The official start of winter is nearly upon us here in Canada (gulp!). Winter cycling outdoors can be a bone-chilling experience, quite literally. The icy winds, unexpected snowfall, slippery roads - all these elements can transform your pleasant ride into a safety hazard and one that keeps you inside and on the couch.
But don't despair.
We're here to tell you that the transition to indoor cycling training doesn't have to be all bad. On the contrary, there are numerous benefits of indoor training in the late fall, winter, and early spring that can make you an even stronger rider when the spring and summer seasons return next year. Indeed, transitioning to indoor training for cycling during the fall and winter months can help you maintain—and even improve—your fitness levels when outdoor riding becomes less appealing. No more checking the weather forecast before a ride, or worrying about the early sunset. Indoor cycling is always accessible, no matter how the weather turns out.
Benefits of Indoor Cycling Versus Outdoor Cycling
While there's nothing quite like the freedom of cycling outdoors, indoor cycling offers several key advantages, especially during the winter months.
- Safety and weather considerations: Yes, this is the main benefit of transitioning indoors. Indoor cycling eliminates the risks associated with traffic, poor lighting, and inclement weather. It's just a lot more comfortable than riding outdoors in Canadian winter. But kudos to those fat bikers and diehards who make it all the way through!
- Controlled environment and training consistency: Training indoors allows you to control every variable – no more worrying about wind resistance or sudden hills. This makes your training more consistent and measurable. You can even program many modern trainers to hold the exact power output you want at different parts of your ride so you can shut off your brain and just get the legs pumping.
- Focus on specific training goals: Indoor cycling allows for targeted workouts, from high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to endurance sessions, allowing you to tailor the training to your specific goals.
- Building 'feel': The consistency of indoor training can be a bit mind-numbing, but it can also help you capture what it feels like on the pedals to push at a given power output or heart rate. This can be a boon for pacing endurance events without the need to be staring at your computer the whole ride/race.
Gearing Up For Indoor Cycling Training
Before you can get to the rides, you need to get yourself kitted out with all the indoor necessities. We've listed the ideal items below and every category has low- and high- end options to suit various budgets. Of course, the most essential piece of equipment you'll need is a trainer for your bike, but you'll also want to think about fans, water bottles, and a place to put your phone, tablet, or computer.
- Indoor Trainer: It's no secret that the right equipment will go a long way in enabling your indoor training regimen and supporting you to achieve your fitness goals. To set yourself up for success, consider investing in a quality indoor bike trainer and accessories. There are various indoor trainer options, including smart trainers that can adjust resistance automatically to simulate real-world riding conditions (so you won't feel like you're missing out on the great outdoors).
- Fan: If you've never done an indoor ride before, you may be surprised at just how much you sweat. Cycling is hard work and without the wind blowing through your helmet vents, you'll start to cook. Your fan doesn't need to be fancy, but a remote can be helpful for adjusting mid-ride.
- Mat: Protect your floor from sweat and provide stability, while also helping to dampen vibration and noise.
- Towel: Trust us, you'll need it! Think mid-sized to hang off your handlebar. Items such as this Castelli Sweat Set are also helpful to mop up the ocean of sweat that seems to be generated indoors.
- Water bottle: Staying hydrated is just as important indoors as it is outdoors.
- Tablet Stand: Indoor training can be a bit mind-numbing so you'll need something for entertainment. We recommend a spin through a virtual training land, such as Zwift, or good ol' fashioned Netflix (we recommend 'Tour de France: Unchained' if you haven't watched it yet).
- Equipment protection: With all that sweat, you need to think about protecting your bike and trainer. Covering up vital parts with towels and regular cleaning goes a long way, but we also recommend MUC-OFF Sweat Protect to drive out moisture and apply a protective anti-corrosive layer on your bike frame, metal parts, and paintwork.
Next, we'll put all your equipment together in a dedicated space to create a positive environment for your workouts.
Setting Up Your Indoor Cycling Space
Do you really need a dedicated space? Our answer is an emphatic yes! Let's face it, workouts can be a chore and a necessity to set up your trainer and take it down every ride will get tired, fast! But having a dedicated space is about more than just having a physical environment where you can train—if it is set up properly (and, dare we say, even comfortable), it will help you build consistency in your indoor training routine.
