Six Crazy-Effective Indoor Workouts for Bike and Run

Six Crazy-Effective Indoor Workouts for Bike and Run

Whether you’re new to training indoors or consider it an essential part of your routine, these workouts will give you the adaptations you need.

Most of us will find ourselves inside for at least some of our training. We train indoors for various reasons: bad weather, safety, or to mimic race-specific terrain. While indoor training may lack the stimulus of the beauty of the outdoors, it provides some key advantages that we can maximize our performance benefit. 

Thanks to advances in technology, such as smart trainers and group training apps, indoor training can even be fun. Say what?! However, using these sorts of apps doesn’t guarantee that you are maximizing your time and using the indoors tools to their greatest benefit. 

Every training tool has advantages to help us achieve the goals we seek. The same is true for the bike trainer or the treadmill. Rather than lamenting what indoor training lacks, let’s focus on what indoor training adds. Indoor training: 

  • It creates the opportunity to train through stretches of bad weather that make outdoor training tricky at best, or unsafe and impossible at worst. 
  • It saves time, as we don’t have to prepare gear for outdoor riding or running. Just hop on the treadmill or trainer and go! This can be especially important on work days, allowing us to spend our limited time training, instead of preparing. 
  • It allows us to train safely. I coach quite a few athletes who do not have safe options if they leave from their home. So, by training indoors they are able to safely execute their workouts – while also saving time from needing to drive to the start of a bike or run route. 
  • It provides an interruption-free environment so we can nail the workout for the day. No worrying about stop signs, cars, non-race specific terrain – we can dial in what we need, and get the right work done. 
  • It gives the opportunity to mimic race-specific terrain. For example, if you live in the flatlands, you can use indoor training apps to mimic hilly routes or increase the incline on the treadmill for hill repeats. (I wrote a piece for TrainingPeaks previously that gives you some workout options for this type of training). 
  • Conversely, if you live in hilly lands, you can spend some time on “flat” ground through a steady-state ride or a 0 percent incline on the treadmill. 

When it comes to cycling, smart trainers and indoor riding apps, such as Zwift, have helped quite a bit with the boredom. While it’s fun to participate in the events, you also want to make certain that your training is working toward the specific adaptations you seek in order to achieve your goals for the season. 

To help focus your indoor training, this article includes a few ideas for workouts that you can include in your training mix for both the bike and the run. These workouts are available in a structured format to download to your devices and apps

Bike Intensity Session

First, let’s look at an intensity-focused session. Designed to have you work through several different effort levels, from tempo to very hard, this workout features a series of intervals that increase in steps, with each interval getting progressively harder. Consider including at least one intensity session on the bike per week. Be sure the day prior to and after this workout are relatively easy or steady aerobic days. 

Training adaptations that will come from this type of this workout include improvements in muscle glycogen storage, lactate tolerance and clearance, lactate threshold, and energy and oxygen delivery to working muscles. 

*Note: given the duration of the sets, I am not providing HR data, as HR can lag behind effort by 1 or more minutes. So, if you don’t use power, I recommend using your RPE to gauge the changing effort throughout these sets. 

Warm Up: 15 min @ 50-60 percent of FTP

  • 30 sec @ 90-100 percent of FTP, RPE 8-9/10
  • 30 sec @ 50-60 percent of FTP, RPE 2-3/10
  • Repeat 5x
  • Recovery two min @ 50-60 percent of FTP, RPE 2-3/10

Main Set Ramps

  • Build Ramp #1 80 percent to 100 percent FTP (RPE 6-8/10)
  • two min @ 85-90 percent of FTP
  • two min @ 80-85 percent of FTP
  • two min @ 90-95 percent of FTP
  • two min @ 95-100 percent of FTP

Recovery five min @ 50-60 percent of FTP (RPE 2-3/10)

Build Ramp #2 – 85 percent – 105 percent FTP (RPE 7-9/10)

  • two min @ 85-90 percent of FTP
  • two min @ 90-95 percent of FTP
  • two min @ 95-100 percent of FTP
  • two min @ 100-105 percent of FTP

Recovery: five min @ 50-60 percent of FTP

Build Ramp #3 – 90 percent FTP to Max effort (RPE 8-10/10)

  • two min @ 90-95 percent of FTP
  • two min @ 95-100 percent of FTP
  • two min @ 100-105 percent of FTP
  • Max Effort to finish strong two min—give it what you got!

Recovery/Cool Down: Five min @ 50-60 percent of FTP

If this is your first time doing this workout, you can move to cool down at this point. If you’ve done this workout previously, you can progress the training stress by adding another minute to the sets above, such that you are doing 3 minutes at each intensity range. Or, you can add the following: 

Sprint 30 sec to one min @ 100-120 percent of FTP (RPE 8-10/10), using a moderately heavy gear so you have something to “bite” into for these sprints and don’t spin wildly. Recover one minute, then repeat five times

Recovery/Cool Down Five to 10 min @ 50-60 percent of FTP.

Bike Endurance Sessions 

Beat your Watts

One of my favorite ways to break up a long ride on the trainer is to play a game: Beat Your Watts

For this session, you divide your long ride up into smaller segments, such as 15 or 20 minutes. After each segment, try to “beat your watts” from the previous set. Over the course of this workout, power may rise from 60 percent to 85 percent of FTP (RPE 4-7/10). 

