The winter months are fast approaching here (in the northern hemisphere) and, with the risk of bad weather or poor light blighting rides, many cyclists will be turning their attention to indoor training.
It’s easy to understand why. Indoor cycling has a range of benefits, from beating bad weather to targeting specific training goals when you’re short on time.
From the pros of the peloton to new cyclists, almost anyone who turns the pedals can benefit from training indoors.
1. Time efficiency
One of the biggest indoor cycling benefits is how little time it takes compared to going out for a ride outside. If you’re short on time – and who isn’t? – riding indoors can help you squeeze in a training session when you otherwise wouldn’t.
“It’s convenient, it’s set up ready to go and there’s no time-wasting,” says Matt Rowe of Rowe & King Cycle Coaching. “You can get on the bike, warm up, and you’re into a session. Cool down, finish, in the shower, done.
“If you’re planning on doing that outside, you’ve got to find a route and, if you live in a city centre, you’ve got to get out of the city. By the time you’ve even warmed up you could have done your whole session indoors,” adds Rowe.
What’s more, and as we’ll come on to, the specificity and uninterrupted nature of indoor cycling means you can make big training gains in a relatively short amount of time
2. Beat bad weather
This one goes without saying. Because indoor cycling takes place out of the elements, you don’t have to deal with the worst of winter weather – be it rain, wind, snow or ice.
The right winter gear can go a long way to keeping you comfortable outside, but sometimes riding in poor weather is just unpleasant.
There’s safety to consider, too. If the roads are covered in snow or ice, and you don’t want to miss your workout, stick to the indoor trainer.
3. Train with power
Smart trainers are equipped with built-in power meters, enabling riders to train with power in order to target specific physiological goals with much greater precision.
Smart trainers also offer external resistance control via ERG mode. You can either set a specific wattage for the trainer to lock onto or allow a third-party app to control the trainer based on the demands of your workout or training plan.
That means, if you’re doing an interval training session, you’ll hit the exact numbers required to get the most out of the workout.
4. Ride without interruptions
That leads us to the next benefit: indoor cycling enables you to ride without interruptions.
When riding on the road, it can be hard to complete a specific training session – particularly targeted intervals – without your rhythm being disrupted by the undulating nature of a route, or the need to stop for traffic or junctions.
Indoor training removes those interruptions and uncontrollable variables, so you can focus solely on completing your workout.
5. Keep it consistent
The structured, focused nature of indoor cycling also ensures consistency from one training session to the next. If you have a goal in mind, whether that’s completing your first 100-mile century ride or racing at elite level, indoor cycling enables you to keep your training on track.
On the other hand, if you go on a club ride, the pace of the group and the route will dictate how hard you go. You might have set out to do an endurance ride, but actually spent more time at VO2 max.
However, it’s important not to lose focus on why we ride – getting out into the great outdoors. You can use indoor training to complement outdoor riding, not replace it.
6. It’s more interesting than ever
If your perception of indoor training is slogging away for hours in a cold garage or spare room with just a wall in front of you to look at, then it might be time to rethink a turbo session. Interactive apps, including TrainerRoad, Wahoo SYSTM and Rouvy, have brought indoor training to life.
“The key to training is consistency and having the motivation to get on the bike, and things like Zwift are a great way of motivating yourself to train,” says Matt Bottrill of Matt Bottrill Performance Coaching.
7. Focus on technique
Indoor training allows you to focus on technique, most notably your cadence and pedal stroke.
Bottrill recommends using the indoor trainer to work on your dead spot – where you lose efficiency in your pedal stroke and are not producing any power.
“Doing drills in training to work on your dead spot is a great way of improving, especially for those riders who are new to cycling,” he adds.
8. Train anywhere, at any time
You don’t need to invest in a smart trainer or indoor smart bike to feel the benefits. Most gyms have some form of spin class or static bike, while there are also specialist turbo clubs at certain studios.
You can also combine indoor cycling at the gym with weight training, cross-training or other off-bike exercises, Bottrill says.
That’s particularly the case in winter, when the off-season gives you an opportunity to work on other areas of your performance, alongside targeted sessions on the indoor trainer.
Indoor cycling: how to get started
Turbo trainers are the most common form of indoor trainer for cycling and have come a long way in recent years thanks to the introduction of power-equipped smart trainers.
All turbo trainers require the use of a bike to function. On entry-level models, the rear wheel rests against a cylinder and resistance is adjusted manually.
On mid-range to top-end trainers, the rear wheel is removed and your bike is connected to the trainer via a cassette. These are called direct-drive smart trainers.
This not only enables third-party resistance control (so resistance can be controlled via a training app, hence why it’s ‘smart’) but also offers a more realistic ride quality and improved power measurement.
Indoor training bike
For riders who have the space (and budget) for a dedicated indoor training bike, there are a number of models on the market that will leave you with a seriously high-tech piece of kit for your home.
The best indoor bikes are inevitably bulkier and more expensive than turbo trainers that can be packed away, but having a dedicated machine set up and ready to go means you just need to jump on to start your workout.
Although they might look odd, rollers are essentially a self-propelled treadmill for the bike. Like turbo trainers, they require a bike to be used, but there’s no installing a rear wheel or connecting the drivetrain to a cassette – simply pop your bike on the drums, get up to speed and ride.
Although great for improving your leg speed, core strength and balance (with nothing holding you and the bike upright other than momentum), it’s not normally possible to adjust (or automatically control) resistance in the same way that you can with a smart trainer or indoor training bike.
Although not typically as focused or realistic as the other indoor training tools described here, spin classes are easy to sign up to and can help keep your motivation up through winter – especially if you’re new to cycling.
Most gyms will offer regular group spin classes, while higher-end boutique studios will include clipless pedals and sessions that target specific training techniques, such as HIIT and intervals.
Some even offer power-based training, replicating the type of targeted sessions you might complete on a smart trainer or smart bike.