Unless you are lucky enough to live in a snow less environment, chances are you are going to have to ride indoors at some point this winter. Many of us put this fact off for as long as possible because the reality is indoor cycling sucks. All of the things you love about cycling do not exist when riding indoors. Riding down a country road enjoying the sights and sounds of a beautiful spring day. Pushing your body to maintain speed over a small rise and then accelerating on the downhill. Designing a new route for your long ride and then feeling like an explorer as you cover new ground. Compare that to being locked in a stationary position sweating your #@!* off as you turn the cranks hour after hour in a dark corner of your house. Now there are many different ways to "spice" up your indoor training. Here are a few ways to get you through the winter.
The Bike Trainer
Almost every cyclist/triathlete has a bike trainer of some type. The problem is most people find riding on a trainer consistently all winter very difficult. Here are a few tips that may help you keep your sanity.
1) Design a program that meets your fitness goals. If you trudge down to the basement with no plan you are not going to last long on the trainer. Create a winter workout plan that is realistic and will help you stay focused. Keep in mind the trainer can be a tougher workout than riding on the road. There are no downhill breaks or coasting. If you stop pedaling the bike stops. Creating a high intensity workout that lasts 30-60 minutes can really increase your fitness.
2) Don't waste a lot of time riding junk miles. The last two winters I religiously spent 6 hours a week on the trainer during the winter months. Of these 6 hours I would say only 1-2 were quality and the rest were just spinning my legs. I honestly do not think riding junk miles on the trainer increases your fitness level. I would have been better off riding a couple of high quality workouts and a long ride each week. Everyone has a winter indoor cycling tolerance and every time you get on the trainer it goes down just a little bit. You don't want to waste your time. Make each workout count.
3) Have trouble designing high quality workouts? Try Spinervals indoor cycling workout videos. I have purchased several of these videos and they have worked for me. These videos are great because you do not have to plan or design your workout. You simply follow along with the video, changing gears and applying the appropriate trainer tension as described on the video. A note of caution.....most of these videos are really tough workouts. They are designed to be high intensity workouts to increase your fitness. If your "workout" on the trainer is spinning your legs in an easy gear while you watch the news you are in for a rude awakening.
4) If you want to get a "long ride" done on the trainer set yourself up for success. I am not sure if it is beneficial to ride 2-5 hours at one time on the trainer but if you feel this would help your fitness then you need to plan ahead. Just because you are indoors doesn't mean you don't have to plan out the details of your ride. Just like on the road you have to still plan out your nutrition, fluid intake, etc. All of these items need to be accessible during your ride. In addition how will you pass the time? I usually plan ahead and make sure I have several movies or TV shows available. Keep in mind if you are riding for four hours that is at least 2 entire movies. There is nothing worse than running out of things to watch and still have 60-90 minutes left to ride.
Sick of the trainer? Spinning can be a great way to break the monotony of the bike trainer and can be an excellent workout. If you have never tried a spin class you should definitely try one this winter. Riding the spin bike takes a little getting used to but you should not feel intimidated going your first time. The spin bike is similar to the trainer as you control the tension on the pedals. That is why I said spinning "can" be an excellent workout. The instructor will guide you though the workout but no one is verifying your tension level. When I attend a spin class I am looking for that high intensity workout. I try to use as much tension as I can tolerate to make the most of my time.
There is no denying that you can get a great cardio workout from a spin class. There is some debate as to whether spinning will increase your cycling fitness. The spin bike is not the same as your road bike. Seat angles, pedaling, lack of shifting, and general positioning are all different. I can only give advice based on my experience. Three years ago I did limited riding on the trainer but consistently did a spin class three times a week all winter. In February of 2010 I came close to my PR at the Mercedes Half Marathon after running a great 5k the day before. I started riding outdoors a month later and I was shocked that I was not in great cycling shape. I was very uncomfortable on my bike and my leg strength was not there. My opinion is that spinning can get you in great overall shape and is great cross-training but cannot replace riding your bike on the trainer.
A Computrainer is your bike trainer on steroids. Sensors are attached to your bike, the bike trainer, and your person to monitor cadence, power output, pedaling efficiency, heart rate, etc. While you ride you are watching a screen with a pre-loaded bike course of your choice. The tension on the trainer changes based on the course conditions. Most of the Ironman bike courses are available and it is a great tool as you can actually ride race courses in advance. Many top triathletes use Computrainer to train for specific early season events. The big drawback with the Computrainer is the price. The lowest end version is around $2000 and each race sells for $99. One option to avoid the big price tag is to look for a local club or YMCA that may offer use of a Computrainer. In my area there is a club that has a Computrainer Center and charges $25 an hour. (check it out here) This is a great option if you would like to try it or just add sessions into your training plan.
As all of us try to drag ourselves through the next couple of months of winter the key to maintaining your cycling fitness is to keep training. Don't get burned out...Adding in a spin class or Computrainer session can break up your week and keep you motivated. I think variety in your indoor cycling training will keep you sane and make your winter training more enjoyable. Of course if you really want to have fun pack up your bike and head somewhere warm for a week!