When cyclists and triathletes want to or need to ride inside, my new book Ride Inside can help them get more fitness from every indoor cycling workout.
All of the following workouts from Ride Inside are designed for riding indoors on a cycling machine or on a bike mounted on an indoor trainer. Note that some cycling machines and trainers may not be stable enough for aggressive pedaling while standing on the pedals as when sprinting. You will likely need multiple fans (head-on, side, and rear) to keep you cool so that heart rate is stable. Sweat may damage parts of your bike or the floor where you are riding, so absorbent covers may be necessary. Excessively dripping sweat indicates that you need more fans or a cooler indoor venue for the ride. The workout codes are from my Cyclist’s and Triathlete’s Training Bibles. Go to their appendixes to find further discussion.
T1. FTP and FTHR Tests
The purpose of this test is to determine your functional threshold power (FTP) and functional threshold heart rate (FTHR). Both can be determined by doing a single test. You must use a power meter to determine FTP, and you need a heart rate monitor for FTHR. Do this test following 3 to 5 days of short and low-intensity training so that you come into it fresh and ready for a hard effort. A good time for it is after a rest and recovery break from training. This test can easily be done on an indoor cycling machine or trainer, but realize that power in either case is likely not to be the same as when on the road. Heart rate is the same regardless, however. Unfortunately, this means that if you have a power meter you should do two tests—one that determines your indoor FTP and the other for your outdoor FTP. This will give you two sets of power zones. But, of course, you’ll only need one set of heart rate zones. Be aware also that using different bikes, cycling machines, or power meters, either indoors or on the road, is likely to result in FTPs that don’t agree. That will make for confusing workouts. The only way to be sure that your power zones are set up correctly is to use the same indoor cycling machine or trainer and the same power meter every time you ride.
Duration: 1 hour
Warm-up: Warm up for about 20 minutes. In the last 10 minutes, include 3–5 high-intensity efforts of 30 seconds to 2 minutes each with equally long recoveries. Then recover for 3 to 5 minutes before starting the test main set.
Main set: During the test, ride as if you are doing a time trial race that lasts 20 minutes.
Effort: Hold back slightly in the first 5 minutes (most riders start much too fast). At the end of every 5-minute portion, decide whether to go slightly harder or easier for the next 5 minutes.
Cadence: Pedal as if you are racing in a time trial or triathlon with a comfortably high cadence.
Cool down: Spin easily for 20 minutes in a low gear with heart rate in zone 1.
Progression: This test is best completed about every 6 weeks. Be sure that the indoor testing conditions (temperature, fans, indoor training equipment, power meter) are the same every time.
Coach’s Notes: After the workout, note your average heart rate for the 20-minute test. Subtract 5 percent and you have an estimate of your FTHR. Next, use the following Heart Rate Zones table to determine your heart rate training zones. To determine FTP from the same test, subtract 5 percent from your average power for the 20-minute test portion and you have an estimate of FTP. You can then use this Power Zones table to set your power training zones.
|Heart Rate Zones||Multiply your FTHR of _____ by the percentages below…||…to determine your personal heart rate zones and record below.|
|Zone 1||80% and less|
|Zone 5c||107% and more|
|Power Zones||Multiply your FTP of _____ by the percentages below…||…to determine your personal power zones and record below.|
|Zone 1||55% and less|
|Zone 7||151% and more|
AE1. Recovery Workout
The purpose of this workout is to recover from a hard ride the day before or from a multi-day period of stressful training.
Duration: 30 minutes to 2 or more hours
Warm-up: No warm-up is needed for this ride.
Main set: There is no separate main set for this workout. It remains the same from start to finish–low intensity.
Effort: Heart rate is the best indicator of intensity for this ride. Stay in zone 1 for the entire ride. On the 0 (low) to 10 (high) rating of perceived exertion scale, this ride is a 2 or 3. Breathing should be easy throughout. If using a power meter, when done your Intensity Factor (IF) should be under 60%.
Recover: No additional recovery is needed within this workout as the entire ride is focused only on recovery.
Cadence: This workout is typically done at a medium cadence within your comfortable cadence range.
Cool down: No cool down is necessary for this ride as the entire ride is very easy.
Progression: This is the most frequently used workout of all. You should do this ride 3 to 5 times weekly.
