Structured Training

Less Can Be More: Making the Case for Indoor Training

March 2, 2017
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Words by Lisa Mazzola

I used to be one of those people that loathed training indoors.  I would sooner ride in a blizzard, and actually did once, rather than get on my trainer. Living and training in New York city adds an extra level of complication to training. The closest place for me to train outside is Central Park. I can be there in 15-20 minutes, but I must traverse the busiest part of Manhattan in order to get there, winding my way through the hectic streets of midtown. In any time of year it is not super pleasant, but in winter, even less so. Once I get there, I will be one of many NYC cyclists, runners, and dogs, all trying to get a workout in. All to say, it is not always so easy to maintain an interval amidst the flurry of activity. Once I finish, I need to head back to midtown and peak traffic to get home.

Last winter I had the opportunity to buy a smart trainer. I wanted to hit some early season road races, but I knew I would not have the time to put in the long hours I had done in previous seasons. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to test out current trends in training, which allow for shorter, more intense workouts in the base phases of winter, to see if I could meet my goals and make peace with the trainer.

When my first “A” race came at the end of April, I knew that was going to be the true test of my new training plan. The race was 66 miles of rolling terrain, with lots of punching short climbs. I would be racing with some of the strongest Category 1-3 women that I know. Much to my surprise, when a break formed halfway through the race, I was in it. It was the longest time I had ever hung on in a break at that pace and intensity. I finished in the lead chase group, satisfied that I had broken a training barrier.

My indoor training experiment yielded some very good outcomes. I continued to train indoors 2-3 days a week for the remainder of the season. Now that I know my fitness will progress training this way, I do some of my weekly workouts inside year round. Whether I am time crunched or have a specific workout to do, I don’t stress out anymore and just step into my living room and get the job done. Training inside on my trainer is no longer my Plan B for bad weather, but my Plan A method. Now I don't compromise the quality of my workouts or my recovery. It also saves me from training fatigue which can sink in at times when I am super time crunched.

If you're thinking about integrating indoor workouts into your training, here are some suggestions for successful and effective workouts:

  • There are so many options to choose from, so it is important to choose a trainer that works for you.  I found that a smart power trainer, which allowed me to program my exact workout and stick to it was the answer for me, but there are some many great options at a range of price points
  • Ideally, you have a place where you can set everything up and not have to move it. But if not, just have a system in place for setup and teardown for your indoor training space. Once you streamline the process, it goes very quickly.
  • Make sure your fit well on your bike. This should be a given, but if you’re not dialed in, you will definitely feel it more training inside.
  • Speaking of bike fit and comfort, make sure to not wear your old and most worn out kit for the trainer workouts. It is even more important indoors to be in your most supportive shorts/bibs. I even wear gloves now to take the pressure off my hands.
  • Although I now embrace indoor training, I am not one to spend hours on the trainer watching movies or TV. I actually prefer to use my time (60-90min generally) on the trainer to practice focus and form with music or nothing at all. When you're not on there for hours, you don’t need the entertainment.
  • Just like rollers, training indoors is a great time to work on pedaling drills for strength and smoothness, so in the winter months, be sure to plan to do some.
  • If you need help planning workouts, platforms like TrainerRoad and Zwift have lots of workouts to offer. You don’t need a smart trainer to use them either. And if you want the camaraderie, you can ride virtually with people in Zwift.