Even with the days getting longer and the weather turning warm and dry there are still major benefits to training indoors. From recreational and age group athletes to the elite levels of cycling and triathlon, the indoor cycling workout is a key component to an effective training program. In the winter months, some elite athletes complete 100% of their cycling workouts indoors. Even in the height of summer these same athletes harness the power of training indoors by doing a majority of their intense interval sessions on the stationary bike. I’ll share with you several reasons why attending a quality spin class, or dusting off the stationary trainer at home, can be beneficial to your fitness gains this year, and beyond.
More Time Efficient
Riding outdoors as compared to a session on the indoor trainer or spin class is not exactly apples to apples. Yes, you’re still riding the bike, & in many cases, modern cycling studios offer the ability for you to ride on your own personal bike during their structured classes, but the dynamics of riding outside results in a less efficient workout. When riding indoors you rarely get a break from your effort because you are constantly applying load to the pedals. Outdoor cycling provides countless opportunities to utilize forward momentum to reduce your effort without losing much in the way of speed. Depending upon the concentration level (and motivation) of the rider, this can be done many times a minute during an entire session on the road, resulting in hundreds of micro breaks. The ability to freewheel outdoors, even if only briefly, offers significant recovery benefits during the hardest of efforts. The variation in terrain and wind conditions can also disrupt the best laid plans for an effective interval session. Compare this to a typical indoor workout where the constant resistance reduces, or eliminates, the ability to coast. As a general rule, I will have my athletes shorten the overall ride time of an outdoor workout by 15-20%, leaving any interval durations intact, when they are needing (or wanting) to ride inside. This is an attractive alternative to individuals with busy schedules and limited time to train.
Being time efficient also translates into more effective intervals during a spin class or indoor, stationary trainer ride. A well-structured, indoor cycling workout will yield fitness results in less time than doing similar sessions outdoors. The body achieves fitness gains by adapting to the overloads imposed upon it during each workout. It is much easier to follow minute by minute intervals without the distractions of riding on the road, thereby leading to an interval that can be followed more closely to the prescribed intensities. The proliferation of power meters on studio spin bikes and on personal bikes makes following these sessions even more precise, leading to quicker gains in overall fitness.
We all like going out on the road and completing a tough set of climbing repeat intervals to build strength and condition the appropriate energy systems in the body. With today’s technology, in form of power meters, controlling the resistance is easy, which makes the session more effective. The “hill” on the stationary bike remains exactly the same for the entire time, without any variation due to terrain, road surface or atmospheric conditions. The more precise the interval, the greater the physiological benefits to the athlete.
Builds Mental Toughness
A typical reason I get from athletes who baulk at attending a quality spin class or riding their own bike on the indoor trainer is that it is boring. Granted, a four-and-a-half-hour session riding in front of the TV watching reruns of Little House on the Prairie is “poke your eyes out with a fork” B.O.R.I.N.G. I’ve been there, done that and it takes a certain breed of athlete to complete one of those marathon sessions. But most indoor cycling workouts can be completed in a single hour, while keeping the entertainment factor quite high. Many cycling studios have real-time ride data projected on huge flat panel TVs and exorbitant sound systems to take your mind off the suffering, making them attractive alternatives. They provide an entertainment value at the same time that they are providing you with a world-class workout. Even the best structured indoor workout, with all the cool distractions, doesn’t take away the difficulty of the session itself. Indoor riding offers a unique experience into the word of suffering on the bike and you can embrace it, making yourself a much better overall rider in the process. I call this “being comfortable being uncomfortable.” It is an acquired skillset that takes time, and dedication, to master. Being mentally strong is often what separates a good athlete from a great one.
If you are limited on the available time to train, then take ALL your cycling sessions indoors. They are much more effective at building fitness on a limited time budget. If you are challenged to self-motivate getting on your personal indoor trainer, then find a good cycling studio with instructors that you like and it will provide you with a solid workout, in minimal time, with good entertainment value. Lastly, the limited distractions of a quality spin session will still allow you to develop the mental toughness required for you to push outside your comfort zone, which is a key component to gaining fitness and achieving your goals.
About the Author Paul Kinney is an IRONMAN Certified Coach, a USA Triathlon Certified Level 1 Coach, and a Team in TrainingPeaks Certified Coach. He has trained hundreds of triathletes and duathletes since 2001 & has since expanded his offerings to include cyclists, runners, and walkers through the creation of Kinney Multisport in 2009. Paul's racing experience is widely varied and includes triathlons, ranging in distance from sprint to full Ironman races, off-road triathlons, duathlons, century rides & bicycle racing. Paul is a 2013 USAT All American & Ironman All World Athlete Silver Medalist in the 40-44 Age Group, a 7-time Ironman finisher & four time Death Ride finisher. Other notable accomplishments are: overall and age group wins and podium finishes at Tinley's Adventures 2005-2007; fastest M35-39 bike split at Wildflower Olympic 2009; numerous top 10 age group finishes at races like Wildflower, Pacific Grove, Vineman's Showdown & Tinley's Triathlons. Other interests include auto racing, in which he began competing at various levels in 1990, travel, and anything outdoors.
CYCLING at CRUfit is not Spinning and is not designed to be a one-day, nightclub-like experience. While maintaining all the music and a fun training environment, CRUfit is one of the very few cycling studios in the San Francisco / Oakland Bay Area which offers structured indoor training with accurate performance feedback. We aim to deliver fitness gains for all our riders. Many of our riders have taken their enhanced fitness outdoors to participate in a variety of events.