Tips for Boosting the Impact of Your Indoor Triathlon Bike Workouts

By Chris Carmichael

I’m writing this article as wind-driven snow pelts the window of my office, reminding me more than ever that this is peak indoor cycling season! I’m a firm believer in utilizing relatively short and hard indoor training sessions, as opposed to mind-numbing endurance sessions staring at the wall or watching the entire “Lord of the Rings Trilogy”. There can be some benefits to spending long hours on the trainer, but overall I find that those sessions are very likely to kill and athlete’s long-term motivation for indoor training. The gains from those long sessions are often lost when athletes get so tired/bored with indoor cycling that they skip workouts. When it comes to indoor cycling, I’d rather see an athlete “Get in, Get it on, and Get out”!

In that spirit, there are a few tips and guidelines I want to remind you of as we get into the heart of indoor cycling season.

  1. Indoor training still has to be progressive: You can’t just do the same DVD time and time again and expect to continually get better. Training DVDs can be mixed and matched to plug into a training schedule just like any other workouts, and you have to look at the energy systems being stressed in the workout, group DVDs with similar physical demands together into training blocks, and structure your indoor training so you’re gradually increasing your weekly workload. You could start by accumulating time at lactate threshold with 3 LT workouts in a week, separated by at least one recovery day. Progress to 2 LT workouts on back-to-back days, followed by 1-2 days off the bike (or an endurance ride outdoors). After a block of LT training, moving on to VO2 max work is a great idea. You may think it’s unnecessary because your triathlon race pace is far below VO2 max, but the adaptation you’re after from these hard intervals is an increase in the number and size of energy-producing mitochondria in your muscles.
  1. Don’t worry about calories during indoor sessions: I don’t recommend spending more than 90 minutes on an indoor trainer, and I prefer to see athletes keep their indoor workouts to 60-75 minutes. At these durations, you can absolutely start your workout with enough carbohydrate in your body to complete a high-quality training session without additional calories. And that’s a good thing, because in order to keep your indoor sessions relatively short you’re going to have to make them pretty intense (lactate threshold and VO2 max intervals, primarily). During high-intensity interval workouts, many athletes struggle to consume calories without feeling nauseas. So, rather than worry about consuming calories during hard indoor training sessions, stick with water or an electrolyte drink and make sure your daily eating habits support recovery from your hard training sessions.
  1. Don’t forget recovery: Some people think that since most indoor cycling workouts are only 60-75 minutes, you need to do one every day of the week in order to accumulate enough workload to see an improvement. But the one-hour trainer workouts are typically more intense than your normal outdoor rides, so you’re getting a big training stimulus in a short period of time. You need to recover from these efforts in order to adapt. Even if you’re only relying on indoor workouts for your winter training, I would recommend a maximum of 5 interval-based indoor sessions (most athletes should only do 3-4).
  1. Airflow is crucial: If you’re going to spend a lot of time on a trainer, invest in three fans. I recommend directing one at your face (or at least across your head), one at the front of your torso, and one at your back. Indoors it’s ridiculously easy to overheat, which throws your sweat response into hyperdrive and increases the stress you’re putting on your body. That additional stress makes it more difficult to recover between workouts and hinders your ability to adapt and make progress.

Resources: If you’re looking for workouts to enhance your indoor cycling training this winter, visit www.trainright.com/media-2 for information on more than two dozen titles of DVDs and video downloads. I recommend the “Performance Series” and “Progressive Power Series” for workouts that specifically meet the demands of triathlon.

Chris Carmichael is the author of “The Time-Crunched Triathlete” and CEO/Founder of Carmichael Training Systems, the Official Coaching and Camps Partner of Ironman and Ironman 70.3. For information on official Ironman coaching and camp packages, which include entries into sold-out Ironman and Ironman 70.3 races, visit www.trainright.com/Ironman

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