If you have done any indoor bike training you know the experience well. It’s tough.

Elevating your heart rate is hard. Generating sustained power is even harder. Indoor bike training is in a word painful. But I have news for you. Minute per minute, indoor bike training is about the best thing you can do for your cycling. Here are the reasons why and how to optimize that time.

It’s Stationary

What that means is that there is no forward momentum carrying you through the pedal stroke. Think of it this way. If you are cruising along on a flat road at say 20 mph (about 32km/hr) and you stop pedaling, you will coast for quite a while before you come to a stop.

That is the momentum part of your speed that you do not have on an indoor bike trainer. If you are pushing that same number of watts on the trainer, when you stop pedaling your wheel will stop spinning in a very short period of time. That’s because forward momentum is missing that helps ease the perceived effort out on the roads. Any amount of time spent on an indoor trainer is going to improve your cycling.  Here are a few tips that will help supercharge it.

Engage Your Glutes

Begin by standing to get your glutes engaged. Then once you have that, sit back down and try to keep them firing.

An indoor bike training session is the ideal time to work on engaging your glutes and reducing the amount of force being generated in your pedal stroke from the quads. Here’s how to feel that difference.

Start by standing up and pedaling. Try to use your glutes mostly as you do this. It will likely take a big gear and lots of resistance on the wheel, but you’ll get the feel.

Once you have that, sit back down and try to keep the feel of the glutes working. If you are having trouble getting that try rocking your pelvis under you just slightly. That will naturally help the glutes to fire. If your lower back is arched the other direction it can be tough to get the glutes going and keep the quads from overloading.

Get Aero

Spend time in the aero position even indoors. Yes, it is tough, but that is how you are going to race!

Doing a session on an indoor trainer in the aero position can be the toughest challenge to elevating heart rate and generating power. It’s so much easier on the roads especially if there is any kind of headwind. None of that is happening on the trainer. So it’s an ideal time to train your legs to get the effort level up even if the perceived effort is so much higher for any level you are working out at.

If you just can’t seem to increase your effort, try doing some short bursts of around 5-minutes where you focus quite intently on building your effort. Then back things down to recovery for 2-3 minutes then repeat. It is kind of like doing intervals, but the top end effort does not have to be anaerobic. It can be aerobic. This drill will help you to be able to get up to speed and hold it once you get back out on the roads.

Keep At The Indoor Bike Training

You don’t need to do all your cycling on a trainer, but you can if you like. If it’s tough for you, try to do one session per week on the trainer throughout your season. It will help immensely overall in your cycling. If that’s daunting, you can actually cut about 20-30% off your scheduled road cycling workout time and get about the same benefits if it’s done on a trainer. So it can be a time savings as well.

The one workout where this doesn’t hold up is on your long endurance ride each week. If you cut say a 5-hour ride down to 3.5-4 hours, you just won’t get your body used to working for 5-hours, nor will you gain the experience you need on nutrition to keep going that last hour.

A Killer One-Hour Indoor Bike Trainer Workout

Here is my favorite indoor bike training workout. It takes about an hour to complete and can be as easy or as hard as you want to make it.

  • Warm up 5-minutes gradually increasing your HR
  • 30-minutes steady, increasing your effort and gear every 5-minutes up to max heart rate you will achieve in the session, make sure to do some standing for 30-60 seconds within each 5-minutes, ride in aero position the rest of the time
  • 5-minutes small chainring easy spin recovery
  • 5-minutes one leg (stabilize other leg on a box or low chair)
  • 5-minutes easy spin both legs
  • 5-minutes one leg the other leg
  • 5-minutes easy spin
  • 5-minutes with high rpm (over 100) for 30-seconds then 30-second normal rpm, repeat for the 5 minutes, usually easy gear is good for this.
  • 5-minutes easy warm down

There you go. All you need to turn your indoor bike training sessions in super fitness workouts. Enjoy!

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About the author Mark Allen More information on the author

I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.

  • Rob Sleamaker

    Excellent article Mark, as always. Many of the same reasoning and benefits apply to swim training indoors at home, especially for the time-crunched athlete. Here is a recent article about that: https://vasatrainer.com/blog/7-reasons-you-should-be-swim-training-at-home/

    Thanks!
    Rob

    • Mark Allen

      Thanks Rob. Glad to know there are parallels between indoor cycling and vasa training!

      • Rob Sleamaker

        HI Mark, thank you. Yes, especially for time-crunched athletes, those who love power based training, and coaches who use it for technique and for monitoring progress using power as a metric. Hope all is well with you!