Indoor training has had a bad rap for a long time. While indoor training has historically been viewed as the training “alternative” option, it is quickly becoming the go-to option for many athletes globally. This shift is not just due to weather patterns affecting their outdoor riding plans, but instead the wide range of options that indoor training can give you as an athlete. While outdoor riding may always be the best choice for exploring and putting in big mileage, indoor training is essential for year-round training and we will break down the reasons why:
Control Over the Environment
One of the biggest benefits of an indoor trainer is your ability to have complete control over your environment. Whether you are choosing to ride inside or mother nature is forcing you, being inside can help you to acclimatize to potential race day conditions that you can set up and simulate for yourself!
While the summer months are great for hitting the roads and logging big miles on the weekends (or weekdays for those lucky enough!) the sun and heat are well known to be energy-draining. If trying to target specific power for a workout, staying indoors during those scorching hot and humid days will benefit your performance on the bike to allow you to hit your target power. As it has been well documented, even a 2% decrease in hydration levels will begin to hinder your performance. When indoors you can stay cool, hydrated, and keep your energy levels elevated to execute the session.
Provide Accurate Benchmark Training
Due to the control you have over an indoor training environment, it’s beneficial to do ‘benchmark’ workouts throughout the season to track how you are adapting to your training. Benchmark workouts aren’t necessarily always maximal all-out tests like power testing. Instead, these sessions can be controlled efforts at either a specific power or a specific heart rate. Since you are looking for potentially small changes in these benchmark tests, you want the environment as controlled as possible. There is a reason lab testing is done in a lab!
Maximize Available Time
For most of us, we are not being paid to ride our bikes. Our day jobs can interfere with our own idea of “optimal riding time.” When we need to factor in daylight savings time as well, the window of riding opportunity diminishes even more! Thankfully, the trainer gives us the ability to ride before or after the sun is out helping us gain back our precious ride time. While it is always an option to deck out your bike with high-lumen bike lights, it may not make for the best workout environment. Riding indoors can help you to maximize your workout on specific days when the moonlight won’t cut it.
Hitting Specific Power Targets
Some rides are simply for endurance and tacking miles on the saddle. While others are asking you to hold a sustained power for periods of time. When you are heading into sessions that have specific power targets it is sometimes better to stay indoors on the trainer in order to maximize the benefits of the session. Depending upon where you live, the road conditions may not be structured in a way that allows you to ride for periods of time without: stop lights, stop signs, continuous changes in elevation, etc. There are many pieces of outdoor riding we can’t control, but using an indoor setup allows us to control our target workout sessions.
Nothing can really beat riding outside and especially a long ride in the sun with your friends. Today there are far too many incidents involving cyclists and automobiles. One of the large benefits the trainer provides is safety from outside forces. This even includes the weather. High winds can be extremely dangerous to ride in when on the roads. Cross-winds can catch you off-guard at any moment and send you into traffic. While you should not live in fear of riding in the great outdoors on your bike, maybe consider riding inside for sessions that will be requiring a lot of your attention to your data screens, that way you can be fully alert on the roads.
Controlled Race Warm Up
When it comes to racing, many people will agree that the best way to focus is to: control the controllables. Your race warm-up is one of these controllables. When you are able to properly activate and prepare your body for the upcoming race, you are putting yourself in the best position possible to execute well and perform to the best of your abilities. Having a practiced warm-up routine that you control can not only help you physically but mentally as well. How? Having routines on race day can help keep your mind focused on the task at hand. When it is a task you have performed multiple times before (aka practice your race day warm-up before other big sessions) this can help you to relax as you will feel comfortable doing something familiar.
Connect with Friends Globally
The days of lonely, solo, indoor rides are in the past! With Bluetooth technology and the creation of apps like Zwift, the indoor training world has gone virtual. Now more than ever you can stay connected and ride virtually with friends (and strangers!) from around the globe. Not only are these platforms great for allowing you to virtually “meet up,” but can also provide great motivation for training as well as race simulation. Middle of winter, but want to race a crit? No problem! Now you can race whenever and wherever you want from the comforts of your own home, and the best part yet…you don’t have to pack up your bike!
Keeping Easy Rides, Easy
Recovery is key, and this cannot be stressed enough. There are plenty of times in training when you can smash yourself to pieces during key workouts, but those times do not include rest or “active recovery” days. If you find that you are someone who likes to keep your foot on the gas a little too much on easy days then staying stationary indoors can help you to stay honest with yourself and ride easy. Depending on your trainer, you may be able to even set a specific wattage that will hold you to it for the duration of your session. Another great reason to use the trainer indoors for easy rides is if you live in a hilly area that doesn’t truly allow for easy efforts during an entire ride. If you find that you have to climb a lot and see surges in power just to finish a route, then staying inside could be a great resource!
The trainer is also a great resource when working on neuromuscular adaptations. These types of sessions include cadence builds, cadence drills, single-leg drills, and even selective sprint sessions. All of these sessions can be controlled in the indoor environment and you won’t need to worry about elevation, road conditions, etc, affecting your workout. Neuromuscular work will require your focus and attention to ensure you are performing drills correctly. Drills are performed in order to improve your pedaling efficiency, these are important to maintain full focus!