Coach’s Notes: This ride is recommended for well-experienced and advanced riders. Novice riders are best advised to take a day off from riding rather than to ride easily. This ride is best done alone without signing into an Internet indoor cycling app with other riders. The day following this ride you should feel refreshed. If not, then the recovery ride was not easy enough or you need to take a day off instead.
AE2. Aerobic Threshold
The aerobic threshold workout will boost aerobic fitness by improving your body’s delivery of oxygen and energy, largely from fat, to the muscles. This ride is done throughout the season, but it’s especially important in the early Base season when aerobic fitness is the primary focus.
Duration: 45 minutes to 2 or more hours
Warm-up: The warm-up is relatively short. About 10 to 15 minutes is adequate.
Main set: Following the warm-up, ride mostly in upper zone 1 and lower zone 2 at a steady effort. This main set may last from 30 minutes to 2 hours or more depending on the type of event you are training for and your current level of fitness.
Effort: Heart rate is the preferred measure of intensity and should be about 30bpm below your FTHR (plus or minus 2bpm). Using a rating of perceived exertion scale of 0 (low) to 10 (high), the effort of this ride is about a 3 or 4. Although heart rate is preferred, if you only have a power meter available, you may ride in low zone 2.
Recover: Recovery is not a concern for this ride as the effort is quite low.
Cadence: Ride at a medium cadence within your comfortable cadence range.
Cool down: Ride in heart rate zone 1 for 5–10 minutes following the main set.
Progression: As your aerobic fitness progresses throughout the season this workout is done primarily to maintain aerobic endurance.
Coach’s Notes: The aerobic threshold ride is commonly the longest workout in a rider’s training week. As your aerobic fitness improves, the AE2 ride may serve as an extension of your workout and be preceded by another main set forming a combined-ability ride. The AE2 main set is typically 30 minutes to 2 or more hours, depending on your event and training goal. This workout can also gauge the progress of your aerobic fitness. If you use both a power meter and a heart rate monitor when riding, after finishing this session divide your average power by your average heart rate for the steady ride portion of the ride’s main set to determine your efficiency factor (EF). A gradually rising EF over the course of several weeks indicates improving aerobic endurance. It is unlikely to be a continually steady rise and will instead ratchet upward when aerobic fitness is progressing well. This is a perfect workout to do inside as you can do it with no interruptions due to traffic, terrain, stop streets, or weather.
SS2+AE2. Isolated Leg + Aerobic Threshold Combined Workout
The purpose of this workout is to refine your pedaling skills and improve your aerobic fitness.
Duration: 45–90 minutes
Warm-up: Ride easily for 10–15 minutes.
Main set: On an indoor cycling machine or trainer, using a very light resistance, pedal with one leg only. The resting leg may be supported by placing the foot on a chair or stool next to the machine or trainer. On an indoor trainer, be careful not to get your foot near the back wheel. In a very low (easy) gear and using only one leg, turn the cranks with a high cadence for 30–60 seconds. Change legs when hip flexor fatigue begins to set in. Focus on eliminating the dead spots at the top (12 o’clock) and bottom (6 o’clock) of the stroke. To do this try to move the foot and pedal horizontally at the top and bottom of the stroke. This can be done by lowering the heel slightly at the 12 o’clock position and raising it slightly at the 6 o’clock position. Alternate pedaling and resting legs for 2–6 minutes to complete 1 set. After each set pedal using both legs at a low (heart rate zone 1) intensity until the hip flexors feel refreshed. Then start another set. Complete 3–6 sets of isolated leg pedaling. After the isolated leg portion of the main set, ride in high zone 1 and low zone 2 (about your aerobic threshold, as described in AE2) for 20–60 minutes. During this segment of the workout focus on good pedaling technique, especially at the tops and bottoms of each stroke.
Effort: For the isolated leg portion of the ride, heart rate remains in zone 1. During the aerobic threshold portion, heart rate may be slightly higher in low zone 2.
Recover: Recovery between isolated-leg sets depends on how long it takes your hip flexors to feel refreshed and ready to go again. If you err here make it on the side of too much recovery. Recovery is not a factor in the aerobic threshold portion.
Cadence: During the isolated leg sets pedal with a comfortably high cadence. For the aerobic threshold portion use a medium cadence within your comfortable cadence range.
