories. One of the things Landry loves most about cycling is the sense of satisfaction gained from working hard and getting stronger. This passion is what drove him to pursue an education in the field of exercise physiology, he holds a Master’s Degree in Exercise Science from Appalachian State University
He is excited to share his experience with athletes of all ability levels and is passionate about helping you crush your goals! Landry@EVOQ.BIKE // Strava
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