Winter is a challenging time for training, because harsh weather conditions and limited daylight can make road riding uncomfortable and more dangerous. Tough riders will pride themselves on going out in all weathers. That’s OK, but getting wet and cold all the time can really undermine motivation. Also, the risk of breaking body or bike (or both), by falling on icy roads, is really best avoided.
So is it possible to continue training effectively indoors, when the worst winter arrives? Well the short answer is definitely yes! Indoor training set-ups (including fixed machines like the Watt Bike and many different types of turbo trainer) make it possible to replicate almost every type of cycling workout, provided that the user carefully manages the length and intensity of sessions and also pays attention to their pedalling technique.
The indoor trainer is also a great tool for cyclists who have a limited amount of time to train, regardless of weather conditions. It is possible for a smart, “time crunched” cyclist to complete the same quality and quantity of training in one concentrated indoor session as may be possible on a much longer road ride (depending on terrain and traffic).
Here, I will review 12 effective and fun sessions, all under 45 minutes, covering a full range of goals, activities and techniques. This can provide a good basis for a high-quality winter training programme, which could be adapted to meet a more specific set of goals.
When I talk about Intensity of Effort, I am expressing the level (as a percentage) relative to your Maximum Heart Rate (Max HR) and Resting Heart Rate (Resting HR). So, for example, a 70% effort for someone with a Max HR of 170 BPM and a Resting HR of 50 BPM would be calculated as follows: –
170 BPM less 50 BPM = 120
70% x 120 = 84
70% effort = (84 + Resting HR) or (84 + 50) = 134 BPM.
When working on these indoor sessions, keep the following tips in mind: –
- Ensure that your position on the indoor trainer matches your position on your road bike.
- Drink at least one bottle (0.5 litres) of water / energy drink per session.
- Keep a towel handy to wipe sweat away from face, neck and hands.
- Set up your indoor trainer in a well ventilated space to avoid over-heating.
- Take time to stretch out immediately after your workout – particularly the glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.
- After stretching take a shower and lie down for 20 mins in a quiet place before resuming your day.
Session No. 1 (Duration 30 mins)
Theme: EASY RIDE
Goal: To gently loosen up the body with low-intensity low-cardiovascular activity.
Workout: On a light resistance, pedal gently (<45% effort) for 4 mins with hands on top of the handlebar. Then stop pedalling and simply stretch out the back of each leg (30 secs on right leg, 30 secs on left leg). Start pedalling again for another 4 mins, with slightly increased resistance (<55% effort), placing hands now on the drops. Then stretch the legs again in the same way for another minute. Repeat this 10 min set twice more (4 mins at <45% effort / 1 min stretching transition / 4 mins at <55% effort / 1 min stretching transition).
Session No. 2 (Duration: 45 mins)
Theme: POST-RACE RECOVERY
Goal: To flush lactate from the muscles and body tissues (accumulated on a previous intense training or race)
Replaces: Training after race or after a big week of training.
Contents: Warm-up for 8 mins, gradually increasing the intensity from a very low base up to 50% effort, cadence at 80 RPM; Set 1 = 55% effort at 85 RPM for 8 mins; Set 2 = 60% effort at 90 RPM for 8 mins; Set 3 = 65% effort at 95 RPM for 8 mins; Set 4 = 70% effort at 100 RPM for 8 mins. 5 mins warm-down.
Session No. 3 (Duration: 45 mins)
Theme: PRE-RACE PREPARATION
Objective: To produce few intense efforts to prepare the body for a race
Replaces: The “day before the race” ride.
Content: Warm-up for 20 mins, increasing intensity gradually up to 70% effort. Start with high resistance (low gear) and every 2 mins change up a gear. Try to keep cadence stable at around 85 RPM. After 20 mins, make a 12 sec ‘full gas’ sprint with 12 sec recovery, then make a 70% effort for 10 mins keeping cadence stable at 100 RPM. Take a 5min recovery (<45% effort in an easy gear), then repeat – 12 sec sprint / 12 sec recovery / 10 mins at 70% effort, 100 RPM. 5 mins warm-down.
Session No. 4 (Duration: 40 mins)
Objective: Contraction of muscle fibres by the use of very large gear.
Replaces: Training with heavy gear on steep hills.
Content: Warm-up for 15 mins, increasing intensity gradually up to 60% effort (heavy gear / low cadence). Then start your 20 min climbing set – 30 secs standing (heavy gear); 2 mins sitting (lighter gear), 1 min sitting (heavy gear), 2 mins sitting (lighter gear), 1 min 30 secs standing (heavy gear), 2 mins sitting (light gear), 2 mins sitting (heavy gear), 2 mins sitting (light gear), 1min 30secs standing (very heavy gear), 2 mins sitting (lighter gear), 1 min sitting (very heavy gear), 2 mins sitting (lighter gear), 30 sec standing (very heavy gear). 5 mins warm down, sitting (light gear).
Session No. 5 (Duration: 40 mins)
Goal: To become more comfortable with low cadence and increased resistance to pedalling
Replaces: Training with heavy gear on steep hills.
Content: Warm-up for 15 mins; 4 mins very easy (<45% effort), then 7 mins at 65% effort, then back to 4 mins very easy (<45% effort). After 15 mins make 3 x 6 min sets, each one structured as follows; 30 sec sprint (building to ‘full gas’), 30 secs recovery (almost no pedalling), 2 mins with heavy gear (<60% effort, 1 min sitting and 1 min standing), then 3 mins with lighter gear rate (<70% effort) taking cadence to 100 RPM. Finally, 7 mins warm down, very stable at 50% effort, low cadence.
