Riding Indoors: Keeping it Fun in the Off-Season

by Mikael Hanson of Enhance Sports

Talk of college bowl games and NFL playoffs are always a sign that winter is around the corner. We can now look forward to sub-zero temperatures, blowing winds, and frequent snow flurries – thus it is easy to get depressed when considering your winter training options (unless of course you are a skier – but that is a story for another day). Yes, there is always the gym, but for a cyclist, time on the bike is of utmost importance. However as the weather deteriorates and darkness reigns, I find that many cyclists actually dread climbing on their indoor trainer, starting that riding indoors is about as exciting as watching paint dry. Perhaps these people suffer from a lack of imagination, as I for one look forward riding indoors. For those who would class themselves in the latter category (dread), there are several things one can do to make riding indoors more enjoyable.

1. Proper environment

Your environment is a huge factor in how comfortable you are while riding. For me, the closed confines of a NYC apartment can lead to some stuffy riding conditions. Assuming you already own an indoor trainer for you bike, the next thing one should invest in is a fan. Even on the coldest winter days, I crack the window a touch and aim the fan at my chest, thus keeping the overheating to a minimum. Make sure you have a towel draped over the handlebars, and. for those of you with hardwood floors, put a couple more on the ground around your bike, as you will sweat (trust me on this one!).

If riding in your apartment is not an option, many apartment buildings allow you to bring your indoor trainer to their gym facilities (but ask before doing so). Additionally, indoor training facilities of a non-spin class variety are growing more common. From Boston to Washington DC, there are many performance centers where riding indoors on your own bike within a group setting is becoming much easier and the benefits are huge (suffering is always more enjoyable when shared)! There is Fast Splits near Boston, Cadence in Philadelphia, CycleLife in DC and the new Performance Center at Chelsea Piers in NYC (where I am affiliated).

2. What to do for entertainment?

Assuming we all don’t own Compu-trainers, we will need something to do other than watch the walls. Listening to music is always an option, but this only helps with one of our senses. Personally, I need more stimulation. Riding indoors for me means a chance to catch up on some quality TV. Why not ride while watching your favorite football or basketball team play? Or better yet, how about watching Lance win one of his many Tour de France titles on DVD or a vintage ride by Hinault? For me, my favorite source of TV entertainment is a good old James Bond flick (I own every Bond movie). If movies or sporting events aren’t for you, there are a host of training videos to invest in. Spinervals has several videos/DVDs all with different workouts, intensities, and durations to help guide you through a proper workout. Or on-line you could look into Cadence TV (membership required) and have access to their huge library of workouts used for their own indoor classes, complete with instructions on what training zone and rpm you should be riding in.

3. Keep it fun, but do have a game plan!

Sure, watching Brett Favre or James Bond will help pass the time, but you still have to think about your workout. For me the off-season is prime time to work on form and technique as even the most accomplished cyclists can re-enforce proper pedaling skills. Like a swimmer in a pool, a cyclist should use the warm-up period at the start of their ride to work on drills. After an easy 5-10 minute spin on the trainer to warm-up (and to calibrate for you compu-trainer owners), phase two of the warm-up should be some good old fashioned high cadence drills. Start off with 30 (or 60) seconds at 100 rpm, then 30 at 110 rpm, then 30 at 120 rpm, then try 15 seconds at maximum rpm. Repeat this series several times through with an aim of keeping the bouncing to a minimum and working on a smooth yet quick leg turn over. The more efficient you are at higher rpm’s, the better your pedal stroke will be at your average race cadence (which I will guess is somewhere well below 120 rpm).

After the high cadence drills, it is time for some isolation work. One of the most common drills for a swimmer is Right arm – Left arm, where the swimmer does a length of the pool using only his right arm (left arm stays extended), then only his left arm. During the isolation phase, the swimmer is focused on a full stroke with the one arm and the resulting turn of the hips. In cycling, we have one-legged pedaling drills. In this drill, the rider will take one foot off of his pedal and rest it behind him on the frame of the trainer. Then in a moderately easy gear, he will pedal with the other foot only. This drill isolates the leg and more importantly that hip flexor responsible for helping pull through the back side of the pedal stroke. Start with 15-20 seconds on the right leg, then finish out the minute with both feet on the pedals, then do the 15-20 second interval with the other leg. Repeat this process 4 to 6 times through, and over time, gradually increase the duration of the isolation drill (20 to 30, 30 to 40 seconds and so on).

With the drill work out of the way, now it is time for the core portion of your ride and given the time of year, why not try adding some spice to your indoor ride. Do a modest threshold interval or standing hill climb whenever your team has the ball, throw in a 30 second sprint for every touchdown or turnover, do a large-gear seated climb for the duration of every car chase James Bond gets into. Just use your imagination and I ensure you will see the time fly by, and you’ll get a great work out on top of it.