The benefits of training indoors all-year round

Indoor training in spring and summer? Really? Is that even a thing? As many Zwift users the globe would testify it is indeed – and an around the popular option at that.

And one I can, at first reluctantly, but now wholeheartedly, agree with after becoming rather cojoined with the WattBike Atom. I’m using it for a book I’m writing – out in 2023 as you asked! – and it’s become a mainstay of my training.

To that end, after half a year of becoming married to indoor training, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way (and no, I am not on commission!)…

1. Permanence helps

During lockdown I spent time indoor training on an old, battered A-frame that served a purpose but was a creaking antique. Setting it up became a chore and it soon returned to gathering dust in the shed.

Having a permanent indoor trainer set-up, whether that’s the WattBike or a bike set up in your pain cave permanently attached to a turbo, is the surefire way to actually maximise its potential.

At 45 years old I have little potential but what potential I do have begun to be maximised!

2. Reality counts

The WattBike Atom uses what they call ‘Real Ride Feel’ technology to replicate the sensation of riding on the road, giving users what they term “the most authentic indoor experience in the world”.

I’m not one for hyperbole but I’d heartily agree with that statement – ​​it’s just damn real and a world away from tired indoor trainers that frequent tired leisure centres.

Apparently, this is down to the electromagnetic resistance inside the Atom that automatically adjusts to the gradient you’re riding on screen, leaving you to focus on your effort.

3. Watts and BPM unit

Those of you who use Zwift know all about FTP or functional threshold power. This is fundamental to utilizing a training tool like the Atom.

It helps you set your training zones, which are designed to stimulate myriad physiological adaptations from long zone-two efforts for fat-burning to intermittent zone-five efforts for greater speed.

However, I’ve found that linking power and heart rate together is the ideal. Often, I’ve been tired from a previous session, had a bad night’s sleep or am mildly hungover and have stuck with the prescribed zones.

However, my heart rate’s higher than normal due to tiredness (self-inflicted or not), meaning a session’s harder than it should be, which threatens the usefulness of the following day’s swim or run session.

Balancing the two has proved useful to steer progress and prevent overtraining.

4. Submax or max

When it comes to testing, I undertake a 20min all-out effort every six to eight weeks. This helps to reset zones – hopefully in a positive fashion. But there are also sub-maximal tests including a 3min effort.

This doesn’t impact your following day’s training and, though not quite as accurate as the 20min option, is a strong enough guide. Just ensure that if you’re doing the 20min test, fuel sufficiently beforehand and stay hydrated.

And maybe doff a cheeky espresso or two. Look to standardise this set-up when you repeat the test.

5. Cadence masterclass

The ergo setting’s become my go-to. Essentially, this removes the gear-changing part and matches the resistance to your intended power.

So if you’re aiming for 240 watts for 2mins, it’ll increase or decrease the resistance (within reason) so that you’ll hit that 240 watts. This is a really useful feature to play around with cadence.

I’m a pretty low spinner, which is fine but does focus heavily on the muscular system.

By trying to increase from around 70 to 90rpm – at least for some of the time – it nudges the physiological response from the muscular to the cardiovascular and so shaping a more rounded (physiologically, not shape-wise) me.

6. Hydration and feeding

When it comes to indoor training, always have a 500-750ml water bottle to hand. Maybe a couple if it’s a particularly long session.

Being inside, you can just rest these on a nearby surface for easy access. Often, I’d just have water but electrolytes are arguably the ideal, especially to replenish things like sodium through increased sweating.

As sessions grow longer, fueling’s also important. I’m used to fasted breakfast sessions but when riding for over 90mins, I’ll have a slice or two of Malt Loaf and feed with gels every 30mins. It’s good to get your stomach used to feeding, especially with race season upon us.

7. Use two fans

When it comes to indoor training, you’re going to sweat. A lot. This is especially true during the summer months. That’s why a fan’s vital for some oh-so appreciated venting, placing it in front of you to mimic real-world air chill. That’s common.

What’s less common but arguably doubly useful is to add another fan from behind, which is angled toward your chamois.

You see, indoor training cranks up the sweaty micro-climate down below even more than outside due to remaining seated in your saddle for much longer periods indoors than out.

To that end, you should force yourself to stand up, even if it’s only for 5secs, just to relieve the heated microclimate somewhat. (Do this even if you’re riding against competition in Zwift. Preventing saddle sores is more important than losing power output for a second or two!)

And make sure you have a towel to hand, both for you and mopping your bike after.

8. Entertain fitness

Finally, connectivity and entertainment. The Atom connects seamlessly with the WattBike app, from which I’d follow the occasional session. But more often than not I’d follow Zwift as I’m following a TrainingPeaks plan and Zwift has the capacity to follow TrainingPeaks workouts.

It’s neat and, after a few teething issues, syncing is reliable. It also syncs to other platforms like RGT and Rouvy, albeit I’m yet to try these.

In all honesty, I’m not a Zwift convert and will often mute the Zwift and follow the wattages on the Zwift companion app. I’ll then train to something like BBC iPlayer and either some form of sporting documentary or a food programme. I love food.

So, there you have it – the benefits of indoor cycling all-year round. This, of course, complements outdoor cycling and I’ll always ride long once a week outdoors. The WattBike’s great but even that can start to chafe after four hours!

Top image: Getty Images

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