Cool down: Ride in heart rate zone 1 for 5 to 10 minutes following the main set.
Progression: This workout is mostly done in the Base season when developing both pedaling skills and aerobic fitness are primary concerns. But this workout may be done at any time during the season to maintain skills and aerobic fitness.
Coach’s Notes: Most riders don’t take pedaling skills seriously enough assuming that there is no skill in pedaling. They are wrong. Economical cyclists have been shown to have more efficient pedaling skills when compared with less advanced riders. Improved efficiency means less energy expended and therefore greater fitness.
MF1. Force Intervals
The purpose of the MF1 workout is to increase muscular force production in the muscles that drive the pedals. This workout is most often done in the early Base season to prepare the legs for the more advanced ME workouts that follow later. But they may also be done at any time during the year to build or maintain muscular strength. This is a classic high-reward, high-risk workout, as explained below. Be cautious with your knees.
Duration: 45–60 minutes
Warm-up: The warm-up for this workout is critical to avoiding injury, especially of the knees. Do not shorten the warm-up of 20 minutes. After 10 minutes of easy pedaling, do several 10- to 20-second intervals at a relatively high and increasing intensity while remaining seated. Start at a somewhat low and controlled intensity and gradually increase the effort on each subsequent interval. They are not done at a maximum effort in the warm-up until the last one. Recover for 90–120 seconds after each interval. You should feel completely recovered before doing the next such interval. Allow for 2–3 minutes of easy pedaling before starting the main set.
Main set: Following the warm-up, shift to a very high gear, such as 53 × 14, and bring your rear wheel to a complete stop. Then, while staying seated, drive the pedals down with as much force as you can produce. Turn the cranks for only 6 or 8 downstrokes for each leg (of course, you are alternating legs and pedaling as you normally do—it’s not just pedaling with one leg). The effort should be extremely high for each downward pedal stroke. While the first couple of pedal strokes will be quite slow—around 50 rpm or lower—the cadence will gradually rise with increasing speed. But each work interval will only take a few seconds. The first time you do this workout, complete only 1 interval of 6–8 pedal downstrokes. Over the course of a few weeks gradually add more intervals. Build up to doing 3 intervals with 6–8 pedal downstrokes in each within a workout. If you do a second or third interval, recover after each by riding slowly and easily in heart rate zone 1 in a low gear for at least 5 minutes before starting the next one. Remember, the resistance for this drill involves experimentation with gearing until you find the most appropriate setting. Err on the low-gear (easy) side at first. For the advanced rider do this workout no more than twice per week, with at least 48 hours separating the sessions. The less-experienced rider should do it only once per week.
Effort: This workout is best done with a power meter. (The intervals are much too short for a heart rate monitor to be useful.) Without a power meter the rating of perceived exertion should be 9–10 on a 0 (low) to 10 (high) scale. This workout’s effort, for example, in the 53 × 14 gearing would roughly equate to 2–3 times your FTP. Do the first one at a low power output within this range (about 2 x FTP), and gradually increase the effort as the workout progresses. Ideally, you want that wattage to be light enough that you can still turn the pedals at about 50 rpm but heavy enough that you cannot last more than 6–8 downstrokes as you build to 60–70 rpm within an interval. Always begin the first interval on the easier, safer side (a slightly lower/easier gear), and work your way up (higher/harder gears) rather than risking an injury by starting with too much resistance. If there is reason for concern about your knees, do only 1 set of 4 to 6 total pedal downstrokes and also be conservative with gear selection and effort. Or don’t do the workout at all if you have a history of knee problems. If at any time during this workout your knees feel unusually tender or overly stressed, stop the main set and pedal easily in a low gear for the remainder of the ride. Warning: This is a high-risk workout. Such risky sessions can produce great fitness benefits. But doing them to the point of injury is certainly not beneficial.
Recover: Take about 5 minutes to recover between sets. Do not shorten the recovery as it takes that long to restore creatine phosphate—the main energy source for this workout.
Cadence: For the high-load intervals cadence will be very low. Expect it to be 50rpm or less for the first couple of pedal strokes with a slight increase to perhaps 70rpm for the last pedal stroke.
Cool down: Ride in heart rate zone 1 for the remainder of the workout.
Progression: Start with only 1 of these intervals and, assuming no knee problems, add 1 more interval each of the next 2 weeks. Then stay at 3 intervals going forward for each such workout.
