Why train indoors?

In winter, more than other times of the year, many cyclists will be considering how and where best to train. With that in mind I thought After over 6 years of doing this, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on why train indoors.

My own story was that in the beginning, I tried indoor training simply to improve. I’d been riding almost exclusively outside and had hit a plateau that I just could break through. I live in an area of rolling countryside and as hard as I rode, I couldn’t reach a 30kmh average on my regular rides. I was ready to try something different to push past this if I could. I did break that barrier and it was the start of a journey that now sees around 90% of my riding on a Smart Trainer in the outhouse in my garden.

I think there are a few key reasons as to why I now almost exclusively train indoors:

1 – It works

Structured training plans deliver results – if you commit to following them and getting the work/rides done. Pick your platform, pick you plan, get the workouts done and you will improve. Over the last decade in particular there has been a huge increase in the number of platforms, apps, training plans and coaches with tools and plans – so you should be able to find one you like. There is more and more sports science behind this too, so the plans are only getting better

2 – Training with power and heart rate is effective in a controlled environment

Prior to training indoors, I had a go at coached plans outdoors on my bike, where during rides, I’d need to undertake certain efforts at certain points in a ride and frankly it was hopeless. I couldn’t ensure that the terrain, wind and traffic would play nicely so I could ride my 3-4 efforts I’d been set. On a Smart trainer indoors, all those variables disappear, making it much more realistic to get the work done. Having a trainer that measures power and a heart rate monitor make sure you can measure and track your efforts accurately, which in turn helps ensure you get to improve.

3 – It’s an efficient use of limited time and you can trust the process

Most of us have busy lives, with family and work rightly taking precedence over our cycling each week. Finding the time to do traditionally winter training of long slow rides, can be challenging to say the least. Indoor training plans can be selected by training volume and I typically found that I’d do 3x 1 hour training sessions during the week (after work/early evening) and then a longer 1-2 session each day on the weekend, so around 5-8 hours a week total and be fit. Follow the plan on the days specified and the workouts specified and the results will come.

4 – There are lots of tools/platforms to choose from

With your Smart Trainer and a heart rate monitor, there are lots of platforms to choose from to train with, like the Sufferfest, Trainerroad, Zwift, RGT and many more. Also if you choose a coach many will be happy to set you structured workouts on your turbo too. With the apps, many offer trial periods so you can try before you buy or pay monthly for a few months through the winter to get you ready for the spring. To get the most from indoor training you will need to choose and stick to a plan – just pedalling away on your turbo won’t make you fitter or faster necessarily. I’ve tried it to check: https://girodilento.com/zwifting-against-covid-19/

5 – It’s safe

This has become a bigger issue for me over the years. All of my riding buddies have been hit by drivers at some point. Fortunately no major injuries but worrying nonetheless. As the key bread winner in my family and a freelancer getting injured or worse would be a double whammy – me being hurt/killed and a loss of income for my wife and kids. In the South East of England, the roads do seem to have a lot of traffic and angry drivers, it’s nice to be away from them (and I think it’s a big part of why gravel bikes are growing in popularity as they allow us to get away from drivers too).

In this Covid era, it’s also safe – you don’t have to risk mixing with or interacting with anyone who could have the virus. I’m an asthmatic over 50, so am in a vulnerable place for Covid-19. Without being melodramatic, catching it could be game over for me, so indoor training allows me to work on my fitness and to stay safe.

6 – It’s family/work friendly

As I’ve already mentioned, long hours out on the bike (at any time of the year) can make it harder to get your work done and can be a big negative for your family. It’s made a big difference to my family as I shifted to riding indoors. If my kids want to ask me something, they know they can pop out to where I’m on the turbo in the garage/outbuilding or if one of them hurts themselves or needs help, I’m right there not 30 miles away down some random lane. I’m still on hand. In the winter time too, I know my wife would worry about my bike breaking or having a fault I can’t repair on some cold lane far from home. Not least for the disruption when the kids were small as she’d have to bundle them into the car too on any rescue mission (they do happen) and this is incredibly disruptive.

7 – It can make weekend rides more enjoyable

Indoor training during the week can help you enjoy your weekend outdoor rides if that’s how you decide to structure it. I have ridden some plans where during the week, I’d do my “real” training meaning there was no pressure on weekend rides. I’d done my training already so I could just enjoy however I wanted to ride. It was surprisingly liberating. Also if you do train indoors during the week, you’ll gradually start to see the gains on the road on the weekends, that’s nice too!

