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Toolbox: Smarter Indoor Training

Power training and indoor trainers simply belong together. The pure efficiency and controlled environment of training indoors partners amazingly well with precise training based on specific targeted power numbers.


The combination of accurate power measurement and controlled smart trainers have taken this to new levels, and because more and more people are now training indoors with their bicycle power meters, we are seeing significant improvements in the effectiveness of indoor training.

But there’s always a catch.

Training indoors with power can have some negative effects on your training. The introduction of clear training targets measured by watts has brought about some bad training habits, and they’re often disguised as the desire to improve performance as we focus on increasing just one number: average watts.

Here are two ways to look at indoor power training differently to improve your results.

2011 - Tour de France 2e etappe

1. Power vs. Duration

The Challenge
The introduction of power to indoor training has created a focus on “more power” that can actually be detrimental to long-term performance improvement. I often see athletes striving constantly for more power (increased watts) as the key to their breakthroughs, often repeating similar workouts in their pursuit to track their improvement by tracking, and improving, their power numbers. This obsession with “more power” leads to problems with training focus. We can become overly focused on increasing power and forget about increasing power duration and fatigue resistance.

The Solution

Change your thinking this winter. Focus more on power duration instead of pure power output.

Here’s a simple example. Say you do a lot of 2 x 20 min efforts at tempo, sweet spot, or FTP training levels as part of your base training. This probably means you’re trying to get more watts each session, often turning tempo and sweet spot work into FTP intervals.

I recommend that you focus more on increasing your time in those zones and let the power come up more naturally as you grow more fit. Instead of doing each 2 x 20 a few watts higher all winter, progressively expand the duration of your time in that zones. You could start at 2 x 15 minutes of SST and progress to 2 x 20 minutes and then then 3 x 15 minutes, which leads to 3 x 20 minutes of SST.

I progress my athletes incrementally (often 1- to 2-minute increments) over the course of their base training, but there’s no reason to sit stagnant and I will rarely plan more than two workouts at the same time length before increasing the time demand. Just remember that your power numbers will be coming up as the time increases, so you’ll need to test and monitor other data to gradually move up your power targets. You can repeat this same idea as part of FTP intervals alter in base training.

The Reason

Why give this a try? Results! Increasing your power duration/fatigue resistance is more likely to improve your results than adding a few more watts of pure power in the base training phase. How many times have you made the break or got into the lead pack only to be dropped or be unable to hold? You had the power, but you couldn’t sustain it. It’s time to change that.

Europeen championships women under 23

2. Power vs. Cadence

The Challenge

Power training is exactly what it sounds like: training by power. However, this has led to such a focus on output numbers of average power that I see more and more athletes not using their indoor training time to work cadence drills and focus on potentially improving efficiency.

The Solution

Start using more of your available data to track and encourage the introduction of efficiency drills into your training. I have my athletes focus on three types of drills during their base build:

1. Fast Pedaling
This is the simplest of all the drills, but I add a twist. I suggest doing fast pedaling drills 2-3 times a week as 10 x 1 minute with 1 minute of rest, but I like to break them up by doing 5 x 1 minute just after warming up (before the actual workout effort), then completing the final 5 x 1 minute after the workout effort (just after cool-down). We want to get cadence above 125 rpm for the minute, to not focus on power, and to focus on spinning without bouncing.

2. Over Fast Pedaling
This is a slightly more complex drill (I call it “rate coding pedaling intervals”, Google rate coding increase muscular power), but it’s effective. Just like the fast pedaling drill above, these are 10 x 1 minute, but you need to start them in a mid-range gear, get your fast pedal up to max for 30 seconds, then shift into one easier gear, spin fast for 15 seconds, and shift again to one easier gear for the final 15 seconds. This fast pedal format will teach you to “over-spin,” as each gear shift will help you spin faster than you thought possible and help improve your neuromuscular pathing and performance.

3. Progressive Pedaling Intervals
During the base training phase I also use cadence targets in my longer intervals to help develop efficiency and fatigue resistance. For example, I might prescribe a 45-minute Tempo effort with progressive cadence. This means the first 15 minutes will have a target of 75-85 rpms, the second 15 minutes 85-95, and the final 15 minutes above 95. This helps us focus both mentally and physically on the effort and on maintaining good cadence targets. This is harder than it sounds, but it’s worth it!

The Reason

Why give this a try? Improving efficiency is low-hanging fruit for many cyclists. Building both short-term and long-term efficiency can improve your ability up to 10% as demonstrated by this training response chart supplied by Dr. Andrew Coggan.


The benefits of indoor training are clear: efficiency, a controlled environment, focus, and more. Just make sure your power meter doesn’t cause you to repeat the same old training focused only on more power. Make the most of this season. Do things a little differently to get the results you want.

About Tim Cusick
Tim Cusick is a USA Cycling Coach and Master Coach with Peaks Coaching Group. Tim has been coaching for over 10 years, focusing on training and racing with power data. You can reach Tim for comments at [email protected] , and check out Tim and the entire Peaks Coaching Group for more information on coaching services, camps, and products.

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