Revitalize Your Indoor Riding Program

Revitalize Your Indoor Riding Program

This time of year it’s easy to find reasons not to ride, but with the right structure and focus, indoor training can be both fun and beneficial.

We’ve all been there—as the weather gets colder and daylight hours diminish, it becomes increasingly difficult to ride your bike, and much easier to put your training on the backburner. But it does not have to be this way! 

With the growing popularity of smart trainers for indoor cycling and interactive programs such as Zwift and TrainerRoad, you can not only continue training but take your bike workouts to the next level over the winter months. This article is meant to serve as an overview of how to potentially structure your bike training over this time period, with several examples of highly effective cycling workouts that will revitalize your indoor training program.

Phase 1: Framework & Base-Building

The first step is to determine your cycling training zones, which can be power-based or heart rate-based, or both (we will focus on power zones here). This is done by performing a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) Test and then using that number to calculate the ranges of power applicable to each zone. For my athletes, we use a six-zone system: Z1=Recovery, Z2=Aerobic, Z3=Tempo, Z4=Aerobic Threshold, Z5=Anaerobic Threshold (VO2 Max), and Z6=Anaerobic Power.

It is always a good idea to start with a base-building period focusing on aerobic fitness. The length of this period will vary depending on your capabilities, experience, and current fitness level. A reasonable timeframe would be 3-4 weeks, during which you would concentrate on low-intensity, aerobic endurance sessions. Toward the end of this training block, you can opt to include some tempo sets into the workouts which will prepare you for the next phase of training. 

An example would look like this:

Warm-up

10 minutes easy @ Z1-LZ2 (zone 1 to lower end of zone 2).

Main Set

(Repeat 5x) 5 minutes @ HZ2 (higher end of zone 2) + 2 minutes at tempo Z3; 3-minute RI (rest interval) @ Z1. (Using our 6-zone guideline, Zone 2 would equate to approximately 55-75% of FTP and Zone 3 would be 75-90% of FTP).

Cool-down

10 minutes at LZ2 (55-65% of FTP).

This workout is 70 minutes in length, with the main set being a total of 50 minutes. It can easily be shortened or lengthened by reducing or increasing the total number of repetitions in the main set. Beginners should perform fewer repetitions, whereas more advanced athletes should complete additional ones.

Phase 2: Tempo & Sub-Threshold

After establishing a base of aerobic fitness and muscular endurance for several weeks, you can progress into more challenging workouts. This phase will aim to develop cycling strength, while also pushing the cardiovascular system at a more intense level. A time period of 3-4 weeks is appropriate for this phase as well, depending on your previous training experience and capabilities. Following are two examples of workouts that can be utilized during this phase of training. The first one establishes a tempo pace that can correlate to a specific effort level which you may be able to sustain for a certain length of time. The second workout targets a more challenging effort which is slightly below or near your threshold level.

Warm-up

15-minute progressive effort, starting @ Z1 and building to HZ2 (50-70% of FTP). Include 5 x 30-sec spin-ups @ 100+ rpm during the final 5 minutes.

Main Set

(Repeat 5x) 7-minute tempo effort @ Z3 (80-85% of FTP); 3-minute RI @ LZ2 (60-65% of FTP). Aim for a cadence between 85-95 rpm.

Cool-down

10 minutes aerobic @ Z2 (60-70% of FTP), keeping cadence @ 80-90 rpm.

This workout is 75 minutes in length, with the main set being a total of 50 minutes. Again, you may choose to shorten or lengthen this session by reducing or increasing the total number of repetitions in the main set. 

Once you have established a “feel” for your tempo or Z3 effort level, it’s time to push that a bit further toward your threshold, or Z4 level: 

Warm-up

15-minute progressive effort, starting @ Z1 and building to HZ2 (50-70% of FTP). Include 5 x 30-sec spin-ups @ 100+ rpm during the final 5 min.

Main Set

(Repeat 5x) 5-minute tempo effort @ HZ3 (85-90% of FTP) followed by a 2-minute harder push to LZ4 (90-95% FTP); 3-minute RI @ LZ2 (60-65% of FTP). Aim for a cadence between 85-95 rpm.

Cool-down

10 minutes aerobic @ Z2 (60-70% of FTP), keeping cadence @ 80-90 rpm.

Depending on your goals and/or race distance, you can adjust this 75-minute workout to accommodate your specific situation. For example, if you are training for a race where you expect to be on the bike for 2-2.5 hours, you can better prepare by completing at least 7 or 8 repetitions of the main set, instead of 5. However, the goal is to be able to maintain that effort level across all sets without losing power at the end.

Phase 3: Threshold / VO2 Max & Anaerobic Power

Once you have built a foundation of aerobic endurance and muscular strength, established your tempo pace, and begun to train near your threshold level, it is time to incorporate more intense training and anaerobic intervals. Threshold is an important marker in a training plan and is defined as the intensity of exercise at which you begin producing lactate faster than your body can process it. Essentially, it is the point where you hit a performance peak, followed by an eventual decline. 

