Virtual training for real life racing – How year-round indoor cycling could benefit your race day performance

Indoor cycling isn't just for winter. Find out why it's worth keeping your indoor training app membership active year round and how doing some of your bike training sessions indoors can help you to get dialled in for race day.

Writer & Long Course Triathlete
Last updated -

As I type, the weather here in the UK is treating us to yet another episode of “disappointing for June.” The short sleeved summer cycling kit languishes in the kit drawer, while my collection of long sleeves and thermal base layers are working overtime. Which means persuading myself to do some of my cycling training indoors as I tick off the last few weeks of training before Challenge Roth doesn’t feel quite so difficult.

But weather woes aside, indoor cycling – done right – can actually hold a lot of benefits for improving your performance on race day. Which is why, even if the weather does decide to get its act together, it’s still well worth considering doing some of your key cycling sessions on the indoor bike trainer during the build up to race season.

Why cycle indoors to train for an outdoor triathlon?

Clearly on race day, there’s no option to hide away indoors if you exit the swim and don’t much like the look of the weather. Bike handling, dealing with cross winds and slick tarmac – all of those are skills you need to get out into the real world to refine. But using indoor cycling as part of your training toolkit all year round is a great way to turbo charge your fitness, stay consistent – and get familiar with the course you’ll be racing, without having to book an expensive pre-race training camp to recce it in real life.

Indoor cycling turbo charges your fitness

For age-groupers, training for a full distance event such as Challenge Roth is all about efficiency – getting the most quality out of every training session, because time to train is often limited. There’s a reason that triathletes and cyclists are only half-joking when they claim “1 hour on the turbo trainer equals at least 1.5 hours out on the roads.”

When you ride indoors, there’s no reason to stop pedalling. No hills to coast down, no junctions to stop at. From the moment you get on the saddle to the moment you hit ‘save ride’ on ROUVY or your platform of choice, it’s non-stop pedalling.

A couple of weekends ago I had to complete a 4 hour ride on the indoor trainer, thanks to a damaged handlebar situation. And when I went back out into the real world the following weekend, completing the same time/distance back out on the road felt significantly easier.

Doing some of your long rides indoors can be tough, but it certainly gives you bang for your buck when it comes to fitness gains.

Level up your fitness

Dial into specific training

One of the key factors of improving your cycling for triathlon is specificity in training. And that can be hard to achieve all the time out in the real world, where you’ve got to factor in traffic, poor road surfaces and remember what turns you need to take.

Indoor cycling gives you the power to control your environment and get really specific with your training. You can ride to a specific power or heart race target without interruption. Stick within specific training zones i.e. ensure the hard rides are hard, and the easy rides are actually easy. And use pre-built or custom workout features to target your personal areas of improvement.

“Recently, we completely overhauled the workouts on ROUVY, offering more options and making them clearer and even more easy to use. You can choose from workouts designed to improve your FTP or VO2max, climbing performance, cadence,  and more.

Antonín Parma
Product Content Director at ROUVY

Along with dialling in your effort, cycling indoors also gives you the opportunity to simulate the conditions you might be racing in. If you’ve got a hot weather race coming up, but the real-world weather hasn’t got the summer memo yet. You can use indoor training as an easy and convenient way to do some heat preparation.

Recce your race day route from anywhere in the world

Unless the race you’re training for happens to be on your doorstep, it can be difficult to get out and ride the full route ahead of race day. Particularly if you’re planning to race abroad. For most of us, taking a trip out to the race location to train on the course in addition to the trip to complete the race itself just isn’t feasible.

Rouvy indoor cycling app routes
Popular indoor cycling app, ROUVY, has routes from several of the Challenge Family races available to experience on the platform.

This is where doing some of your bike training indoors can be beneficial. You can select routes that offer a similar elevation profile to the route you’ll be riding on race day to get used to pacing any hills. And on ROUVY, you can even ride virtual reality versions of real life race courses – such as Challenge Roth. This is a great way to get as familiar as possible with the route, without having to leave home. While a thunderstorm pelted the windows with rain, I rode the full virtual Challenge Roth course on ROUVY this weekend. And it was useful to remind myself of where the main climbs are and take note of the turns coming into them, so I can make sure I’m in the right gear.