8 – You don’t have to get cold wet and filthy through the winter

There are some out there who think that riding in the cold and rain and winter will toughen us up and make us real cyclists. Frankly, I think it’s utter nonsense, but that’s just my view and each to their own. I’ve told anyone who’d listen for years that I’m a fair weather cyclist. I think damp, wet, cold rides are absolutely the worst and I’m glad I don’t need to do them any more to be fit during the winter. I don’t miss the bike cleaning of winter rides either. Grim.

9 – It’s social if you want it to be!

One of my favourite things to do on Zwift is to ride group rides, where you pace with the leader of the ride. I regularly join a Zwift group rides held by a group called Pack that ride at 2 Watts per kg, a moderate pace. I really enjoy riding in a peloton with hundreds of others virtually and by the size of some of the rides, I’m not alone.

By simply adding a WhatsApp call to your ride you can chat away with your riding buddy possibly even easier than on the road. For group rides, apps like Discord allow you to talk with everyone on the ride.

My cycling club has switched all club rides online and has also set up 8 race teams in a Zwift league, getting people into teams to race together – it’s helping bring people together and helping us get to know more people in the club.

10 – In a Covid-19 Winter – it largely removes the possiblity of injury

We’re living in exceptional times and whilst you can still ride your bike outside, choosing to do it indoors eliminates any chance you might end up adding to the NHS/Health Service work load if you were to crash or be injured. It’s been icey where I live this week and Doctors are saying this next 4 weeks is probably the most dangerous time to catch Covid as the NHS is under seige from Covid cases. Training indoors means you can stay fit and stay safe – and remove the chances of adding to the problems we face. If you’re ever going to try it, now’s the time.

What are the downsides?

1- It’s expensive to get set up – but not more than the cost of a decent bike

To get the most out of indoor training, you’ll need to stump up for a decent smart trainer. In recent years, I’d have been confident of finding and sharing deals but in the times of Covid-19 that’s almost impossible. Decent Smart trainers start at around £600 and go up from there. Some good models in my experience include the Elite Direto, the Wahoo Kick Core, the Wahoo Kickr, the Tacx Neo, then moving on to training bikes, the Wattbike Atom. You’ll also need a heart rate monitor (a Wahoo Tickr is about £40 and has both Ant+ and Bluetooth connectivity. Then you’ll need a device to train with such as an iPad or a laptop but you may already have these lying around. If you want to step things up – this post will help. I use an old PC that I added a graphics card into (for Zwift) and I download Sufferfest workouts to it so I don’t have to rely on perfect wifi out in my garden shed/outbuilding. You’ll also want a fan even in cold sheds as you’ll work up a sweat.

I would honestly say my Tacx Neo is one of the best bits of cycling kit I’ve ever bought and I’ve done thousands of kilometres on it now making the cost per km increasingly tiny. I was also lucky enough to buy it cheaply in the first place.

2 – It can be hard work!

Structured interval sessions are tough – especially when they’re pushing you out of your comfort zone to improve. This isn’t an easy way to train, but with effort come rewards. Don’t worry there are easy weeks and easy sessions as recovery is key to improving but when you work hard you will really work hard. The fitness tests can be brutal too – I reckon the Sufferfest’s Full Frontal 4DP is about the hardest hour most of us will spend on a bike but the data it gathers is invaluable to helping you get the most from their platform. The Half Monty Ramp test is also hard but not nearly as “bad” as Full Frontal

3 – You’re not in the great outdoors

Some people will struggle to get their head round this and I get that. For many people, cycling is ALL about being outside and I get that but there are times when it can better, simpler, smarter or safer to ride indoors. In my view it doesn’t make you less of a cyclist but more of a pragmatist, which brings me to:

4 – Some people will judge you – but so what

If you’ve been cycling for a while, you’ll no doubt have realised that some people take issue with how/when you cycle – but frankly bollocks to them. Do what works for you. Some people hate that cycling has got popular, some people think you need to do it a certain way (right down to how you photograph your bike), some people think indoor miles aren’t real and so on and so forth.

If thinking that makes them enjoy cycling more, than that’s fine for them, but cycling should be a broad church.

If you’re pedalling indoors or outdoors and it’s working for you – then you’re winning. Choose cycling and choose how you want to do it. No matter what that is or where it is, there’s a community of fellow enthuisasts who will celebrate that with you. Training indoors has way more benefits than minuses so if on balance they might work for you – go for it and reap the benefits. I’m glad I have.

I hope this has been useful or food for thought. If you want to read some more of my experience on my journey of indoor cycling, check my archive of Wattbike tagged posts: https://girodilento.com/tag/wattbike/

My current training space. It’s not as bad as it looks but it’s cold in the winter (so there’s a heater here too)

Thanks for reading