Taking this a step further, the term “VO2 Max” refers to the maximal amount of oxygen that can be inhaled and absorbed by the body. Your VO2 Max training zone is generally slightly higher than your threshold level, which is why it makes sense to establish power training zones using Zone 4 as Threshold, Zone 5 as VO2 Max, and Zone 6 as Anaerobic Power. 

Anaerobic power is an energy source which is stored in muscles, accessed without oxygen, and utilized by the lactic acid system in the body. This is contrary to the aerobic energy source, utilizing oxygen, which was established in the first phase of training. Anaerobic power is only available as short bursts of energy; therefore, it is trained using short intervals of high-intensity effort. With proper training, anaerobic capacity can be increased to improve athletic performance. For a competitive athlete, this translates to a final sprint at the end of a race!

Training at your threshold level and beyond is certainly not easy. Aside from the obvious physical toll on your body, the mental aspect of it is equally important. However, with adequate recovery in between these types of sessions, the physiological and mental adaptations achieved over time will pay dividends for you on race day. How you can utilize indoor cycling workouts to improve your threshold and anaerobic power? Glad you asked: 

Warm-up

10 minutes easy @ Z1-Z2 (50-65% of FTP). Then 10 minutes building from aerobic effort to moderate tempo at HZ2-Z3 (65-80% of FTP). *20 minutes for total set*

Main Set 1

(Repeat 4x) 3-minute threshold effort @ Z4 (95-100% FTP); 2-minute RI @ LZ2 (55-60% of FTP). *20 minutes for total set*

In between the main sets, cycle 4 minutes easy @ Z2 (65-70% of FTP)

Main Set 2

(Repeat 4x) 2-minute threshold effort @ HZ4-LZ5 (105-110% FTP); 2-minute RI @ Z2 (60-65% of FTP). *16 minutes for total set*

Cool-down

10 minutes aerobic @ Z2 (60-70% of FTP).

This 70-minute session is sure to get your heart pumping, sweat dripping, and legs burning! You can vary your cadence ranges lower or higher depending on your training goals. You might aim for a low cadence of 70-75 rpm if the goal is to simulate hill training. Conversely, shoot for 95-100+ rpm if you are looking to build up more sprint power on a flat course. Here is one final example that will undoubtedly test your limits on the bike:

Warm-up

10 minutes easy @ Z1-Z2 (50-65% of FTP). Then 10 minutes building from aerobic effort to moderate tempo at HZ2-Z3 (65-80% of FTP). *20 minutes for total set*

Main Set 1

(Repeat 6x) 30 sec anaerobic effort @ LZ6 (125-130% FTP); 1:30 RI @ Z2 (65-70% of FTP). Keep cadence above 95 rpm for the work sets and below 85 rpm for rest intervals. *12 minutes for total set*

In between the main sets, cycle 4 minutes easy @ Z2 (60-65% of FTP) followed by 4 minutes at tempo pace @ Z3 (75-80% of FTP).

Main Set 2

(Repeat 8x) 15 sec max effort @ HZ6 (145-150% FTP); 1 minute RI @ HZ2 (70-75% of FTP). Keep cadence above 95 rpm for the work sets and below 85 rpm for rest intervals. *10 minutes for total set*

Cool-down

10 minutes aerobic @ Z2 (60-70% of FTP).

Training sessions like this are where you truly get the most bang for your buck! It is a grueling 60 minutes of pushing yourself, both physically and mentally. If you haven’t completed workouts like this before, it might be a good idea to start with fewer repetitions of each main set and see how your body handles it.

Now that you have a clear vision of how to structure your indoor cycling program, it is up to you to take the next step. Get organized with your training plan and set reasonable, yet challenging, goals for both the short-term and long-term. Understand the purpose of each workout and strive to complete it with your best effort. If you are not sure where to begin or need help with any aspect of your training program, seek assistance! The guidance of a certified coach can be a valuable resource on your journey to achieving the Next Level of Performance!

Adam D’Agostino

Adam D’Agostino is a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). He is a USA Triathlon (USAT) Certified Coach and US Masters Swimming (USMS) Level 3 Coach. Adam has additional certifications from NASM as a Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES), Mixed Martial Arts Conditioning Specialist (MMACS), & Nutrition/Weight Loss Specialist (WLS). In addition, he holds the TRX Functional Training Certification (FTC) and is a TrainingPeaks Certified Coach. Adam competes in Triathlons of all distances and has qualified for the USAT National Championships in 7 consecutive years (2012-2018). He is a two-time qualified athlete on Team USA at the ITU Multisport World Championships for Long-Distance Triathlon (2017 & 2019). Adam is the owner and head coach at Next Level Training & Performance in NJ, where he specializes in Personal Training, Triathlon Coaching, Nutrition, & Athlete Performance.