The good news is that it doesn't require a ton of space and a variety of surfaces will work: hardwood floor, carpet, tiles, or concrete will all suffice, though we highly recommend you put down a rubber mat to muffle noise and catch sweat. Get creative with the location in your home - a spot in the garage, a small corner in your living room, or anywhere you can carve out 30-40 SqFt while avoiding interruptions. Do make sure it's ventilated - remember, you'll be working up a sweat - personally, we find it helps to have a window (or windows) to keep you connected to the outside world and to offer the occasional distraction when you're hours into your long day. Good lighting helps too, keeping your energy levels up.
And safety? Ensure your bike is stable and there's enough room to dismount safely... because no one wants a post-workout tumble!
Adjusting Your Workout Routine
Transitioning from outdoor to indoor cycling isn't just about moving the bike inside. It's also about adjusting your workout routine. Indoor cycling is more focused and intense. Think quick bursts of speed, challenging resistance levels - it's a whole new world! Ever tried interval training? Now's your chance. And those virtual apps you've heard of? Time to join in. Remember to keep track of your progress. Set goals, break them, reset them. After all, what's a workout without some challenge?
Indoor cycling doesn't have to be monotonous. Here are some techniques to ramp up your training:
- Structured training plans: These lay out exactly what to do in each workout, taking the guesswork out of your training. Whether you're a beginner or an advanced cyclist, there are a myriad of plans to help achieve your goals.
- Interval training and HIIT workouts: These workouts involve alternating between periods of high-intensity effort and low-intensity recovery. They can be a fantastic way to improve your fitness and keep your workouts exciting.
- Strength and endurance training: Indoor cycling isn't just about cardio. By adjusting your bike's resistance, you can work on building strength in your legs and core. Longer, steady-state rides at a lower intensity can help to build your endurance.
Stay tuned for more on training and different types of workouts to achieve your objectives.
Passing the Time
We know, indoor cycling can be perceived as boring (read mind-numbing, every second feels like an hour and a half), but that just isn't the case anymore. The world of indoor cycling has come a long way in adding excitement and stimulus. Here are some tips for making your indoor workouts more enjoyable:
- Choose a virtual cycling app: These apps allow you to virtually ride through different landscapes and routes, making your workouts more immersive and interesting. Zwift is far and away the market leader here, but there are many great apps with different specialties, such as real life courses, and pure interval based functionality. Check out Rouvy or TrainerRoad as Zwift alternatives. Or read our blog on introduction to cycling apps (it's a bit dated, but the basic outline remains the same). The virtual world has come a long way with access to group rides, races, and multi-day tours - jump into it!
- Listen to music or podcasts: Create a playlist of your favorite tunes or listen to an engaging podcast while you ride. This will help pass the time and keep you motivated.
- Watch movies or binge-worthy TV drama: Netflix, Prime, Crave - the content seems endless and it's a great time to watch those shows that don't require your full attention or that you feel bad dedicating a Saturday night to.
- Set goals: Set yourself some short term winter goals, such as increased FTP or a timed virtual segment and then find a training plan that will help you achieve it. Focusing on your numbers with your favourite song in your headphones can be surprisingly engaging. Training intervals themselves also help break up workouts into smaller chunks that trick us into believing the time is passing more quickly.
Okay, you've guessed it and we admit it - our indoor rides involve TVs, tablets, and smart phones working in tandem with our smart bikes so we won't judge if you just throw everything you've got at your indoor workouts to get you through the winter!
Remember, champions are made in the off season. You may not be training for the Tour de France, but training indoors through the fall and winter can give you a leg up once you get back to your group rides in the spring and summer. By keeping things fun and engaging with music, podcasts, or virtual cycling apps, you can make the most out of your 'off-season' and come out next year in the best spring cycling shape of your life. But also don't be afraid to engage in some cross-training, find other physical activities outdoors, and maybe even embrace your inner laziness now and again as well.
Happy (indoor) riding!