Riding Indoors: Keeping It Fun in the Off Season
Talk of college bowl games and NFL playoffs are always a sign that winter is around the corner. We can now look forward to sub-zero temperatures, blowing winds, and frequent snow flurries - thus it is easy to get depressed when considering your winter training options (unless of course you are a Nordic skier – but that is a story for another day).
Yes, there is always the gym, but for a cyclist, time on the bike is of utmost importance. However, as the weather deteriorates and darkness reigns, I find that many cyclists actually dread climbing on their indoor trainer, stating that riding indoors is about as exciting as watching paint dry. Perhaps these people suffer from a lack of imagination, as I for one look forward riding indoors.
Unlike the today's millennials who need constant stimulus to keep their minds from wondering aimlessly, my first indoor riding experience was on a set of rollers located in the center of my parents living room facing a set of wooden closet doors – that was my training studio and full extent of my entertainment. No 52 inch LCD television. No YouTube videos or even a whisper of music. Me, my bicycle (a classic Ferrari red Basso Gap with fully campagnolo that cost me $999), all alone with my imagination. It worked for cycling legend Eddy Merckx, so why not me? Below is a link to a great video of Eddy riding indoors on a set of rollers, showing just how simple your indoor training space can be. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BcHekNAfOo)
For those who dread the thought of indoor riding, there are several things one can do to make riding indoors more enjoyable.
1. Proper environment Your environment is a huge factor in how comfortable you are while riding. For me, the closed confines of a NYC apartment (or college dorm room) can lead to some stuffy riding conditions. Assuming you already own an indoor trainer for you bike (a winter must as Soul Cycle IS NOT AN OPTION for a real cyclist), the next thing one should invest in is a fan. Even on the coldest winter days, I crack the window a touch and aim the fan at my chest, thus keeping the overheating to a minimum. Make sure you have a towel draped over the handlebars, and for those of you with hardwood floors, put a couple more on the ground around your bike, as you will sweat (trust me on this one!). If riding in your apartment is not an option, many apartment buildings allow you to bring your indoor trainer to their gym facilities (but ask before doing so). Additionally, indoor training facilities of a non-spin class variety are growing more common. From Boston to Washington DC, there are many performance centers where riding indoors on your own bike within a group setting is becoming much easier and the benefits are huge (suffering is always more enjoyable when shared)! Indoor studios equipped with multiple compu-trainers in NYC include; Tailwind Endurance on the west side, Chelsea Piers downtown, Ride Brooklyn in Brooklyn, then there is Fast Splits near Boston, Cadence in Philadelphia, and CycleLife in DC and MA, SwimBikeRun in CT, and Gavia Cycling in NJ to name a few. 2. What to do for entertainment? Assuming we all don't own Compu-trainers (or other 'smart' trainers), we will need something to do other than watch the walls. Listening to music is always an option, but this only helps with one of our senses. Personally, nowadays I need more stimulation. Riding indoors for me means a chance to catch up on some quality TV. Why not ride while watching your favorite football or basketball team play? Or better yet, how about watching a vintage ride by Bernard Hinault on DVD? For me, my favorite source of TV entertainment is a good old James Bond flick (I own every Bond movie).
3. Keep it fun, but do have a game plan! Sure, watching Aaron Rodgers or James Bond will help pass the time, but you still have to think about your workout. For me the off-season is prime time to work on form and technique as even the most accomplished cyclists can re-enforce proper pedaling skills. Like a swimmer in a pool, a cyclist should use the warm-up period at the start of their ride to work on drills. After an easy 10-minute spin on the trainer to warm-up, phase two of the warm-up should be some good old fashioned pedaling drills. Start off with some high cadence work, doing 30 to to 60 seconds at 100 rpm, then 110 rpm, 120 rpm, then try 15 seconds at maximum rpm. Repeat this series several times through with an aim of keeping the bouncing to a minimum and working on a smooth yet quick leg turnover. The more efficient you are at higher rpm’s, the better your pedal stroke will be at your average race cadence (which I will guess is somewhere well below 120 rpm). After the high cadence drills, it is time for some isolation work.
One of the most common drills for a swimmer is Right arm – Left arm, where the swimmer does a length of the pool using only his right arm (left arm stays extended), then only his left arm. During the isolation phase, the swimmer is focused on a full stroke with the one arm and the resulting turn of the hips. In cycling, we have one-legged pedaling drills. In this drill, the rider will take one foot off of his pedal and rest it behind him on the frame of the trainer. Then in a moderately easy gear, he will pedal with the other foot only. This drill isolates the leg and more importantly that hip flexor responsible for helping pull through the back side of the pedal stroke. Start with 15-20 seconds on the right leg, then finish out the minute with both feet on the pedals, then do the 15-20 second interval with the other leg. Repeat this process 4 to 6 times through, and over time, gradually increase the duration of the isolation drill (20 to 30, 30 to 40 seconds and so on).
With the drill work out of the way, now it is time for the core portion of your ride and given the time of year, why not try adding some spice to your indoor ride. Do a modest threshold interval or standing hill climb whenever your football team has the ball, throw in a 30 second sprint for every touchdown or turnover, do a large-gear seated climb for the duration of every car chase James Bond gets into. Just use your imagination and I ensure you will see the time fly by, and you'll get a great work out on top of it.
