indoor bike training

Indoor Bike Training: Are You Making It Too Hard?

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By Chris Carmichael,
Founder and Head Coach of CTS

Indoor cycling has long been characterized by high-intensity interval workouts, because they are a good way to create a bigger training stimulus in a shorter period of time, they keep athletes engaged and focused, and they’re often safer and more convenient to complete on a trainer. I’ve championed such workouts myself; they factor heavily into the training plans and concepts in my “Time-Crunched Cyclist” training books and numerous posts on this website. They work, but high-intensity interval workouts can also be over-used and lower-intensity rides have an important role in effective training plans. As more cyclists transition to riding indoor more frequently–because of weather, pandemic restrictions, convenience, or improved technology–it is important for athletes to balance those high-intensity intervals workouts with some lower-intensity, aerobic endurance-paced indoor rides.

Why is it so hard to get cyclists to ride at moderate intensities indoors? Because it’s not as exciting as ripping through a series of hard intervals and may not provide as big a sense of accomplishment as reaching the end of an intense interval set. I get that, but if your training goal is to improve fitness so you can perform better in events (indoor or outdoor, competitive or not), then you can’t just go full-gas every single ride.

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High-intensity intervals work because of the low-intensity time between them! That’s why they are typically separated by at least a full day, with that in-between day being a rest day or a lower-intensity endurance ride. Sometimes hard interval workouts are scheduled in multi-day blocks to increase the concentration of workload, but even then, the blocks are only effective if recovery and/or endurance rides are scheduled immediately after the block.

As a starting point, most cyclists should only perform 2-3 high-intensity interval workouts per week–and this includes e-races! With 1-2 rest days per week, this leaves 2-3 days for aerobic endurance intensity (EnduranceMiles, Zone 2, however you think of it). The issue is getting people to actually do it.

Try This Workout

The key to making a workout sticky–as in something people will stick with and complete–is to make it engaging. That doesn’t mean it needs to be complex or include gimmicks, but it typically means some variable needs to change so you have a reason not to zone out. For aerobic endurance work that stays in the EnduranceMiles or Zone 2 intensity, cadence is a good variable to manipulate while the power output and perceived exertion stay relatively constant. So, the workout below stays at a consistent intensity, but includes periods of low, medium, and high cadence.

The workout is going to seem very easy for the first half, but I encourage you to stick with it rather than increasing the intensity just to feel like you’re going harder. The cumulative time at this intensity is what makes the difference, so you’re doing it right if the first half is relatively easy and maintaining the pace/power for the second half gets more challenging (but still aerobic and RPE of about 6 out of 10. NOTE: Because many athletes will be loading this workout into a device or virtual platform that bases intensity off of FTP, I have provided the intensity ranges as percentage of FTP. You can download .erg and .mrc files of the workout for use with devices, too.

EnduranceMiles with Cadence Change

Click to enlarge.

Warm up
5 min @ 40-50 % of FTP

Interval #1
Repeat the following cycle 4 times (total of 28 minutes)

EnduranceMiles/Zone 2: Low Cadence
3 min @ 60-75 % of FTP
75-80 rpm

EnduranceMiles/Zone 2: Medium Cadence
3 min @ 60-75 % of FTP
85-95 rpm

EnduranceMiles/Zone 2: High Cadence
1 min @ 60-75 % of FTP
100-110 rpm

Recovery
5 min @ 45-50 % of FTP
70-90 rpm

Interval #2
Repeat the following cycle 4 times (total of 28 minutes)

EnduranceMiles/Zone 2: Low Cadence
3 min @ 60-75 % of FTP
75-80 rpm

EnduranceMiles/Zone 2: Medium Cadence
3 min @ 60-75 % of FTP
85-95 rpm

EnduranceMiles/Zone 2: High Cadence
1 min @ 60-75 % of FTP
100-110 rpm

Cool Down
5 min @ 40-50 % of FTP


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Comments 4

  1. I like having the variability in cadence to not lose attention during the week, but it seems like a pretty short ride if doing it on the weekend (when rained out like I am today and tomorrow) when typically longer endurance rides are on my plan so I guess maybe just doing more sets of the same for the weekends? Doesn’t seem wise risking developing an aversion for trainer rides going into the Winter trying to do 4 or 5 hours at a time, suggestions for weekend weather induced indoor rides would be great too.

  2. Chris,
    Please bring back the Stages SB20 bike discount again! I believe they are now in stock, unlike the previous time you had the discount!
    A good article, btw. Gives me a good place to start!

    JW

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