Convenience makes staying consistent easier

One of the significant challenges age groupers face when it comes to training for a long distance triathlon is finding the time to fit training sessions in, while spinning all the other plates of full-time work, family commitments and life outside of triathlon.

There are plenty of occasions where trying to plan a ride so that it fits in with the window of time you have available, avoiding rush hour traffic and having enough daylight hours left feels like a bit of an impossible puzzle. Being able to leave your bike set up on the indoor trainer so you can just get on and get going makes it far easier to tick a training session off when you’re tight on time. And if your non-training commitments mean that being out of the house for 5 hours on a ride isn’t feasible. It’s also a way to get the volume done while still being available to check in on things at home.

That convenience makes it far easier to stay consistent with your training. ‘Done’ (to the best of your ability) is better than ‘perfect but sporadic’. And that consistency will add up to improved fitness and better performance come race day.

How to make indoor training fun

So those are the benefits of continuing to do some of your cycling sessions on the indoor bike all year round. But there’s also no getting away from the fact that training indoors can be as tough mentally as it is physically. So how can you make it enjoyable – rather than just bearable?

Optimise your indoor training set up

First up is the very practical task of thinking about your indoor cycling set up. Make sure you’ve got a good fan (unless you’re doing heat prep) and a table nearby so you can have your phone/tablet/laptop within easy reach. If possible, set up your smart bike or turbo trainer somewhere that you can leave it set up all the time. You want to give yourself as few excuses as possible not to ride – if you’re having to waste time setting up equipment for every ride, you’re less likely to get on and do it.

Check out our article on getting set up for indoor training for more tips and advice on equipment and set up.

Use a virtual training platform to add structure

Gone are the days where indoor cycling meant staring at a spot on the wall for hours, slowly slipping into some sort of existential crisis with every turn of the pedals. Make use of the technology available to make your indoor training sessions fun and engaging.

“The cool thing is that, because our workouts are done on real routes, getting bored is never a problem. You can do your workout in the Alps one day, and on the coast of California the next. Also, there are options for shorter or longer sessions, so even if you’re busy, there’s always time to squeeze in a training session.”

Antonín Parma
Product Content Director at ROUVY

There’s plenty of different platforms and indoor training apps on offer, whether you want to experience the gamified graphics of Zwift – or do some virtual tourism with the real-world routes on ROUVY. These immersive platforms help you to stay focused, engaged and give you opportunities to ride (virtually) with other people from all around the world.

Rouvy indoor cycling workout mode
Workout mode in ROUVY is a great way to add structure and specificity to your indoor cycling in the build up to your next race.

They’re also a great way to easily add structure into your rides – getting that specificity into your training that is one of the major benefits of riding indoors. Break up long indoor training rides by making use of the pre-built workouts on apps such as ROUVY. Or use the workout builder function to create your own workout that gives you blocks of riding at or above race intensity.

For example, in my build up towards Challenge Roth I’d break a 60 minute mid-week indoor trainer ride up into:
20 minutes warm up building from easy to Z2
2 x 12 minutes at race pace/power with 2 minutes easy
12 minutes cool down

RELATED: ROUVY vs Zwift – two cyclists put these indoor training platforms to the test.

Treat yourself to some onboard entertainment from time to time

For the steady long rides, lean into the upside of being indoors: you can watch movies and binge watch TV shows! As someone who recently made it through pretty much the entire new season of Bridgerton during an indoor training ride, I can vouch for the fact that being able to catch up on the shows you’d never have time to sit down and watch otherwise is a major upside to cycling indoors.


Jenny Lucas-Hill
Written by
Jenny Lucas-Hill
Jenny Lucas-Hill is a writer, content creator and communications professional. A long-distance triathlon enthusiast, she has four full Iron-distance finishes to date & also loves watching the sport.
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