How to Incorporate Indoor Cycling into Your Training Routine

with SARAH HILL, Liv Factory Racing Athlete

Indoor training: some love it, and others cringe when they think it could possibly replicate the beautiful outdoors. Truth is, it’s not comparable, and the perspective I believe we should be using is that it is an incredibly valuable training tool. We live in a world where snow, rain, freezing cold, extreme heat, and pandemics are a reality, and sometimes the weather doesn’t quite accommodate our training programs!

Technology advancements have created platforms for us to continue training despite the weather or restrictions we might be under. This is amazing! I have loved having an alternative option to train with, especially when it comes to safety and living in the busy city. I am grateful for my virtual training, and even more happy to see familiar faces across the world all training together. I jump on my indoor trainer early in the morning during winter months before work, break up my studying with an hour during lunch, and do my recovery rides after a long day of work. It’s an effective use of time, the gamification makes it exciting and fun, I can hold the right power output for my intervals, I can switch off and just pedal if I need to, and girl – do I sweat!

More recently, I have been training indoors during quarantine and isolation periods. South Africa had a hard lockdown during the initial phase of the Covid-19 pandemic. We were subject to Level 5 lockdown rules from 26 March to 30 April 2020. That’s 35 days of not being able to leave the house. From there, they relieved us into lockdown Level 4 for 30 more days where we were able to spend three hours a day from 6am – 9am outside of our home within a restricted radius. During this time, it was the middle of winter, so the sun only came up around 7am, meaning we were able to exercise during the coldest hours of the day, nice! 65 days of lockdown, and an enormous amount of indoor riding was completed. Including my second longest EVER 230km ride! What was I thinking!?

How then, do we make use of the indoor trainer to maintain consistency and progression when building for a new season?

Zwift has transformed our ability to endure indoor trainer rides. We can link up with our friends, ride or race against the rest of the world, or explore never ending virtual worlds. We can also link Training Peaks to the platform, syncing workouts prescribed by our coaches, or follow the structured workouts provided by Zwift. The options are endless and how you bring this all together is the key to enduring the winter months and actually coming out stronger.

Let’s think about where we are in the season. It’s early and best described as Base Season. Our focus is on functional strength, aerobic endurance, muscular endurance and speed skills. How can we best utilize the indoor trainer to cover this?

1. Plan your week

In a midwinter week, almost all your sessions might be inside. But for the purpose of balance, I encourage you to try and squeeze in a minimum of one outdoor ride a week. There is no replacement for fresh air!

To keep things fun, looking for a Zwift race to include in your program is great. During base season however, we don’t necessarily want to be focusing all our attention on short and sharp efforts. I suggest taking a look at the Zwift Companion App. There you will be able to find all the events listed for the week to come. The Tuesday Time Trial events are perfect for this time of year. It also pushes you into a solid high tempo/sweet spot effort. Click here to learn more about what specific training zones, including Tempo and Sweet Spot zones mean.

We also need to include a structured workout. For those of you who do not work with a coach, exploring the Zwift workouts are great. They have a whole range of plans at your fingertips. Look for keywords such as “force”, “torque”, “cadence” and “tempo” during this phase.  If you do not have Zwift, don’t stress! Below I have put some awesome workouts that you can follow with power, heart rate or Rating of Perceived Exertion that you can include during your base season:

Category

Workout

Power (watts)

Heart Rate (bpm)

RPE

Cadence

Force

8 x 30s, 4min30s rest

Comfortable Gears

Training Zone 5+

Flat Road

>121% of Functional Threshold Power

Neglectable (interval is too short!)

MAX! (10+)

100-140rpm intervals; 80rpm recovery

Torque

4 x 8min, 4min rest

Big Gear riding

Training Zone: 3-4

Climb

76-95% of Functional Threshold Power

85-100% of Lactate Threshold Heart Rate

3-5 on a scale of 10 being max effort

40-50rpm intervals; 90rpm recovery

Cadence

3 x 10min, 5min rest

Easy Gear riding

Training Zone: 3

Flat Road

76-90% of Functional Threshold Power

85-98% of Lactate Threshold Heart Rate

3-4 on a scale of 10 being max effort

100-110rpm intervals; 90rpm recovery

Tempo

3 x 20min, 10min rest

Big Gear riding

Training Zone: 3

Long, undulating road

76-90% of Functional Threshold Power

85-98% of Lactate Threshold Heart Rate

3-4 on a scale of 10 being max effort

70-90rpm intervals; 90rpm recovery

Then that leaves us with volume and what I like to call “playtime”. This can be broken down into two categories. Social rides where you can connect on Discord and create meetups with your friends or join events that are low intensity. You can find a list of Liv’s Zwift events that would be great options.

Here is an example of one of my planned base season training weeks:

Monday:             Rest & Reflect

Tuesday:             Zwift Race: 30min Warm up, then a Zwift Intensity Session

Wednesday:       Playtime: 1h30 Explore a new Zwift World! + Off-the-bike Gym/ Hike

Thursday:            2h00 Endurance Group Meet-up Ride [No drop ride!]

Friday:                 Structured Workout: 1h30 eg - “4x10min Tempo w/ Accelerations”

Saturday:            Get Outside! [As long as possible]

Sunday:               Playtime: 1h30 Zwift Low Intensity Event (Ladies Sunday Roast Social -D) + Off-the-bike Gym/ Hike.

2. Invite your friends

The virtual world has made socializing and sharing experiences so much easier. No longer do you have to suffer alone to the same old song that you downloaded when you were a teenager. Invite your friends to ride with you virtually through meetups and events. Discord is also a great social tool and can help tick the kilometres over quickly!

3. Adapt as you go along

On your rest day make sure you reflect on what worked and what didn’t work. What was exciting for you? Where did you struggle? Do you need a better fan? What about your hydration strategy? Chamois cream needed?

Make sure to find a balance between work and play, especially when using the indoor trainer! Remember this is all in preparation for the next season.

Don’t forget to include a recovery week every 2-3 weeks to ensure you reap the rewards of your hard work. Below would be a typical recovery week for me:

Monday:             Rest & Reflect

Tuesday:             Playtime: 1h00 Explore a new Zwift World!

Wednesday:       Off-the-bike Gym/ Hike

Thursday:            1h30 Endurance Group Meet-up Ride [No drop ride!]

Friday:                 Off-the-bike Gym/ Hike

Saturday:            Get Outside! [3-5hrs Max]

Sunday:               Playtime: 1h00 Zwift Low Intensity Event (Ladies Sunday Roast Social -D)

4. Work hard, recover harder

One last thing to point out, especially when working on the indoor trainer is injury prevention. This includes proper warmups and warm-downs, mobility and flexibility sessions, as well as correct hygiene and hydration strategies. The indoor trainer does restrict our movement, and it is important to include activities which help you maintain balance and flexibility to ensure you don’t overuse/overwork/or burn out during this phase of training. Some great indoor workouts I do are yoga and TheraBand work. 10-15min a day is enough and easy to include in routine.

Use your indoor trainer to maintain consistency in your training this winter, or through any tough weather (or pandemic) conditions. Stay on track and fall in love with the process. It has never been easier!

ABOUT SARAH HILL

Sarah is a Liv Factory Racing Team member currently living and working in South Africa. She works for The Threshold Coaching, teaches MTB Skills, and is studying her Masters in Sports Psychology. Look out for her and the team at the ABSA Cape Epic in March 2022! You can also follow her on Instagram here.

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