If movies or sporting events aren't for you or if you lack the imagination to design your own indoor session, there are a host of training videos to invest in as well as a growing number of on-line training/entertainment options. But a word of caution here as the Off-Season months are meant to be just that – Off Season. Don’t fall into the trap of cranking out one hard core indoor ride after another as sometimes one just needs to watch a football game and do some steady (albeit boring) base building work. As for your indoor entertainment options, they are numerous and range from something akin to a hard core rock video (i.e. SufferFest) to what can best be described as an arcade game for cyclists (Zwift). Let’s take a closer look at some of these. SufferFest (www.thesufferfest.com) offers several videos/DVDs all with different workouts, intensities, and durations to help guide you through a proper workout. Sufferfest has over 30 videos, with titles like Fight Club, Power Station, and Nine Hammers. Videos run about $15 each but many are now only available on the app which requires a subscription at $10 per month.
Next up is Pain Cave (www.paincave.com), which gives you access to their library of workouts, which are a great mix of class-room like work (complete with instructions on what training zone and rpm you should be riding) paired up with actual footage from bike races. Here is what Men’s Journal had to say about them: "PainCave, a new online video-based training program, takes the drudgery out of gym-locked cycling using a mix of hard-core intervals (emphasis on hard-core) with truly inspirational input from onscreen coaches who offer insider advice on gears and technique." Pricing runs along industry lines at $10 per month or $100 for a full year. I am a tad impartial to Pain Cave as I know the coaches behind the workouts, including Brian Walton of Walton Endurance, himself a world-renown cyclist, former member of the Motorola professional cycling team and Olympic Silver medalist for Canada (and one of the best mentors I have ever worked with as a coach). Another PC/App based program is Trainer Road (more info at www.trainerroad.com and https://www.trainerroad.com/how-it-works), which is less about flashy videos and more about letting the rider select any one of a number of pre-designed workouts based on what they want to accomplish – Threshold intervals, VO2 interval, hill repeats, etc. You have over 800 to choose from! Pricing is about $12 per month or a full year for $99. The new kid on the block is Zwift (www.zwift.com). Their tagline is ‘Your digital destination for fitness, fun and adventure’. Think on-line gaming experience with graphics on par with something like Grand Theft Auto, but instead of a game controller, you are participating via your bicycle hooked up and a trainer. In this format you can ride with friends from around the globe or just jump into any ongoing race or ride with your Avatar (see photo)!
While all of these 'apps' are great fun, keep in mind the time this is still the OFF SEASON and keeping things fun is of utmost importance. December and January is when cycling should take a back seat to perhaps other forms of cross-training as you recharge your cycling batteries!
Appendix – Real verses Virtual Power Many of these training systems described above will display power numbers, and unless you have a power meter or are using a compu-trainer, be aware these are Virtual power figures verses actual power data. Virtual Power which will rely on personal data from you, speed at which you are riding, and type of trainer you are using (not all indoor trainers are compatible) and in most cases virtual can be 20 to 50w HIGHER than actual.
Here is how Sufferfest describes:
So what is 'Virtual Power'? You may have heard the term bandied about on club rides or at the gym: virtual power. But what does it mean? Holographic quads? Someone posing as a Sufferlandrian online? Not exactly. Simply put, virtual power is way to calculate how much wattage you're generating while suffering without having to invest in a bona fide power meter. It's the calculation of the speed of either your rear wheel or the flywheel of your trainer mapped against the unique power curve of your trainer. A trainer's power curve refers to the relationship between your speed and the resistance offered by the trainer. This relationship can be a straight line (linear) or a curve (progressive), or however the manufacturer decides to design it. Each model of trainer has a unique power curve. If The Sufferfest app knows how fast you're going based upon the information transmitted by your speed sensor, and knows the power curve of your specific trainer, it can calculate how many watts you're generating at a given time. This measurement, known as virtual power, is calculated by our app and displayed on screen to help you structure your training and maximize your Return on Suffering.
I found the following conversation on BeginnerTriathlete.com
"I started out a couple months ago using TrainerRoad with virtual power, but recently got a PowerTap wheel, and I am in the process of trying to re-establish my power zones. It seems to me that I might have some calibration issues with the PowerTap. For my previous 20 min power test using TrainerRoad, my 20 min test results were: Power 237 watts, HR 156, Speed 19.1 mph. I just re-tested with the PowerTap today, and the results were: Power 173 watts, HR 164, Speed 30.9. As you can see, there are some pretty big differences there."
Answer from Dean Phillips from FitWerx The PowerTap results are likely more accurate than the TrainerRoad results when it comes to measuring average power. It also looks like you used two different setups or trainers which won’t impact power results, but can have a big impact on indoor riding speed. Once you get an accurate powermeter on the bike such as a PowerTap, you’ll no longer even need to look at or record speed indoors since it ends up being too dependent on setup and conditions.
Use a PowerTap for Baseline Tests I recommend using the PowerTap to measure your 20-min baseline power and any other testing going forward. The PowerTap uses strain gauges in the rear wheel hub to measure actual power being generated. PowerTap rates this accuracy at +/- 1.5% and in our experience checking various units, they’ll typically fall into this range.
TrainerRoad Assumptions The TrainerRoad program is an excellent indoor training tool, and under the right conditions can create repeatable conditions for indoor workouts. The TrainerRoad program doesn’t measure power, but uses an assumption for the power required to ride the trainer model you’re using. In your case, the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine has been tested by TrainerRoad for power required at different rear wheel speeds. In a perfect setting, it will always require the same power on the bike to ride this trainer at 15mph, 20mph, 25mph, etc. However, TrainerRoad needs to use another assumption for tire rolling resistance which can vary significantly between different setups on the same trainer. Tire rolling resistance will vary depending on type of tire, inflation pressure, the press-on force of the roller on the tire, and even temperature which can change as the tire heats up.