A Winter of Indoor Cycle Training

I’m heading off to the Malibu GranFondo soon, which will be my first significant outdoor ride of the year. 151km followed by a time trial—my first ever—may sound like starting off the year with a bang: but the ride is preceded by a training camp; and I’ve put in a lot of work indoors over the last few months. It’s my first season of training inside, or even riding consistently at all over the winter months. I bought a Wahoo KICKR a year ago, with all of this in mind, but as I started group rides shortly after the purchase, all I used it for at the time were a couple of FTP tests.

This year I was determined not to let my fitness drop off. I began with the TrainerRoad Sweet Spot Base Mid-Volume I plan in mid-October, a couple of weeks after my last ride with Velosophy. At the end of that plan, I developed an Achilles tendon issue and took four weeks to recover, with a few light recovery workouts during that time, about eight hours in total. Then I proceeded with Sweet Spot Base Mid-Volume II, which went well until I fatigued a bit in week five. I skipped a couple of the aerobic rides that week, then finished off the plan and went straight into Sustained Power Build Mid-Volume. After two weeks, of that plan I’m going to do a taper week preceding Malibu.

I’ve spent almost ninety hours on the trainer from October to February, and I think I’ve learned a lot. The coaching text in TrainerRoad may sometimes seem repetitive, but it’s excellent reinforcement. (Without my glasses, which I have to shed during intervals, the text can be difficult to read; but in an effort to do so by leaning closer to my bars, I have developed and reinforced a slightly more aero default posture on the bike!)

Setup. Two things I figured out very quickly were clothing and air movement. For clothing, wear as little as possible: I only have my heart rate monitor, cycle shorts, open-finger gloves, and short socks. I found the gloves critical both for comfort, despite the lack of road bumps, and to protect my tape from sweat and resulting bad odour. For a fan, I initially bought a fancy Dyson. Don’t bother; something like that can’t move enough air and you’ll end up with pools of sweat on the mat or floor. Go for an industrial fan like an Air King.

Pedalling technique is critical. I went to physio for my tendon issues. Ultimately, what solved the problem was a combination of some specific exercises provided by the physiotherapist, along with adding better support in my walking shoes—apparently I have slightly fallen arches. But more than these, I believe, what corrected the problem for good was a revised pedalling technique. This is a benefit of indoor cycling: the focus that is possible without the distractions of roads, cars, other cyclists, and weather, and the ability to develop good habits. Even after having done six weeks of training at five to seven hours a week, it took an injury for me to realize that I was flexing my left foot slightly more than my right. I corrected that, and have since moved on to plans with a higher weekly TSS at a higher FTP and have had no issues.

Posture is also important, as is learning to let go of tension. It took a lot of hours to get there, but I think I’ve managed to relax my grip, shoulders, and face, and keep my sit bones grounded on the seat, while working at high watts. I’ve also increased my cadence, to where I’m comfortable in the 95-100 range; I got a 50-34 chainring for climbing this year.

Incidentally, as I’ve become increasingly lean, I’ve found that I’ve had to think about new saddles. The Specialized Toupé Expert Gel I used last season now seems too hard; I’ve switched to the Fizik Antares that came with my R5.

Proper breathing can make the difference between powering through an interval and dying. And I’ve found that focusing on efficiently expelling breath after a difficult interval can greatly reduce recovery time.

Focus. With the exception of a few of the longer aerobic workouts, especially those few without instructions, I do not listen to any music or podcasts on the trainer. I figure that I won’t have them out on the road; they can be distracting and a bit of a crutch, and I think affect heart rate and, especially with music, cadence.

Wahoo sensors can be problematic. I’ve been running TrainerRoad on my iPhone. Rather than buy an ANT+ adapter for my Garmin cadence and heart rate sensors, I have been using Wahoo’s Bluetooth sensors. Their cadence sensors work well attached to the shoe, but seem to have significant problems when on the crank; I’m not sure why, but when the sensor rotates around a different axis, it can produce erratic readings. I got a replacement from Wahoo, whose service is excellent, and the problem persists. Keeping it on your shoe doesn’t always make a lot of difference until you are doing single-leg drills, but still. The “TICKR” heart rate sensor seems similarly unreliable: I’m currently waiting for a replacement. Fortunately, the KICKR itself has been very reliable.

Be aware of the location of your screen. I have attached my iPhone to my bars with a Quad Lock, which is excellent. I’m probably looking down at the app, rather than ahead at the “road,” too much, but there’s not much I can, or at least for now want to, do about that. However, be conscious of the left-right orientation of your device. I spent the first few months with the iPhone to the right of my stem; at a certain point I realized that as a result I had started leaning right a little bit on the bike, so switched it to compensate. Changing things up periodically is probably a good idea, unless you can rig something to centre-mount your device.

Conclusion: The real test of all this work will be how I do outdoors this year. I’ve been on one short ride recently, and as a result there’s little question in my mind that it’s all going to pay off. One thing I did notice out on the road is that, despite all the work on quadrants, my downstroke is slightly emphasized at certain power levels and cadences; this requires some further work.

Thanks for reading. Follow me on Strava!

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2 thoughts on “A Winter of Indoor Cycle Training

  1. Just read your blog post. Interesting stuff and impressed by your focus. I see you are already about 1250 km ahead of me this year. My goal is to catch up, though it won’t be easy. Thanks for the inspiration. Let’s go for a ride soon!

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