Coach’s Notes: This workout is much like doing squats on a bike. It is critical that you do not shorten the 5-minute recovery time between intervals. That will only produce fatigue, which reduces power production. This is not an endurance workout. The ultimate purpose is to develop power. You must be well-recovered after each interval for that to happen.
ME1. Tempo Intervals
The purpose of tempo intervals workout in the base season is to prepare you for the cruise intervals workout (ME2), which typically follows later in the season. However, for very long events such as Ironman triathlon or ultra-distance cycling this is a standard workout throughout the latter part of the preparation period as well.
Duration: 90 minutes to 1 hour, 45 minutes
Warm-up: Ride for about 25 minutes. For the first 8 minutes pedal at an easy effort. During the next 12 minutes complete 3 intervals that are 1, 2, and 3 minutes long in power zone 3 (or a perceived exertion of 5 on a 10-high scale). Recover after each interval with an equally long period of easy pedaling. Then complete the warm-up by pedaling easily for 5 minutes before starting the main set.
Main set: After the warm-up, do 3–5 work intervals in power zone 3 (or heart rate zone 3 or a perceived exertion of 5 on a 10-high scale) with very easy, brief recoveries in zone 1. The work intervals are fairly long, at 12–20 minutes, with recovery intervals that are about one-fourth as long: 3–5 minutes. For example, following a 16-minute work interval, recover for 4 minutes. Stay seated for each work interval. If training only with a heart rate monitor, the work interval starts as soon as you begin pedaling hard—not when zone 3 is achieved. There will be a time lag during the interval as your heart rate is catching up. Don’t try to force your heart rate to rise more quickly. During the recovery intervals you should be in power zone 1 or a perceived exertion of about 2 on a 10-high scale.
Effort: Each main set work interval is done in power or heart rate zone 3 or at a perceived exertion of 5.
Recover: The recoveries between work intervals are zone 1 (very easy) and are one-fourth the duration of the preceding work interval. For example, following a 12-minute work interval, recover for 3 minutes.
Cadence: Your cadence should be about the same as when racing in a long time trial or triathlon.
Cool down: Ride easily for 10 minutes after the last interval.
Progression: This workout may be done twice weekly for most riders. It is most commonly used in the early Base season but may be continued throughout the entire season for riders doing long, steady state events such as Ironman triathlon or ultra-distance races.
Coach’s Notes: At first this workout may seem like a grueling main set, but it will eventually seem easier. It’s perfect for moderate-intensity indoor rides throughout the season.
ME2. Cruise Intervals
The purpose of this workout is to develop your muscular endurance, which is the ability to maintain a relatively high and steady speed for a relatively long time as in a triathlon or time trial.
Duration: 1–1.5 hours
Warm-up: Ride for about 25 minutes. For the first 8 minutes pedal at an easy effort. During the next 12 minutes complete 3 intervals that are 1, 2, and 3 minutes long in power zone 4 (or a perceived exertion of 7 on a 10-high scale). Recover after each interval with an equally long period of easy pedaling. Then complete the warm-up by pedaling easily for 5 minutes before starting the main set.
Main set: Do 3 work intervals of 6–12 minutes duration each.
Effort: Each work interval should be done at about the anaerobic threshold: perceived exertion of 6 or 7 on a 10-high scale, power zone 4, or heart rate zone 4. Power is the preferred gauge of intensity for this main set, but heart rate may be used since the work intervals are long. For power, ride at or slightly below your FTP in zone 4. If using heart rate, gradually raise your pulse to just below your FTHR on each work interval. With heart rate, the timed work interval portion begins as soon as the hard effort begins, not when heart rate reaches the goal intensity. As your heart rate gradually increases in the early stages of the main set, intensity is estimated based on a perceived exertion of 6 or 7 on a 10-high scale.
Recover: After each work interval, recover in zone 1 with easy pedaling for one-fourth of the duration of the preceding work interval. For example, after a 6-minute work interval, recover for 90 seconds.
Cadence: Use a cadence that is similar to what you would use in a time trial or triathlon. An optional variation of this main set that challenges you to work harder is to shift every 20–60 seconds between your normal gear and cadence for this intensity and a slightly higher (harder) gear with a slightly lower cadence. Shift back to the previous lower gear as fatigue begins to set in at the higher gear.
