How indoor cycling can enhance your outdoor cycling performance
Indoor cycling is not only a lot of fun. It can build you a community of friends, it can help you hit your fitness goals, and it makes you feel good. Many indoor cyclists question how indoor cycling can enhance your outdoor cycling performance.
In this article, we are going to tell you what parts of cycling performance indoor cycling does complement and what it doesn’t complement. Indoor and outdoor cycling do benefit each other and as a certified personal trainer, this is a question I am often asked.
How Cycling Indoors Improves Cycling Outdoors
Indoor cycling performance is hard to get, and making improvements isn’t easy. Training indoors can hugely improve your power output and has so many other benefits, such as even increasing lactate threshold heart rate levels and aerobic and muscular endurance systems. Any well trained cyclists will tell you that structured training indoors is one of the best ways to increase your power output. The benefits of training indoors are huge, and we believe all cyclists can take a lot away from it.
There are pluses and minuses to indoor cycling, and a lot of cyclists don’t really understand it. Here we’re going to talk about all the good stuff that comes from indoor cycling to improve our outdoor performance. We will also speak about the bad stuff which comes from just training indoors and how to correct it.
1. Improves Structure
One thing many outdoor cyclists struggle to attain on a ride is structure. The structure is doing the correct things at the proper time to make suitable training adaptations. For example, sprinting at certain times or not working too hard at other times.
Indoor cycling, you can create this structure easily. You don’t have to worry about anything like cars, traffic lights, other cyclists, and other distractions, and you can solely focus on the correct work you should be doing.
A good example is intervals. You can spend two minutes at full power with no distractions and then rest for two minutes, which is easy to do when you’re on an indoor trainer. This is a huge benefit to riding outdoors and will hugely improve performance.
2. Improves Muscle Strength
Indoor cycling does just give your structure. It trains the pretty much same muscles that you use outdoors. The main muscles used in cycling are;
- Gluteus Maximus
- Hamstring Muscles (Semimembranosus and Bicep Femoris)
- Quadricep Muscles (Vastus Medialis, Rectus Femoris, Vastus Lateralis)
- Calf Muscles (Gastrocnemius Medialis, Gastrocnemius Lateralis, Soleus)
- Shin Muscles (Tibialis)
When you train indoors, you’re working and strengthening all these muscles. The key to muscle growth is to stress the muscles and challenge them. When muscles are stressed and pushed to limits, we receive the adaptations required to become better cyclists.
When we have stronger muscles, our body can push more power through the pedals, and we go faster. With stronger muscles, you can also hold better power for less stress to the cardiovascular system than you usually would have.
3. Builds the Cardiovascular Fitness Systems
When we talk about the cardiovascular system were talking about how much oxygen your body can take in to fuel the muscles and how much carbon dioxide you can remove from the system.
When we train indoors, our body gets better and better at this process, becoming much more efficient. When riding outdoors is a huge benefit, many cyclists will see the most significant improvement in performance from training the cardiovascular system.
4. Improves Bike Positioning
Many cyclists use indoor training to help them with positioning. For example, time trial riders will use a magnetic indoor cycle or turbo trainer to play with their position to become more aerodynamic and faster. This can be very challenging to do while biking outdoors on a road bike.
Once they find the position they are looking for, they will train in that position to become comfortable and adapt to it. This is the same thing that happens when people cycle indoors compared to outdoor, they start to adapt to the position. Getting used to the position will help you ride outdoor, especially for long distance rides.
5. Good For Bad Weather
The beauty of training indoors comes in the fact you are indoors. It can be done at any time, and even in the harshest of winters, you can find yourself still training.
Being consistent is a huge part of becoming a better cyclist, and spending a reasonable amount of time on the bike each week will benefit you. Having the option to train indoors and stay consistent will make a significant difference, and when the weather turns, you’re ready to ride outdoors.
6. Makes You Work Harder
Typically indoors, you tend to work harder as you are more focused on the task at hand. It’s also very common on indoor bikes for you to not stop pedaling. When riding outdoor and coming downhills, you find yourself stopping pedaling and over a ride. This does make a huge difference and keeping that pedal stroke going has some major benefits.
7. Has Less Chance of Injury
Cycling indoors does come with less injury. It’s common on the road to fall off or get into accidents. Cycling indoors can keep you consistent and out of the way of you hurting or injuring yourself.
8. Great Power Training
One thing that we struggle to do outdoors compared to indoor is power training. Roads are undulating, and you will find there are times when you’re going up and down hills, and it’s hard to maintain a certain amount of consistent power. With indoor training, you can always have the correct resistance and feel challenged, like you’re pushing a relatively large gear or riding uphill.
