Initially, cycling indoors wasn’t a deliberate tactic. I was forced to take cycling indoors simply because of the weather conditions. Preparing for a late November race such as Ironman Cozumel or Arizona while living in the Chicago area was the main reason why I decided to take a huge chunk of my training indoors.
A late November Ironman meant that I would have to do some of my longest (5-6 hour) rides in October and November. And that time of the year in the Midwest can get pretty cold, especially for a long ride.
In 2010 I went out for a +5 hour ride in November, and about 3 hours in I was done. It was just way too cold to continue. So I rode to a gym, hopped on a spin bike and finished my session there.
I quickly realized the benefits of riding indoors, and from that point on I did up to 85% of my cycling workouts indoors. Even in the summer. I designated a small percentage of my cycling to outdoors, making sure I’m maintaining my bike handling skills.
Here are some of the indoor cycling benefits:
1. Better Session Quality
The first benefit I noticed was in the quality of my session. There were no moments of stopping at intersections or just taking it easy on a downhill. It was literally a nonstop effort from start to finish. A 3 hour ride was exactly that, three hours of constant spinning with zero coasting time. A session like that can hardly be duplicated outdoors. It really prepared me to race in a similar way.
The structure of the session was so much easier to execute. Whether it was planning out and timing specific intervals or maybe even doing single leg drills. It was so much easier to get the workout accomplished without worrying about a stop light appearing right in the middle of an interval.
2. Time Savings
It quickly became apparent that taking cycling indoors would also save significant time. Not only because the session itself was more efficient, but that it required less prep work. I didn’t have tons of gear to prepare, decide how many layers to wear, check and tweak the bike to make sure things were smooth mechanically.
All of a sudden it created extra time for me to get a great recovery routine in after the ride, stretching, foam rolling, or preparing a recovery smoothie. All of which ultimately contributed to better performance.
3. Added Safety
Safety was another huge benefit. I didn’t have to worry about cars, traffic, or it being light enough to ride. It was great to be able to get the session whenever I chose to. Sometimes I could start at 5am, and other days at 8pm, it really didn’t matter.
I didn’t have to wear reflective gear to make sure I was visible to the drivers. I didn’t have to worry about attaching lights or batteries. And if it rained, well, that didn’t matter either.
4. Improved Mental Strength
Initially, I wasn't too thrilled about how boring riding indoors was. But soon enough, I realized there was another benefit that I believe had the biggest impact on my improvement of going from a 6:38 Ironman bike split to just under 5 hours at 215lb (97.5kg) body weight.
To say that riding indoors for three, five, or six hours can be mentally exhausting is an understatement. Obviously there isn't much sight seeing to keep your mind occupied, there aren't too many distractions, friends to chat with, or anything at all to stimulate your mind.
Not having those outside stimulants is exactly what can make an athlete stronger mentally. Pushing yourself to get through those hours indoors is what will build resilience like nothing else. On race day you won't have friends to rely on for drafting, even pacing, or encouragement. You will have to rely on your own physical ability and mental strength that you developed in training.
After a few long indoor rides I would actually feel excited to take on the 112 mile course at my next race. Riding outdoors felt like a treat! The visual stimulants of the landscape, feel of the wind, energy from the sun, and other people that we get accustomed to taking for granted, all of a sudden played a roll of a continuous performance boost that I had been deprived of the last few months.
5. Reduced Bike Wear
Lastly, I realized that I have been extending my Tri bike's life. Having done at least 80% of my rides on a spin bike meant that I wasn't putting as many miles on my Tri bike. Less wear not only meant that I didn't need to service it as often, but it also lowered the risk of a mechanical issue during a race. Although there are no guarantees, nevertheless the risk is lower.
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Since 2001 Peter has worked with individuals from many backgrounds, some taking up exercise for the first time looking for weight loss and toning, and others seeking guidance with a more extreme goal of training for an Ironman triathlon. Peter has published articles in the Competitor Magazine, some of his work was also featured by USA Triathlon, Golf Fitness Magazine and Colorado Runner website.
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