Session No. 6 (Duration: 45 mins)
Goal: To increase the power (V02max) and support the accumulation of lactate in the muscles.
Replaces: Training with short-burst efforts, repeated and intense workout.
Content: Warm-up for 4 mins very easy (<45% effort), followed by 7 mins at 65% effort, followed by 4 mins very easy and stable (<45% effort). Follow that with between 5 and 7 explosive sprints, lasting 12 to 30 secs each (depending on your level and the progress of your form). Take recovery time between sprints equal to the sprint time. Sprints can be done sitting or standing. Ride easy for 10 mins (<50% effort) and then go again with a second set of sprints. Example session: 15 min warm-up, then 6 x (20 sec sprint / 20 sec recovery), 10 mins easy, 6 x (15 sec sprint / 15 sec recovery), 10 mins active recovery (60% effort).
Session No. 7 (Duration: 2 x 45 mins)
Goal: To maintain aerobic fitness using active recovery periods.
Replaces: Long training rides with many hours in the saddle.
Content: Two 45 min sessions with min. 5 hours rest in between. Morning Session: (‘Pyramid’) = 5 mins at 40%, 5 mins at 45%, 5 mins at 50%, 5 mins at 55%, 5 mins at 60%, 5 mins at 70%, 5 mins at 65%, 5 mins at 60%, 5 mins at 55%. Evening Session: (‘Negative Spilt’) = Start at 40% and gradually increase effort up to 70% over 40 mins. Every 4 mins make a 15 second ‘full gas’ sprint (10 sprints in total). Warm down for 5 mins at a light resistance.
Session No. 8 (Duration: 50 mins)
Goal: To push up the “threshold”, improving pace just below the red zone.
Replaces: Long interval training sessions on the road (behind a car or motorbike).
Content: Ideally you should already know your “threshold” – it will be between 70% – 90% of maximum effort, depending on form and fitness. This session starts with a progressive increase of effort (negative split) over 15 mins to reach the threshold level (set the threshold according to a specific heart rate, speed or power), then hold your effort at threshold for 10 mins. Take a 10 mins low intensity recovery and then make a second 10 min set at threshold. Warm down for 5 mins at a light resistance.
Session No. 9 (Duration: 35 mins)
Theme: HIGH CADENCE (RPM)
Goal: To improve your cadence and efficiency of pedalling at higher RPM
Replaces: Sessions where you “spin the legs” faster – difficult to achieve on variable road terrain.
Content: This session is quite difficult to do but very interesting. Ideally, you should have a cadence meter (measuring RPM). The work in this session is primarily technical, focusing on style and technique. Start with a low cadence (60 RPM) and every two minutes increase by 5 RPM. After 18 mins you will reach 105 RPM – this will feel fast! Try to stay at 105 RPM for 12 mins without exceed 75% effort. It may be hard to keep your heart rate under control at first, but don’t worry, you will improve! Warm down for 5 mins at a light resistance.
Session No. 10 (Duration: 40 mins)
Theme: SPRINT SPEED
Goal: To improve speed and acceleration.
Replaces: Sessions with sprints at a virtual finish line or at the crest of a hill.
Content: Warm-up with a gradual increase in effort over 15 mins (negative split), by adding a bit of resistance every few mins, to reach 70% effort. Over the next 5 mins build up to 100% effort, finishing with a ‘full gas’ sprint followed by a 5 min recovery period (just turn the pedals). Then make three more ‘full gas’ sprint efforts; each one building up to 100% effort over 35 secs followed by a 5 min recovery. Warm down for 5 mins at a light resistance.
Session No. 11 (Duration: 50 mins)
Goal: To evaluate your potential and progress.
Replaces: Test-style TT or long climb.
Content: Warm up with 5 mins easy (<45% effort), then 5 mins at 60% effort. Follow that with 3 x 25 secs ‘full gas’ sprints (30 sec recovery between each one) and take recovery with 2 mins slow pedalling. Then you enter the PRE-TEST period – 3 mins at 55% effort (followed by 2 mins slow pedalling), then 3 mins at 65% effort (followed by 2 mins slow pedalling), then 5 min at 70% effort (followed by 2 mins slow pedalling. The you start the TEST – go with the maximum effort you can sustain for 12 mins. Try not to go too hard to early and fade at the end. Try to sustain an even effort through the test. Warm down for 6 mins at a light resistance. At the end, check your distance, speed, cadence, average heart rates and average power outputs. Also note how your power, cadence and speed drop over time – this is natural (take a reading every 4 mins). Compare with previous tests to track your progress.
Session No. 12 (Duration: 40 mins)
Goal: To replicate the demands made on body and cardio-vascular system during long climbs.
Replaces: Long road climbs, which are only accessible when we are in the mountains.
Content: Firstly, use books to raise up the front of the home trainer – this will help to create a feeling of ascending (3 x 3 cm books [9cm] will broadly replicate a typical Alpine gradient of 7.5%, similar to Alpe d’Huez). Warm up with 10 mins easy (low resistance, as if on flat road). Then simulate the climb by adding high resistance (lowering cadence). Every 5 mins replicate the flatter switch backs by taking off a bit of resistance for 15-20 secs, then load it back on as the gradient increases back up. It’s important to maintain your effort and control your heart rate between 70%-90% (don’t drop off). To add fun and motivation, why not watch a clip on Youtube of a pro mountain stage as you ride. Remember to warm down for at least 5 mins at the end.