As winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere some athletes will spend most of their cycling time indoors. Often indoor cycling workouts turn into hammer sessions where athletes push themselves so hard that they forget about the importance of technique and form.
Here are my top 5 tips to ensure that you’re making the most of your indoor sessions.
I will be the first to tell you that my love for my indoor bike trainer borders on unnatural. I can justify this in three ways: (1) I am terrified of bike crashes; (2) I am a serious wimp about the cold, the wind, and anything wet; and (3) my indoor bike training is very, very focused. Reason #3 is why my love for my trainer goes hand in hand with my love for TrainerRoad. It’s also why, even if you’re fearless about cars and downhills and weather, you should love it too.
WHAT IS IT?
TrainerRoad is an app (Windows, Mac, iOS and Android) that provides structured workouts for use with your indoor bike trainer. You know how the great thing about Masters Swim is that you just show up, someone tells you what to do, and you get a great workout? TrainerRoad is like that, but for your bike trainer.
WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
If you want to improve as a cyclist, you need to do more than just go out and bike. Yes, time in the saddle is a key driver of bike fitness, and yes you need to go out on the road to hone your bike handling skills. But if you no longer tip over at stop signs and your fitness gains from time in the saddle have leveled off, then it’s time to get more precise about how you train.
As an athlete, I reached this point a few years into my triathlon career and I soon learned that trying to do specific interval repeats out on the open road was seriously hampered by the existence of stop signs and hills – both up and down. As a coach, I rely on indoor bike workouts for the precision of structured interval workouts as well as the intensity limits that are imposed from doing endurance-level work indoors.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
TrainerRoad one uses of many sources (see table below) to arrive at a basis for power-based training. Translation: with Trainer, Road you don’t need a power meter or a smart trainer to train with power! (ICYMI: Power-based training is the Holy Grail of bike training, because – unlike heart rate – it is an instantaneous measure of effort that is not affected by the weather, your fatigue, your hydration level, or the state of your immune system.)
Knowing your power output is only meaningful if you know where that output falls relative to your ability, so you’ll start off your TrainerRoad career by doing a test to determine your FTP (Functional Threshold Power). Yes, it’s a pretty brutal workout, but knowing your FTP is mission-critical to dialing in the rest of your training. Once you finish the test, TrainerRoad will automatically update your FTP setting and all future workouts will be based on this number and your associated training zones – as in, all workouts are now personalized to your current fitness level.
OK, so now you need a workout. This is where TrainerRoad provides a ton of value: they have a library of over 1,000 workouts, hundreds of which are an hour long, that are all designed to make you a better cyclist. The majority of these workouts include written instructions that function as a virtual coach. It’s kind of like having a coach whispering in your ear during the workout, keeping you focused and educating you about purpose and benefits of the training you’re doing. Many workouts also use the instructions to walk you through cycling drills or specify cadence targets throughout the workout, both of which will ultimately make you a better, stronger cyclist.
So then, how do you decide on which of their 1,000+ workouts you should do today? If you already know the focus of your training, you can pick a workout based on training zone: Endurance, Tempo, Sweet Spot, Threshold, VO2 Max, Anaerobic Capacity, or Sprint. No clue what type of workout you should be doing? They have over 100 training plans you can follow, which vary based on your cycling focus, training volume, and where you are in your training season. Trying to dial in some race-specific intervals? Or maybe your coach has specified a very detailed set of intervals for you? TrainerRoad also allows you to create custom workouts if one of their existing workouts doesn’t meet your needs.
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
First you’ll want to confirm here, https://www.trainerroad.com/equipment-checker, that your equipment is compatible with TrainerRoad. Once you’ve confirmed that you’re good to go, you’ll set up a subscription with TrainerRoad ($12/month or $99/year) and fill out your profile. You can set up auto-sync with TrainingPeaks and Strava so that you get credit for all your hard work, without doing any extra work.
Now that your profile is ready, you’ll want to download the appropriate software for your laptop / desktop / tablet / phone here: https://www.trainerroad.com/download. The last item of business is to pair your ANT+ or Bluetooth speed sensor / power meter / smart trainer to the software. Then just knock out your fitness test and you’re on your way to becoming a better cyclist.