As you begin to perform your workouts indoors, you may find that you can't reach the same heart rate or wattage that you are able to achieve out on the road. This is partially due to the lack of adrenaline you get from speed out on the road, and also the conservation of energy that would otherwise be required to steer the bike and concentrate on keeping the bike upright and going in a straight line.
In addition, most riders rock the bike, pull up on the handlebars or sway back and forth in the saddle during intervals. These cheated movements may make your intervals look good on paper, but are, in fact, counterproductive to the improvement of your cycling and efficiency on the bike. Throwing your upper body into the mix when performing an interval may artificially elevate your heart rate and even give you a few more watts but, in the long run, will cost you more than what you gain.
On a trainer, all your energy can be focused directly into the pedaling motion. This makes for a very concentrated, very focused workout that only trains the systems that are necessary to propel you forward. At first, as your body adjusts to riding without extra movement, your heart rate and power may decrease slightly.
However, as you adapt to riding smoothly and steadily on the trainer, your markers should come back up, and now you will know that the energy spent is being put directly into the pedal stroke. Thus, even at the same heart rate and the same power as before, you will experience improved road performance.
Rollers are another great time-saving tool for a variety of reasons. On the rollers, any inefficiency in your pedal stroke or upper body is magnified drastically. Small movements that are barely noticed on the road can be enough to bounce you around on the rollers like a rubber ball. You will also quickly become aware of even a slight inability to hold a straight line, a skill that many cyclists never master.
In just a few weeks on the rollers, these deficient skills will quickly be routed out and corrected, causing a significant improvement in performance that may never have been achieved in a lifetime of riding on the road.
Another, often overlooked, benefit of riding rollers is an increased sense of confidence on the bike. Enhanced confidence results in less stress and anxiety out on the road, nervous energy that saps precious energy away from performance. In order to ride the rollers confidently, a cyclist must have at least a basic mastery of the skills needed to ride safely and efficiently on the road.
Although it may be subtle, the confident rider relaxes their hands and arms, loosens their jaw and slows down their breathing. This can not only lead to improved cycling performance, but also decreased reaction time and a better ability to navigate pitfalls and avoid crashes.
As with the trainer, the rollers can also help you pinpoint and focus your workouts to absolute perfection. Perhaps this is best exemplified by the all-important recovery ride. How many of us can roll out for an easy spin without encountering a single roller or hill?
During a recovery ride, just a few small grades can disrupt the intended training benefit, even if this just means riding up your driveway at the end. On the rollers, if the goal is an easy recovery ride at 100 rpm with very little resistance, those parameters can be met from beginning to end, every single time.
What It All Comes Down To
Riding indoors can be brain numbing and even torturous, but with time and patience, the ability to train effectively on the trainer or on rollers can be significantly beneficial to all riders, no matter their time restrictions. Not only is indoor training time efficient, but it can also dramatically improve your efficiency and performance in ways that riding on the road never will.
As you begin to transfer some of your workouts indoors, experiment with ways to make the time pass easier. Watch movies (action thrillers are generally better than romantic comedies), race videos or listen to music. My favorite combination is to watch a race video while also listening to music (I must have a little ADD).
One cautionary piece of advice: if you choose to watch race videos while riding the rollers, be careful. You may lean ever so slightly in the corners, which could lead to an embarrassing if not painful collision with your living room wall.
For specific workouts that can be done indoors or out on the road in order to get the most out of your limited training time, read How to Spice Up Your Indoor Workouts.