Cool down: Ride easily for 10 minutes after the last interval.
Progression: The first time you do this main set after a few weeks of not having done it, do a total of about 12 minutes of work intervals (for example, 2 × 6 minutes). If new to this type of main set, you should probably only do one 6-minute work interval the first time. And that should have been preceded by a few ME1 main sets in the past few weeks. Gradually, over a few such sessions, increase the total combined work interval duration to about 18–30 minutes (for example, 3 × 6 minutes or 3 × 10 minutes). Focus on staying relaxed during each work interval. The pedal cadence should be at a comfortable level for each work interval.
Coach’s Notes: Be sure to complete at least 3 ME1 sessions before doing this workout. This workout is commonly done starting near the end of the Base season and extending into the Build season.
AnE1. VO2max Intervals
The purpose of this workout is to increase your aerobic capacity (VO2max), power, and speed and to increase the amount of time during which you can maintain that intensity. The optional main sets call for quite a high intensity—well above your anaerobic threshold. Don’t try this workout until you have established a significant improvement in your aerobic fitness over several weeks by using workouts like the ME1 Tempo and ME2 Cruise Intervals workouts.
Duration: 50–60 minutes
Warm-up: About 20 minutes total. Spin easily for 5 minutes at a low effort and gradually add short efforts (10–20 seconds) in increasingly higher zones. Finish with 3 x 1 minute at an intensity of power zone 5 or perceived exertion 9 with 1-minute recoveries after each.
Main set: Do 10–30 x 30-second intervals, 5–15 x 1-minute intervals, 3–7 x 2-minute intervals, or 2–5 x 3-minute work intervals.
Effort: Power zone 5 or a perceived exertion of 9 on a 10-high scale for each work interval. Heart rate is not used.
Recover: Ride in zone 1 or perceived exertion of 2 on a 10-high scale for a length of time equal to the preceding work interval (e.g., 30 seconds work followed by 30 seconds of recovery).
Cadence: At the high end of your personal comfort range or about 85–100+ rpm.
Cool down: Ride easily in zone 1 for about 20 minutes.
Progression: Start at the low end of the number of intervals suggested in “main set” above, and each week gradually increase the number of intervals in a session. It’s recommended that you do this workout no more than once weekly in the Build season. As fitness improves, gradually reduce the recovery time to half the previous work interval’s duration.
Coach’s Notes: The first time you do this main set, start with 3–5 minutes of total work interval time (for example, 6 x 30 seconds = 3 minutes total) and gradually, over several sessions, build to a maximum of 15 minutes in a session (for example, 5 x 3 minutes). Going beyond 15 minutes is not recommended.
AnE1+AE2. VO2max Intervals + Aerobic Threshold Combined Workout
The purpose of this workout is to maintain the rider’s aerobic capacity and his/her aerobic fitness.
Duration: 1–2 hours
Warm-up: About 20 minutes total. Spin easily for 5 minutes at a low effort and gradually add short efforts (10–20 seconds) in increasingly higher zones with long recoveries. Finish with 3 x 1 minute at an intensity of power zone 5 or perceived exertion 9 with 1-minute recoveries after each. Ride for about 3–5 minutes easily before starting the main set.
Main set: The VO2max portion of the main set is the same as the AnE1 session above. After the intervals, ride in steadily for 30–40 minutes as in AE2 above.
Effort: The VO2max intervals are done at power zone 5 or a perceived exertion of 9 on a 10-high scale. The aerobic threshold portion following the intervals in the main set is done at high heart rate zone 1 to low zone 2 or a perceived exertion of 3–4.
Recover: Recover in heart rate zone 1 after each VO2max interval with a duration equal to the preceding work interval.
Cadence: For the VO2max intervals, the cadence is the high end of the rider’s comfort range. The aerobic threshold portion is done in the mid-range of the rider’s comfortable cadence range.
Cool down: Ride in heart rate zone 1 for 5–10 minutes following the main set.
Progression: This workout is best done in the Build season to maintain the rider’s aerobic and anaerobic endurance. It should be done no more than once weekly.
Coach’s Notes: The best time to do this type of workout is in the Build period, but some advanced riders may also do it near the end of the Base season. It’s excellent for maintaining a high level of fitness.