Countries across the world are shutting down & cyclists in many places are temporarily unable to ride outside. As a cycling community it would only be fair to see this as an opportunity to mix up our training & use the enforced home-time as a chance to forge new, healthy habits, switch to a healthier diet & establish a new way of living life.
Amateurs and Pro’s alike are throwing training plans out the window & switching out their 6 hour rides for shorter sessions on the indoor trainer. But is this really going to benefit them?
The Benefits of Indoor Training vs Riding Outside
We asked Eat Sleep Cycle coach, Dave Smith, about the potential benefits of indoor training:
The big gain comes from the training being more focused as rides tend to be shorter. It’s a great time to work on power and speed using specific hard intervals without interruptions from road traffic, intersections and changes in gradients. An overlooked benefit is that you can often hear pedalling inefficiencies in the sound of the trainer and tune your pedal stroke to even out the tone. Finally you can develop some mental toughness by doing some sessions without interactive tools and simply staring down at a stopwatch.
Indoor training has long been one of the only ways to train for people with busy lives, families & full-time jobs, so learning about how to train properly now is a great way to establish healthy habits which can continue when normal life resumes.
So, it’s possible to emerge from this period fitter & stronger, but what of the mental impact of exercising inside & can this ever compare to the joy of freewheeling down a hill?
The mental health benefits of indoor training
Turbo trainer & happiness are two words which have never appeared in the same sentence. Cycling outside is a great way to feel alive, to forget about your worries and focus on the ride. Without the distractions of riding outside (traffic lights, traffic, fellow riders, junctions, roundabouts etc), training indoors can slip into feeling like a horrendous battle with your inner-self & sessions can end up being really tough to complete.
However, when the joy of cycling outside must be postponed for the greater good, doing any form of exercise is a good thing. Exercise is proven to:
- Help relieve depression & anxiety – physical activity boosts endorphin levels, a ‘feel good’ chemical which produces feelings of happiness & euphoria
- Decrease stress – an increase in heart rate stimulates the production of neurohormones, which improve cognition and mood & improve thinking clouded by stressful events
- Increase self-esteem & self-confidence – over time exercise makes us fitter, slimmer & toned, perfect for that important boost of self-esteem!
- Better sleep – physical activity increases body temperature, which can have calming effects on the mind. Exercise also helps regulate your circadian rhythm, a system which controls when we feel tired and when we feel alert (just don’t exercise before bed, this will wake you up!)
- Boost brainpower! – cardiovascular exercise creates new brain cells (in a process called neurogenesis) and improves overall brain performance.
So, indoor or outdoor, exercise can be a game-changer, especially in times of social isolation.
Some training platforms also allow for group rides, which bring a level of social interaction back, also good for a mood-boost & great way to feel connected & keep loneliness at bay.
Equipment for Indoor Cycling: Trainers vs Rollers?
There are so many options on the market for indoor trainers to keep you pedalling.
The first thing to consider is that a trainer will give you greater options for drills than rollers. Rollers are great for high cadence, pre-race warm-ups but are really difficult for out & out efforts (unless you have serious skills!) That said, rollers are better at simulating the actual feel of riding a bike & force you to keep a steady core.
A great trainer with awesome reviews, this is setting the standard for the industry. At 21 kgs its incredibly stable & there’s no need to wreck your tyres as the bike mounts directly onto the built in cassette. The ride feel is realistic & the trainer is also really quiet – great for respecting your neighbours, family members or housemates. The Wahoo Kickr is compatible with pretty much everything. It measures power and is great to use in conjunction with Zwift (see below).
The lightweight version of the Wahoo Kickr, the Kickr Core is a great piece of kit for those on more of a budget. It features a great ride feel, belt-drive transmission for a quiet training session & full connectivity to all devices. The Core features a smaller fly-wheel & is lighter. But for the money, is an excellent option.
Platforms for Indoor Training
Zwift is becoming a synonym for indoor training. Ride in an immersive virtual world, compete against others & customise your ride to gain an advantage. Social integration is a key feature – you can plan group rides & races with your friends. The missing piece is voice chat – but it’s still great fun & hugely popular.
A different approach to indoor training which doesn’t rely on virtual reality to be fun. Enjoy great music & structured workouts developed by APEX Coaching’s Neal Henderson. They also have Yoga, Strength Training, and Mental Fitness videos to make you a more well-rounded athlete.
A completely different experience which requires heavy upfront in investment in the peloton exercise bike. Then enjoy access to a huge library of spin classes. Whilst this is hugely popular in the USA it’s a great option for general fitness, but not for out & out cyclists.
Bike Rumour do a great job of compiling & comparing ten training apps on their latest Indoor Training article.
Alternative Exercise For Cyclists in Isolation
Don’t have access to an indoor trainer or software? There is a huge amount you can do to develop your strength on the bike without actually going near a bike. Spend time building your core strength, leg strength & flexibility. Work on specifics like activating your glutes for maximum impact when you get back on the bike.
You can trawl You Tube for exercises that work for you, or consider working with a coach for a custom plan designed around you & your goals.
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