Short on Training Time? Head Indoors

I often hear from cyclists who would like to race but "just don't have enough time to train." Even if you never plan to race, you can still see significant improvements in your riding with a limited time budget.

While long base miles and packed training weeks definitely help for even the shortest of events, it is possible to do well and even excel in these quick races as long as your training is smart and efficient. The fact is, most entry level criteriums are less than 45 minutes long. While endurance does help, the bulk of the improvement in performance can be gained in the six to eight hours many of us have weekly to ride.

This article deals with the conservation of precious training time by taking your workouts indoors. Whether you want to race or just improve your cycling performance, if you have a limited amount of time to ride, this is for you.

The Case for Indoor Training

"I can't stand training indoors. I glance at the clock for the first time at the three-minute mark. My mind begins to wander at 10 minutes. At 15 minutes, I get antsy. At 20 minutes, an emotion that could only be described as anguish sets in. A teammate of mine once told me, 'Riding 45 minutes on the trainer is equal to a full hour on the road.' Or was it 35 minutes? Back to the torture. After two or three breaks (to check email, use the restroom, answer the phone) the ride is over. A solid 37 minutes of painful monotony."

As miserable as riding indoors can be, there may in fact be a good reason to suffer through it. An indoor ride is efficient and precise. In the winter it allows you to avoid the 20 minutes pre-ride it takes to pile on the layers and the half hour after your ride to clean the bike and all your gear.

In the summer, an indoor ride allows you to avoid the time it takes to slather on the sun block and stop every hour to re-fill your bottles. You avoid wasted time at traffic lights and stop signs, and there is no coasting on descents or through corners.

An hour indoors is an hour of pedaling. Outdoors, the same length of time will include at least five or six minutes of coasting and stop lights. At 90 rpm, that's an extra 540 pedal revolutions. Besides the obvious time savings, there is an important physiological effect of non-stop pedaling; therefore, a shorter ride on the trainer can actually be more valuable than a longer ride on the road. An hour of non-stop pedaling trains the body more effectively than a ride which includes even just a few stops and starts. To put it simply a ride without stops trains your body to ride without stopping.

In addition to cutting out precious minutes, riding indoors (whether on a trainer or on rollers) gives you the ability to precisely nail every single aspect of your workouts. While riding indoors you are not subjected to the variables of the open road, which may lessen the effectiveness of an intended interval.

Indoors, each interval can be done to absolute perfection. You can perfectly control the effort level, resistance, cadence and interval length without worrying about changes in road pitch, wind direction, traffic, poor road surface or just a lack of a suitable length of road.

The Stationary Trainer

It can be difficult to find the right roads to do your rides and intervals on, and valuable time can be wasted riding or even driving to these places. For instance, finding a road without stoplights, undulations or changes in pitch on which to do a 15-minute steady-state threshold interval can be next to impossible in many parts of the country.

On a trainer, however, if you set out to do a 15-minute threshold interval at 300 watts with a cadence of 95 rpm, you can pretty much nail it every single time. Same with a three-minute VO2max interval at 100 rpm or a 10-minute muscle-tension interval at 55 rpm. Whatever type of road you need, the trainer provides.

Attempting high-intensity intervals on an indoor trainer is a feat reserved for the truly dedicated. Without the rush of scenery passing you by and the sensation of speed, it is hard to focus on anything but the pain.

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