You can separate each segment by two to four minutes of easy spinning for the first few times you do this.  Or, you can ride continuously as your aerobic fitness builds. To keep track of your averages, have your three-second power and your lap power displayed to ensure you beat your watts each set. The advantages of this workout include a solid endurance workout that helps you manage pacing. 

Smooth Shift Session

For those of you who may struggle with shifting, I recommend the Zwift Smooth Shift Session. This can be done on the Zwift app, or any smart trainer app that mimics rolling routes. Select a moderately hilly route, something that has an average of about 30-40 feet of gain per mile. To determine this, divide the total miles for the route by the total feet of climbing.

Take 15 minutes to warm up easy, allow your effort to increase from about 50 percent of FTP to 65 percent of FTP – gradually increasing from the beginning through to the end of the warm up.

Then, for the remainder of the ride take the flats and the downhills @ 65-75 percent FTP (RPE 4-5/10) and ride 80-90 percent FTP (RPE 6-8/10) for the climbs. Cadence for the flats & downhills should be at least 85 rpms. For the climbs, moderate cadence as you need in order to keep the power in check. Use the small ring in the front for the climbs and then use the cassette for micro-adjustments. If you are in your lightest gear ratio, then lower the cadence to keep the power in the correct range. 

In any endurance-focused session, you can also play with your cadence, while keeping the power stable. This cadence play is an informative exercise to show you the relationship between gearing, power, and cadence. And, you can make it a part of any ride you do. 

Run Intensity Sessions

As someone who spent most of her life, until recently, in the flatlands the best use of the treadmill for me was to get focused hill work. My favorite series in this regard is my Frog Boiler Sequence. Like the tale of the little frog that didn’t know she was being boiled as the water gradually gets hotter, these sets gradually get steeper and more intense as you go. 

Frog Boilers

Warm up 15 minutes, building from easy to steady by the end of the warm up.

Main Sets

You will do 6 x 90-second hill repeats hard to very hard (RPE 9-10/10) with 90-second recoveries in the following manner:

  • four percent incline
  • five percent incline
  • six percent incline 
  • seven percent incline 
  • eight percent incline 
  • nine percent incline 

Work to keep the same pace for each repeat. This will increase the effort, making the final sets feel very hard. Given how short the segments are, RPE will be a better indicator than HR, as that can lag. However, by the time you work through a few of these sets, HR should be getting to 90 percent+ of LTHR. 

Cool Down: 10-15 minutes easy. HR should come back down to 70-80percent FTP, RPE 2-3/10. 

To increase the intensity of this session, you can: 1) add additional repeats, 2) increase the length of the repeats from two to three minutes, 3) cut the duration of the rest period, or cut out the rest period completely. If you take the latter approach, reduce the intensity to more of a tempo effort, rather than anaerobic one. Examples of the way to progress the workout can be found here.

Risers

The one-minute riser is a great workout to try if you need to work on pacing, while also working hard. This can be a great work out if you are working to control how fast you start a race out of the gate. These sets should feel hard, but not impossible. This work provides aerobic benefits in that your pace at various HR zones will eventually increase, it works VO2 max (because of the short recoveries), and assists with neuromuscular coordination.

Warm Up: 10-15 minutes easy/Zone 1 (70-80 percent LTHR; RPE 2-3/10), building toward steady/zone 2 (80-85 percent LTHR, RPE 3-4/10).

Five x 20-second strides with 40 second easy recoveries

*A stride is an acceleration in speed, where you accelerate for the first third, hold the pace for the second third @ about 85 percent max speed, and gradually decelerate for the final third.

10 x one-minute sets that increase in effort. Start the first one at a moderately hard effort (RPE 7-8/10)- and then go a little faster each set. You should be working VERY hard by the final set (RPE 10/10). So, don’t worry if the first few don’t feel too bad. It will get hard!

One minute easy recovery, then cool down 10-15 minutes

Run Endurance Session

An endurance-focused session on the treadmill may include a series of aerobic sets at a target marathon or half marathon pace or heart rate. One of my go-to sessions here is Top Steady Sets. 

Run 20 minutes, start off easy, and then let the HR build to middle to top of zone 2 (from 70 percent to 85 percent of LTHR, or RPE 2 up to 4/10). 

Three x 15 minutes @ the top end of your zone 2 (88-90 percent LTHR or RPE 5-6/10). You can use the first three to four minutes to get your HR into the range—and then hold it there. Be mindful not to run too hard at the start to get your HR into range. It’s recommended that you let build for the first three to four minutes).

Two minutes easy as recovery (70-75 percent LTHR; RPE 4/10). Keep the recoveries to two minutes only, and make sure they are easy.

10 minutes easy run to cool down.

With a little creativity, and the right perspective, indoor training can produce the training adaptations you seek to make your big dreams a reality this coming season!

Maria Simone

A USA Triathlon Level 1 and USA Cycling Level 2 certified coach, Maria Simone is the owner and head coach of No Limits Endurance Coaching. She enjoys long weekends in the pain cave, races with hills, and hard runs through meandering single track trails with her husband and two dogs. Maria takes a holistic approach to training that considers physical ability, mental strength, and life-work-training balance. Maria works with endurance athletes of all levels, with the common thread of helping her athletes pursue and achieve their big dreams. She blogs about her personal experiences in training and racing at www.runningalife.com