An expert coach joins us today to share how to get the most out of indoor training.

By: Susan Hefler of HPC Cycling

Susan Hefler has been an athlete for most of her life through running, riding road/MTB/CX/track, and bi- and triathlon. She started at a young age running self-made marathon courses on her family's 160 acre Black Angus farm, and went on to pursue an education in peptide chemistry and exercise physiology at the University of Virginia. Now she has been working with athletes for over 20 years and runs HPC Cycling, based in Northern Virginia.

She has extensive experience coaching athletes of all ages ranging from amateur to elite competitors – her athletes have finished on the podium at 10 National Championship cycling events, ridden in WorldTour races, successfully completed Ironman, Half Ironman, and Olympic and sprint distance triathlons, won RAAM, and earned age group and overall wins at numerous MTB events.

Susan specializes in combining science with pure passion for sport to guide her athletes to hundreds of wins, and her extensive knowledge of physiology shows in the performance gains of her athletes. She opened an indoor cycling training facility in 2003 and her expertise of on indoor training is continually evolving to incorporate the latest technology. Susan is a big advocate of the merits of indoor training and today answers our questions with expert guidance on incorporating the trainer into your training plan. 

What are the benefits of indoor training?

Hands down, the answer is quality training. Cycling indoors is a steady constant motion with no resting. Some of us are lucky enough to live where open roads exist, but many do not. Living in Northern Virginia, I don't have anything longer than a 2-minute interval because of stoplights, intersections with stop signs, and so much traffic. With indoor training, you can ride for any length of time and get tremendous steady riding benefits.

How much time should I take off my ride time if I'm riding indoors?

Indoor training is worth roughly 50% more, so an hour inside is approximately equivalent to 90 minutes outside. There is NO free pedaling, no coasting; you always have to apply pressure to pedal and generate wattage. The time savings are huge for those on tight schedules and/or facing a lack of daylight hours.

Weather permitting, how often should I do indoors versus outdoor training?

I would say the best answer to this is how much you can stand it. Balance is key in all sports and while indoor cycling is quality, there is little visual stimulation, connection with the outdoors, fresh air, etc. There are many reasons why people ride bikes, beyond just training for racing.

For some, cycling is purely a fitness tool and so these people may ride an hour a day, every day. That's fine. But for the riders spending 15+ hours a week on a bike, it is nice to balance indoor riding with "road legs" – getting outside and having awareness on the road and sharpening bike handling skills. You don't get any handling skills bolted to the floor on a trainer. So the short answer is that it depends on what your goals are and why you ride a bike.

How hard should I ride indoors?

Being that quality is the biggest reason for riding inside, many people do their harder workouts inside and endurance/easier rides outside. Endurance riding is not as difficult to control outside, whereas getting in perfectly timed intervals outside, in traffic, is almost impossible (unless you live in more remote places). 

I would say the biggest advantage for indoor riding is the fact you can do perfect intervals at a prescribed intensity level and duration and never have to stop halfway through for a stoplight.

Why does it feel harder to ride inside than outside?

Mental stimulation. Outside, even when going hard, we can look around and see trees, birds, etc. Inside there is entertainment available (music, movies, etc.) but there is a lot more focus on “Here I am, inside on a bike.” For fitness rides lasting an hour per day, that may not be a big deal. But when you spend 2-3 hours on a bike trainer, it can be mentally taxing.

One important thing is to not abuse indoor riding; if it is going to be a solid 6 months of snow, balance trainer riding with cross-country skiing or strength and core work. Even the mentally super tough will get burned out if they do nothing but ride inside. There is not enough stimulation.

Why is my heartrate often higher when I ride inside?

This is likely due to heat and increased core temperatures; you want to have fans on you to keep your core temps down. Ideally, work out in a room where you can keep it cool and lower the thermostat. But even having a few fans on you will do the trick because once you start sweating, the fans work well to cool the body. It is crucial to not overheat while indoor training. 

Some people think they should treat indoor riding like hot yoga session, but I wouldn't suggest this, especially if the workout calls for higher intensity. You will simply burn up. For those that have any form of cardio problems (and many are undiagnosed), it could be life or death. So use a fan to keep your core temps down and sweat a lot! It’s very cleansing and you won't burn up.

Any tips on maximizing the benefits of riding indoors?

  • Figure out what works for you to pass the time: for some, rocking out on music works, for others, watching movies works. When you start to lose motivation, focus on the fact that the trainer is allowing you to get a high-quality workout done in a short time period. 

  • Make sure you hydrate well, because without wind, you sweat more. Just like when training outside, use a hydration mix to replenish electrolytes.

  • Get out of the saddle periodically and move around. Change hand position on the bars.

  • Use a high wheel block to simulate climbing and use different muscles.

  • When you are riding for more than an hour and doing intensity, don't forget to take in calories.

  • When you have had enough indoor training, go outside and look around. You have to have both – good quality training, but also time where your soul connects and gets fresh air. Balance is critical.

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