Toolbox: Spice Up Your Indoor Workouts
In April, Toolbox contributor Josh Horowitz argued for the relevance of indoor training even during the prime outdoor riding and racing season, with the main benefit being control over specific workouts. That leads to the obvious question of what are some key in-season indoor workouts for the time-crunched athlete?
No doubt by now, some of you have been following my advice in last month’s article which suggested you taken some (or all) of your training indoors. Like learning anything new in cycling, training the body and mind to get quality workouts on a trainer or on rollers takes time and commitment. If you managed to make it past the first two weeks of indoor training, you most likely started to see a reduction in boredom and restlessness and an improvement in ride quality during your sessions.
So now that you’ve made the cross over, you might be wondering whether you can just continue with your training as usual right? Yes and no. You could very well continue doing the same effective workouts you did indoors on the road. Namely, these workouts include 15-minute threshold intervals, 10-minute muscle tension intervals, 30-minute high spin intervals, 3-minute VO2 max intervals, 1-minute anaerobic capacity intervals and 45-minute easy recovery sessions. These are listed in more detail below too.
You can continue to do these workouts indoors, but due to the monotony of stationary training it may benefit your training, not to mention your state of mind, to spice things up a bit.
Readers who have followed my articles over the years and have purchased my online training programs know that I subscribe to the simplicity principle when it comes to assigning intervals. I believe in smooth, consistent, steady state intervals, no matter the duration or the intensity. Each type of interval I’ve listed above works a different energy system, or set of systems, and as long as the interval is done entirely within the suggested zone, then the desired outcome will be achieved.
So while I still believe in smooth, steady state intervals as the best way to improve fitness, here are some twists you can add to your standard workouts to make the time go faster on the indoor trainer. Keep in mind, all of these intervals can also be done in a controlled atmosphere out on the road.
Standard Workout – Threshold Interval: These workouts are done to improve anaerobic threshold and endurance. Traditionally, they are done at a steady effort, mimicking that which you would run in a time trial effort for 15 to 45 minutes.
Indoor Twist – Over Under Interval: After a good warm up, accelerate to anaerobic threshold heart rate or power. Maintain this intensity level for 5 to 10 minutes, then increase your effort to above threshold or to the point where your body goes anaerobic. Hold this intensity for 2 to 3 minutes, then drop your intensity level back to threshold. Continue to go back and forth for up to 30 minutes. If you are just starting out, try 3 minutes under, 3 minutes over and 3 minutes under. Recover for 9 minutes and repeat. You can increase the length and the number of “over-unders” as you become fitter.
This workout trains your body to process more lactic acid, preventing it from pooling in the muscles causing burning and fatigue. The over under intervals are especially good for teaching your body how to recover at a high intensities which is often required in real life situations.
Traditional Workout – VO2 Max Interval: These workouts are done to increase VO2 max or the ability to achieve and sustain high intensities, above anaerobic threshold. Traditionally, they last 3 to 5 minutes and are paced evenly using power (they are too short to get accurate heart rate readings).
Indoor Twist – Breakaway Simulation: This workout is similar to the over under, but with a slightly different purpose. Rather than accelerating smoothly and maintaining a high power output from beginning to end as you would do on the road, try the following three-minute interval. Start with a fast, out of the saddle acceleration at 97% effort level. Not quite an all out sprint, but close. Continue for 30 seconds and then shift into an easier gear. Settle in and maintain a high power output for two full minutes. With 30 seconds left in the interval, accelerate again, this time at 100% effort level. Maintain this all the way to the end of the three-minute interval.
These intervals apply to a very practical race or training ride scenario. They simulate the attack or the break away. The first 30-second effort replicates an initial attack in which you attempt to separate yourself from the pack or follow a breakaway move. The next two minutes simulate the high pace you will have to maintain during your break in order to stave off the galloping pack. The final 30-second effort simulates the sprint for the finish, the prime or the intermediate sprint line on the road. It is one thing to be able to sprint while rested, but a much more practical skill is to have the ability to sprint while under severe strain.
Traditional Workout – The 1-minute Max Effort: These all out 1-minute intervals are traditional done on the road using a smooth and steady power output. The purpose is to improve anaerobic capacity.
Indoor Twist – Make it or Break it Interval: There comes a moment in every race or challenging training ride where you have to decide how bad you really want it. Are you willing to give everything, physically and mentally, to achieve your goal or would you rather not take the risk of putting it all on the line with the chance of later getting dropped? These intervals will increase the “all” that you have to give. Start with a high level of resistance so that with an all out effort, your cadence is at 60rpm. For the first 30 seconds, pedal as hard as you can, pushing at 100% effort level at 60 rpm. At the 30-second mark, quickly and drastically drop the resistance (the equivalent of shifting from your 11 to your 15 or 17) and continue at a 100% effort level for the final 30 seconds.
It may take a while to get the hang of these. You will know you are doing them correctly when you find that even with the last 30 seconds done at a much lower resistance level, you will still not be able to get your cadence much above 70 because of the massive effort you put out in the first half.
These intervals are for any of us who have ever made it to the top of a climb with the group, but let a gap open up as they began to descend the other side. Among other things, these intervals will train you to get to the top of the climb or roller with the group and continue with the pace as they crest the hill and start to go down the other side.
Traditional Workout – High Spin or No Load Revving: Traditionally done on a flat road with very little resistance at a cadence of 120 to 130 rpm for 10 to 60 minutes with the goal of increasing leg speed and pedaling efficiency.
Indoor Twist – Spin Ups: The old fashioned high spin interval is actually a great workout to do on a trainer or rollers, but if you are looking to mix things up a bit, give these a try. Over the course of 30 seconds, with very little resistance, build up to the absolute highest cadence you can achieve while keeping your form relatively smooth. Hold that cadence for as long as you can (1 to 3 minutes) while maintaining decent form. Rest for 3 minutes and repeat. Continue until you can no long reach your maximum pedaling speed.
The reason I prefer to assign steady state high spin over these more explosive intervals is because of concern over potential injury. In order to prevent injuries, make sure to accelerate smoothly over the first 30 seconds. Don’t over extend yourself in order to reach a higher maximum cadence. If you find your hips are rocking or you feel that you are out of control, lower your revs just a bit until your cadence is smoother and your upper body is relaxed and still.
So, there you have it. Your workout is cut out for you over the next few weeks. Remember, with the exception of the spin ups, these are all extremely high intensity intervals so make sure to give yourself plenty of recovery. Throw on the Tour DVD, plug in the MP3 player and get to work!
Note: All of the above workouts can be done with PowerCranks for an even more effective and time efficient workout.
Josh Horowitz is a USCF Certified coach and an active Category 1 racer. For more information about his coaching services and any coaching questions you may have, check out his website at LiquidFitness.com. To find out more about the Liquid Cycling club, go to LiquidCycling.com.