Tips for Cycling and Training Indoors
Every cyclist that deals with a cold winter climate faces the inevitable task of training indoors to maintain and improve fitness. For some, making a change to the daily training routine is welcome, especially after a long hard season, and for others who are making gains late in the season, or preparing for an important event in the spring, cold snowy winter months are sometimes viewed as a road block towards greater gains. But for all riders who deal with snow, ice, and cold rainy days during the winter months, strength training and cycling indoors will both be an important part of the training plan.
Spinning indoors has limitations. So it is important to realize them before you can plan for an effective winter indoor training program. Producing greater amounts of force and training for long hours are two of the major limitations while training indoors. When cycling outdoors, you are faced with a variety of hill grades and varied terrain, along with gravity, which all leads to an increased demand for force production compared to riding in a fixed position on a trainer. Cycling indoors is like riding outside, but not exactly the same. So with indoor limitations in mind, it is best to work as smart as possible through the winter to get the most out of your indoor training.
One of the major benefits of working on a trainer indoors is the ability to work very precise steady duration's, spinning within heart rate and/or power ranges. Spinning steady allows you to target specific energy systems, which makes it easier to target your cycling weaknesses coming into the winter season. If you have great ability to sprint like the best but have a hard time finishing longer races, and want to finish longer races, then focusing a greater amount of time on gaining power within your mid to upper endurance ranges, while training indoors would be wise. The main goals while working through the winter months are to improve on weaknesses, maintain as much cycling specific fitness as you can, and prepare all systems for more work load once you are able to ride outdoors more consistently and for longer duration.
The importance of gaining more core endurance and strength through the winter months can not be underestimated. All athletic movements originate from your core group of muscles (Core group of muscles – hips to upper torso). As soon as your core becomes fatigued, your legs and arms will follow. You can have the ability to produce a great amount of power for a 20 minute effort but if four hours into a race your upper core becomes fatigued - a loss in coordination, resulting in poor handling skills and a loss of speed will follow.
Keep in mind that as you train for endurance events, you are going to want to focus on gaining core endurance within all muscles. The more aerobically trained muscles you have, the better. You may be producing large amounts of lactic acid in the legs, but it is cleared through the entire body. So focusing on higher rep ranges and many sets is a good way to work for aerobic strength gains. Exercises that have a continuous movement, and work full range of motion, such as power or Ashtanga yoga are also great ways to gain core strength and endurance. Focusing on explosive movements, plyometrics and high end power moves can be a part of the off-season training focus, but those types of movements are best done on the bike to gain the most cycling specific adaptations. Keep in mind that not all gains from cross training activities will carry over to the bike, so to be as sports specific as possible, especially when it comes to gains in upper end cycling specific strength, is best.
When you add other cross training activates into the training plan, you have a complete winter time training program. Cross training activities like running, XC skiing, and hiking will allow you to mix up your training, prevent burnout or boredom, increase your training volume when appropriate and help further prepare for more cycling specific training volume to come. Cross training will allow you to train more muscles, creating increased muscle balance, which will help prevent injury. Working a wide range of muscles aerobically over the off season will also help target many of the assistance muscles that are used when cycling. If you have stronger muscles to help assist in the cycling motion, then you will have more potential for greater power gains from your prime movers through the peak cycling months.
So create a plan for the winter training months and keep a large focus on working endurance ranges while spinning indoors, working with deep breath and making aerobic gains. Keep in mind that strength work is just as important, whether with weights, body weight or done on the bike working one leg drills, or big gears efforts. When you add cross training to the mix, you have a full plan of attack that will not only prepare you for more miles and hours once the weather breaks, but it may also leave you with valuable gains that will benefit in the middle of a race, or a training ride later in the year.
Mike Schultz, CSCS