Using Indoor Cycling Workouts to Improve Outdoor Performance!
It’s hard to think about indoor training when you are starting your
morning workout with a view like I am today- (the turquoise
and blue waters of the Bahamas). However, if you want to make a
significant improvement in your bike split, cycling indoors, at least for
your testing and higher intensity workouts, is the way to go. ( If you are
on the fence about this idea, go find yourself a copy of Inside Triathlon
from last year (2011) in which indoor bike training was discussed by
several of the top pros )
Riding inside not only saves time, it eliminates exposure to potholes, the random school bus, dogs and bears (yes in Boulder bears have gotten in the way of cyclists). It also allows for focused and uninterrupted training and testing.
Obviously threshold testing is best done in a lab but that is not available to everyone and/or is not an expense you want to incur every 4-6 weeks. You can accomplish almost the same thing with a Computrainer or similar indoor set up that includes a power meter and HR monitor. (For the purpose of this article, I’ll be focusing on the Computrainer ).
Computrainer adds a third metric that is very helpful; it’s what they call
‘SpinScan’. This graphically shows the power (actually torque) you are
producing through the 360 degree pedal stroke. Developing and maintaining a
smooth pedal stroke makes for more efficient cycling and the proof is in
seeing what happens in a time trial test .
Any test that is done outside can be done inside. My favorite is based
on one found in Joe Friel’s Triathlete Training Bible. It consists of
an extended warm up which includes a short 5 min effort at your
Functional Power Threshold (the power you can sustain for 60 min). The
test itself is 20 min at an intensity you can maintain for the duration
(more than your Functional Threshold). You don’t want to start out hard
and fade near the end nor do you want the reverse to happen. At the end you should feel that
you could if challenged you could continue at this level for another few minutes.
The important thing is that each time you do the test you follow the
same warm up. An you should do your testing on reasonably fresh legs.
Obviously a big brick or high intensity workout the day before is not
going to give you a good measure of your progress. On the other hand, you
don’t have to taper as if you are racing. Being consistent will give
you the best measure of progress. The two days of training leading into
the test day and the warm up should be the same each time. With a ride
inside you will will limit the variables as best you can to just you and your fitness.
The workout that I give to my athletes is as follows:
Warm up for 20 min at 50% of Lactate Threshold (LT) (i.e. easy) at your
normal cadence. Then3x1 min at high Cadence (95-105 rpm) with 1 min
active recovery at about 65% of LT. End the warm up with 5 min at 50%
5 Min at your expected effort level for the main 20 min test, which will come next. This
should not be killing you as you finish. If it is, your ego is
deceiving you. Follow with 10 min back at 65% LT.
20 Min Time Trial. Objective is to set a pace that can be sustained for
the duration and not much longer. Select a gear that puts your cadence
in the range that you normally use when rigging fast. This is not the
time to experiment with very high or low cadence.
With Power Meter (Computrainer or other device) save the results. If you
use Training Peaks or similar software that allows you to import power
file, do so. You could also analyze the results using Computrainer’s
CD: 10-15 Min very easy pace.
On a Computrainer this should be done on a flat course. My
recommendation is to use the Flat Loop Course and set the number of laps
to a number that exceeds your capability for the duration. You could use
the Computrainer without the PC but then you would loose the SpinScan
data. Keeping an eye on the Spin Scan Numbers helps you stay focused on
good form. As noted before you don’t need a Computrainer for this test.
As long as you can measure power and HR you have the essential data.
When you first do this test you will be lucky if you get the effort level
right for the duration. When you look at the data you will probably see
one of the following: Power starts out for 10-15 min at a steady level
but after an initial jump in HR it does not level out. Towards the end
of the 20 min HR is still going up and power may be dropping.
Alternatively , after the initial jump of HR it levels off with power
staying constant, towards the end you realize you have more in the tank
and power goes up with some increase in HR. Not to worry, next time
around adjust accordingly.
The SpinScan data can also tell you something about your level of
fatigue as you approach the end of the 20 min. SpinScan main metric is
a measure of how uniform your torque is through the 360 degree pedal
stroke – (when you are riding the Computrainer you can
see the torque of your pedal stroke in a Polar Diagram ). A 100 would mean you applied equal power thru the entire revolution – impossible from a physiological standpoint. A number in the range of 70-80 is considered an efficient pedal stroke, i.e. you are not mashing.
It should be noted that the Computrainer is measuring the power of both
the left and right legs together so the torque falls off when you are
passing through the top and bottom of the pedal stroke. When you start to
fatigue your ability to pedal smoothly falls off and you will see a drop
in the SpinScan number.
Without SpinScan you can get some idea of how smoothly your pedal stroke
is doing by listening to the noise from your wheel. A wide range of
sound indicates mashing.
If the first time you do the test you have not found the correct
intensity it would make sense to repeat the test about a week later. Be
honest with yourself about your “taper” for the test. Adjust if you
think you did not give yourself enough rest or perhaps too much, the day or two
before. If you did not warm up as above do so this time. Finally ,adjust
your target power level according to what happened in the first test.
A successful test would be one that does not vary more than 5% over the
20 min and you could squeeze out a bit more. When you accomplish this
you should continue to do the next 1-2 tests at the same power levels.
If training is going well and you are being consistent with your “taper”
and warm up you will see a drop in average HR. Once that is established
you can up the power on the next test noting what happens to your HR and
Once you have had a successful test you can use the data to establish HR
and or Power Training Zones. Your Functional Threshold Power will be
between 5-10% of the average power in the test. Where you fall in that
range will depend a lot on the training you have been doing. How you use
the information for training is a topic for a separate article.
The two books I look to for advice/ideas on this topic are the previously
mentioned ‘Triathlete’s Training Bible’ and Andy Coggins’, ‘Training with
Enjoy the upcoming warmer weather and the subsequent increase in outdoor rides, but keep those indoors sessions going at least once a week – even in mid summer. You will
see significant results!
Simon Butterworth is a seven time Kona finisher and finished 3rd in his AG
in 2011. He is a certified USA Cycling Coach and has been racing and
coaching for over twenty years.