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5 Indoor Cycling Workouts To Help You Love Your Trainer

December 11, 2017

Indoor training can take a little bit more out of you compared to riding outdoors, physically and mentally. Physiologically speaking there is no “down-time” on the trainer. While outdoors it’s not uncommon to spend 10-15% of a ride coasting at 0 rpm, and most importantly, at 0 watts, riding indoors there really isn’t any coasting. One hour on the trainer = one hour pedaling. So even though you may only be riding for one hour, there is room for a lot more quality. There are no stops signs, no stop lights, no intersections, traffic or downhills. Which means more and more focus on the actual workout at hand.

So while is your power lower when you ride inside? Without getting into the physics of it, it’s worth noting that for most people, power indoors, at the same perceived effort and heart rate as outdoors, might be a bit lower. If you find that your sustainable power is consistently different by more than 3-5%, I recommend that you do a threshold test indoors, using the same protocol you use outdoors. You can then adjust your prescribed wattages based on whether you are indoors or outdoors. Over time, and with experience, you may find that your power numbers get closer to being equal and retesting should be considered after a month to six weeks of consistent indoor training.

Benjamin Sharp says:
Short, very specific workouts are ideal for indoor sessions.
Every indoor ride should have a purpose. FTP, Threshold, Strength, Cadence, Pedaling Efficiency. These are some of the many areas you can focus on. Workouts should have set targets for intervals (durations/intensities) and keep the intervals short and engaging. This will help time pass quicker, and will keep you engaged in the process, not to mention maximize your potential for improvement.

I never like to say “never” however, generally speaking, trying to ride for three or four hours at 200 watts is a motivation (and crotch) killer. Leave the long endurance rides for when the weather clears or you want to try out your new thermal jacket that was gifted over the holidays. Short, very specific workouts are ideal for indoor sessions.

Here are Sharp’s Go-To Indoor Training Workouts:

1. Pedaling Skills Work:
Since you’re in the comfort of your pain cave, there are no potholes, no menacing cars, and no lane-hogging trucks to avoid. This freedom from spending mental energy on trying to avoid the perils of being on the road means more energy can be spent honing in on and focusing on posture, positioning on the bike, pedaling skills, etc. I like to include one-legged drills, over gear/low cadence drills, and fast cadence drills as a regular part of my recovery rides indoors. This helps make the time pass faster and beyond simply doing a recovery ride, gives your recovery workout added purpose and value.

2. Kitchen Sink. (1h15m total).
This is my “go to” workout when I’m not really sure what I want to do but I know I want to do something hard. It’s relatively short and not so sweet but it’s engaging with many intensity changes.

  • Ten minutes warm-up easy spinning, Recovery/Zone 1 with a couple minutes of Endurance/Zone 2.
    Ten minutes at Tempo (zone 3, 80-90 rpm)
    Five minutes of Recovery (Zone 1).
    Ten minutes at Tempo (Zone 3, 80-90 rpm) but include a ten-second ‘sprint’ (non-maximal effort) at the end of each minute.
    Five minutes of Recovery (Zone 1)
    3 sets x 5 repetitions of 30 seconds “on” (VO2 Zone 5) and 30 seconds “off” at Tempo (zone 3) with 5 minutes of Recovery (Zone 1) between each rep. Note, the “off” portion of the interval is at zone 3, NOT zone 1.
    Take 5-10 minutes of Recovery (Zone 1) to finish the workout.

3. Micro Intervals followed by Tempo Sprint. (1h00m total).
As the weather shows hints of clearing, I like to incorporate this workout into indoor training in anticipation of doing some competitive group rides on the weekends. The accelerations are taxing and mimic the micro surges that take place in a rolling peloton. The Tempo at the end is good for working on endurance while slightly fatigued and who doesn’t like to end a workout with a sprint?

  • Ten minutes warm-up easy spinning, Recovery/Zone 1 with a couple minutes of Endurance/Zone 2.
    30 minutes of repeating :15 sec. at VO2 max power (zone 5) followed by :45 sec. of Tempo (zone 3). Note, the “off” portion of the interval is at zone 3, NOT zone 1.
    Five minutes of Recovery (Zone 1).
    Ten minutes of Tempo (Zone 3). At 90-100 rpm. At the end of the 10m, sprint all out, 100% for 20s.
    Take 5-10 minutes of Recovery (Zone 1) to finish the workout.

4. Threshold Step-Ups. (40m)
These are a variation of the tried and true threshold interval. Each interval has three steps. Starting with Tempo (Zone 3) for 3 minutes, progress into the bottom of Threshold (Zone 4) for 4 minutes and finish the 10 minutes with 3 minutes at the top of Threshold (Zone 4). Repeat three times with 3 minutes of Recovery (Zone 1) between each 10 minute block.

  • Ten minutes warm-up easy spinning, Recovery/Zone 1 with a couple minutes of Endurance/Zone 2.
    Three minutes of Tempo (Zone 3) – 80-90 rpm
    Four minutes of low Threshold (bottom of Zone 4) 90-100 rpm
    Three minutes of high Threshold (top of Zone 4) 100+ rpm
    Three minutes of Recovery (Zone 1)
    Repeat three times total.
    Take 5-10 minutes of Recovery (Zone 1) to finish the workout.

5. One Legged Drills/Over Gear/Fast Cadence (57m).
A great recovery ride workout that focuses on pedaling technique and strength.

  • Ten minutes warm-up easy spinning, Recovery/Zone 1 with a couple minutes of Endurance/Zone 2.
    Four repetitions of 30 seconds (for each leg) of pedaling with one leg. Unclip the unused leg and let it dangle, out of the way of your crankarm and pedal. Switch legs every 30 seconds to make each block of One legged Drills 4 minutes. Wattage is irrelevant, aim for a cadence of 80-100 rpm.
    Two minutes of Recovery (Zone 1).
    4 x 30 second (each leg) One Legged Drills
    Two minutes of Recovery (Zone 1).
    4 x 30 second (each leg) One Legged Drills
    Two minutes of Recovery (Zone 1).
    Two minutes of Over Gear. Wattage should be below Zone 4 and cadence should be 50-60 rpm.
    Two minutes of Fast Cadence. Wattage should be below Zone 4 and cadence target is 100+ rpm.
    Two minutes of Over Gear
    Four minutes of Recovery (Zone 1).
    Three minutes of Fast Cadence.
    Three minutes of Over Gear.
    Three minutes of Fast Cadence.
    Take 5-10 minutes of Recovery (Zone 1) to finish the workout.

A note about the sample workouts below: When attempting an interval session, successfully completing each interval means averaging a power within the prescribed zone. For the most part, when following structured training on a trainer, your Adjusted Power or Normalized Power will fall in line with your average power pretty closely. Adjusted Power tends to stray from average power when there are lots of surges and dramatic changes in pace, something that for the most part doesn’t exist when training indoors. The exception to the previous statement would be, unless the indoor training is replicating the dramatic changes in pace that are common outdoors, e.g. if doing a race or group ride on Zwift. In that scenario, I would expect Adjusted Power and average power to decouple as the variability of power will increase due to the demands of riding in a virtual peloton. For the workouts below, you should stay focused on your average power for each time span and aim to train within the prescribed zone.