As the calendar reaches that final turn of the year into December, for many, that might well mean it’s time to finish your end-of-season break… or perhaps, time to actually get started.
If you are based in the UK or Northern Europe, the chances are that when it comes to cycling, planning your indoor training is likely to at the very least be under consideration. Rapid developments in indoor cycling equipment and training software have made this one of the fastest growth areas of the sport in recent years – and the COVID-19 impacted years have only accelerated that trend further.
Whether you are new to indoor training – or want to make the best of your experience – there are plenty of considerations to make the best of your indoor training set up.
Here are our 10 recommendations to add enjoyment, comfort and productivity to your indoor cycling experience.
Indoor Cycling location
Easy to overlook, but consideration of where you will set up your Wattbike / smart trainer / turbo / rollers is important. In an ideal world, having a dedicated location where you can leave your equipment set up will reduce admin time pre/post ride. It will also help motivation, since the potential ‘I haven’t got time / can’t be bothered to set it up’ excuse is removed. Everyone wants their own ‘pain cave’!
That may not be practical for everyone, so trying to select a room / garage / shed that helps reduce that fuss (and potential impact on the rest of your family or neighbours), will pay dividends in the long term.
What will you be riding?
With the increase in popularity of indoor training, the range of hardware available now to cycle indoors is more advanced than ever. It’s not just about ‘tech’ – the actual cycling experience is so much more pleasant and realistic. If you want to ride your own bike, you can select (budget dependent), anything from a traditional ‘wheel-on’ trainer with no gadgets, through to the popular high-end direct-drive turbo trainers.
If space is at a premium and multiple riders within one household will be riding at different times, then investing in a Smart Bike such as the Wattbike Atom makes sense. It’s fully compliant with all of the major software platforms out there, and will also take up less floor space than a smart trainer / bike set up, should space be at a premium.
There is plenty of science out there that shows that music can enhance sporting performance – but in our eyes, some good tunes just makes the whole indoor riding process more enjoyable!
Set up a few playlists, pick your favourite motivational music and the minutes and hours are sure to fly by more quickly. Do consider others in the household and your neighbours though… not everyone will appreciate Thunderstruck on full blast at 6:00am if you are squeezing in a pre-work session! Thankfully, there are plenty of headphone options on the market to avoid that confrontation.
The static nature of indoor cycling means that you won’t get the benefit of the wind in your face… which basically means, you are going to sweat. If you are going to be riding frequently for any significant length of time, then the addition of a fan to help keep you cool is a must.
Talking sweat… having a towel handy is also highly recommended. As well as being available to keep you dry, a towel can also have a very practical purpose and save you money in the long term too. If you are riding your own bike on a typical turbo / smart trainer, then sweat will inevitably fall from your body onto the handlebars / stem. That sweat and the salt within it can readily get into the headset area of your bike, and over time the results are not good.
You can buy dedicated turbo trainer sweat catchers if you choose – but having a towel across your handlebars is a highly recommended and simple addition.
Hydration / Nutrition
It is easy to overlook these important elements just because you are training indoors. For shorter sessions, as regular riding outdoors, then the need for significant calories / food / gels is limited. However, as we’ve already highlighted, you are likely to be sweating significantly more than you would outside, so maintaining hydration and electrolytes should be overlooked.
If you are riding longer sessions, perhaps 90min and above, then fuelling becomes even more important. As well as considering the ‘what’ and ‘how much’ you are going to consume, simple things like making sure this is prepped before and within easy reach will enhance your experience.
Applications – Going Digital?
Unless you’ve been in self-isolation for the past three+ years, you’ll doubtless be aware of the rapid improvements, access and ease of use of technology to enhance the indoor training experience. The likes of Zwift, Sufferfest, RGT Cycling, Rouvy, TrainerRoad and many more have greatly enhanced the training experience and engagement of riders all of the world, as well as making remote training and racing possible.
The Wattbike Atom for example connects easily to all of the leading applications and is also Zwift Certified, while its own Wattbike Hub is rammed full of workouts, training plans and test to keep an eye on your performance over time. All of the modern smart trainers from the likes of Wahoo, Tacx, Saris and Elite also use Bluetooth and/or Ant+ to connect to your application of choice.
What should you use? Answering that question is several articles in itself, and only then can result in advice rather than a definitive answer. My take? Any application / tool that helps you a) ride more (which might be, to ride at all!), and b) keeps you coming back for more, is a good choice. I personally use Zwift, while a club-mate of mine uses the Wattbike Hub with his Atom, and is perfectly happy with his set up.
What’s The Plan?
We have more articles coming shortly in regards to indoor training plans, but here is one thing I’ve learned – decide what you are going to do, before you start!
There’s an easy temptation to think, “I’m training indoors, session is going to be relatively short, I need to go hard”. In some instances, that’s perfectly appropriate… but not every ride! Even a plan of “30 minutes easy spin, because I did a hard run earlier” is fine. That will help you avoid the temptation to push too hard.
One personal tip – which I first mentioned when writing about my experiences with Zwift – was to have a ‘go to’ session to use, if you are lacking direction or motivation, but know you really should be doing something other than ‘just riding’. That’s not the time to try something super intense (all but sure to end in failure, and motivation spirals down further), but having a session that is manageable, but will push you a appropriately, will almost certainly leave you feeling more positive once you’ve ticked it off.
Not every session needs to be ‘intensity’ focussed either – there’s technique in cycling too.
For example, if you do own or use a Wattbike, then you can also track your Pedal Effectiveness Score (PES) through their Polar View. PES is a proprietary measurement, where the aim is to help optimise your pedal stroke for both power and efficiency. Just as in swimming, simply trying ‘harder’ doesn’t guarantee moving faster, you can also be more efficient in how you cycle, to improve your speed.
There’s a saying that goes something along the lines of, “If you want to get somewhere, first of all you need to know where you are now.”
If you are stuck as to what your ‘Plan’ should be, this is a great place to start. There are lots of different approaches to testing, and views on which is best, but the most common one is Functional Threshold Power (FTP). FTP (simplified), is broadly a measure of the power you can hold for an hour, measured in watts.
All of the applications mentioned, plus smart bikes such as the Wattbike Atom and modern smart trainers, will measure power (watts) and provide you with a way to test for FTP. Thankfully, arriving at a reasonable estimate of your own FTP does not have to involve riding full-gas for an hour, with alternative approaches including a Step Test or a 20min test.
The benefit of having a good estimate of your current FTP – even if you don’t want to get involved in the science and data that lies behind it – is that by plugging that number into your chosen application(s), you can readily generate individual sessions or even full training plans that are tailored to you objectives and fitness level.
This is what allows athletes from all over the world, of all abilities, to ride together in our Wednesday night TRI247 Group Workout Series on Zwift, for example! In that environment, everyone from a World Champion to a relative novice can train together and ride the same session, but with targets tailored to their individual abilities.
If you are new to indoor training, don’t be surprised if – initially at least – it doesn’t feel as comfortable as riding your bike outside. The combination of less free-wheeling, a more rigid set-up on a turbo / smart bike and no interruptions from traffic lights and road junctions, means you’ll likely be in one position for longer than your are used too.
Top tip – even if you are doing short rides, some chamois cream in conjunction with quality cycling shorts will help! You’ll quickly get used to riding indoors, but it does take some adaption.