Power training comes in many forms. It could be intervals or all-out efforts, but essentially it comes down to one single element, and that is working at 75% or higher than your max level of effort.
9. Block Training
Training indoors is not just great for power training, but it also can seriously help when it comes to block training. Block training is a process where you do a couple of sessions taking you to your absolute limit, and then you spend time in recovery until you’re ready to push hard into the bike again. This physiological adaptation process of taking our bodies to the limit and then giving it a full recovery is an excellent way to improve your power during indoor cycling.
Training indoors really helps us not just push hard but to not push too hard and do proper recovery sessions, as well as being able to give everything. Typically, when athletes are block training, many coaches will get them to do the majority indoors so they can give everything in the high-intensity session and keep it very light in recovery sessions. Indoor cycling can really benefit training plans you might have and helps increase training volume quickly.
10. Builds Muscular Endurance
Muscular endurance is the body’s ability to exert itself and remain active at this place for a relative amount of time. Building muscular endurance can be challenging, and indoor cycling is fantastic at doing this. The beauty of building muscular endurance indoors is that the pressure is always on the legs, and you never stop pedaling.
Outdoor, you need brakes to stop for traffic or go downhill, but riding indoors eliminates all these issues, and you have to hold power for an unlimited duration. Indoor cycling performance comes much faster indoors, and you can really take your body to its max easily and fine-tune much better than riding outside.
11. Helps with Cadence
Another great asset to training indoors is that it helps you train with different cadences. It’s very interesting training with cadence instead of power or heart rate. It can be very challenging, but it tests your body in a different way which can help build cardiovascular and muscular systems. You might hear people talk about cadence intervals and pedal cadence sessions.
A great example is working at a very low cadence with a high resistance is great for building leg strength. On the other side of that, you could be cycling in a light, relatively small gear at a high cadence to improve your leg work and pedaling efficiency. Working at the high and low end of your cadence also helps strengthen your cycling when you are at a moderate cadence. USA Cycling has gone into training with particular cadences to improve their multisport athletes.
12. It helps build mental toughness
Riding outdoor can be pretty easy spinning. You have lots to distract you. Typically your getting breaks going downhills, and it’s relatively relaxed to an extent. Riding indoors is much more challenging in my opinion, and a three hour ride indoor is much harder than four hour rides outdoor. This is because all you have to focus on is the riding and the task at hand.
When you’re cycling indoors, you have the average watts to think about, the clock is in the corner ticking away slowly, and when those strenuous efforts come in, there’s nobody to hide behind. You just have to increase the power and get on with it. The perceived exertion feels so much higher, and it is challenging. If you can train indoors like this when you get outside, your body mentally has so much more to give, and riding outdoors feels much less challenging.
Cycling indoors is very beneficial to improving your cycling outdoors. It will help you stay motivated, stay consistent, and also get stronger and stronger while the weather is rough. The same goes with cycling outdoors for cycling indoors. The more time you spend on the bike outside, the more benefit you will get for your indoor cycling. My personal tip is that if you’re training indoors, make sure to plan your session before you start so that you don’t get in the habit of just sitting on the spin bike for no reason.
Note: If you were just to train indoors, then you lose a few benefits that you do get from riding outdoor. This is commonly overlooked, and many cyclists spend all winter indoors then have a few hurdles to get over outdoor. So, try to mix indoor cycling with outdoor cycling.
Burning calories comes down to how hard you are working. A good indicator is the higher the heart rate, the more calories you will be burning. Generally speaking, cycling indoors burn more calories because of the constant peddling with resistance and pushing the heavy flywheel.
In my opinion, by cycling indoors, you will get value for the time your spend on the bike. When cycling indoors, you never seem to stop pedaling, so you end up working harder and getting more for your time.
It depends on what your goals are. In my opinion, a good interval session is always a lot of fun. Also frequent indoor cycling endurance session can be really helpful. While deciding between indoor cycling interval sessions and endurance sessions, don’t forget the warm up and cool ad they are really important every spin bike workout.
They are both beneficial to achieving your cycling goals, and you will definitely be doing one be benefitting the others as far as which one is better. I believe the best way to go is actually to be doing a bit of both. Sessions like intervals will be best suited to the turbo trainer or indoor bike. Then longer rides are going to be much more suited to be done outdoors.
A very good tip when it comes to indoor rides and stationary bikes is to make sure you find training zones. Using training zones you can maximize the gains to your cardiovascular health and get the most out of your indoor trainer.