I subscribe to Active.com’s triathlete e-newsletter which includes several articles each week on training tips for triathletes. Lately there has been a lot of talk of the “Off Season” in these articles. There have been articles about how not to gain weight in the off-season, how to use the off-season to get stronger, and how to cross train in the off-season. However, since the California 70.3 Half Ironman is March 31 and most training plans are 4 months long, my off-season really only lasted a couple of months. Starting in December, everyone else’s off-season is my ON Season.
Despite there being an abundance of running races in the fall and winter months, there aren’t many triathlons. I’m pretty sure that the reason is that no one wants to train to swim or bike from November-February is because there are less precious hours of daylight to bike and swim in. Not to mention, the ocean and lakes are COLD in the winter and it’s also not exactly fun to get out of an outdoor pool at 6 a.m. or 8 p.m. when the air temperature is 40 degrees. Or worse, it’s snowing or raining (not here in San Diego of course). Despite it being uncomfortable to run in the rain, cold, or darkness, it’s not nearly as unsafe or uncomfortable as cycling or swimming.
So, although the majority of my triathlete friends may be turning their volume down a notch, it’s time for me to turn it up. Although the sun will be just rising and already setting when I arrive and depart from my day job, I’ll be increasing my cycling volume dramatically with the help of an indoor trainer.
Benefits of Indoor Cycling
Many triathletes opt for a gym pass instead of an indoor trainer and start getting on the stationary bike or taking spin class. Although I considered this option, after doing some research I decided that a trainer would be the best way for me to go. Although gym spin classes are beneficial, they are oriented toward calorie burning, not necessarily building endurance for bike racing. Additionally, by purchasing an indoor trainer I could log hour after hour on my own bike, the very bike that will take me 112 miles on race day, not a spin bike that is identical to everyone else’s bike. Plus, the commute to my living room is quicker than the commute to the gym and I don’t have to work my schedule around available spin classes.
According to the Triathlete Academy, there are three main benefits to indoor cycling on a trainer:
- Controlled Environment: Without the distractions of traffic, stop lights, wind, bumpy roads and flat tires, a cyclist can constantly be pedaling and therefore improving. Speed intervals and sprints are usually not safe or feasible on the open road due to the aforementioned distractions and indoor cycling allows you to push yourself to new levels without worrying about watching for a red light or an oncoming car. Another benefit of a controlled environment is that if you have a cycling computer attached to your bike you can compare each workout fairly accurately since the environment has remained the same. You will be able to see if your hard work is paying off by seeing increases in your average pace or watts (a measure of power) per ride. Since pace and watts are highly variable outdoors due to inclines, road conditions and wind, it is harder to see if you are actually seeing results when cycling outdoors.
- Time Savings: Although indoor trainers do require set-up, there is less time involved in getting on your bike in your living room as compared to preparing for an outdoor ride. Additionally, while on the bike, you aren’t stopping at stop lights or coasting down hills so every second on the bike is spent pedaling and therefore increasing your strength and endurance. Some say that one hour on an indoor trainer can be equivalent to 1 1/2 to 2 hours riding outdoors.
- Get Faster Even Faster: Oftentimes when we ride outdoors we’ll go for a 1 hour ride without any sort of plan. We just want to log a certain number of miles and then we head home. If you use indoor cycling DVDs every time you are on the trainer, you will never go for an “easy ride.” Every time you ride you will be improving because you will have a focused training program.
According to Ironman.com, 8 out of the top 10 finishers at the Ironman World Championships in Kona this year used indoor cycling (specifically the Computrainer) as part of their training regimen. A Computrainer is a speciality trainer which includes an accurate watts reading as well as a pedal stroke analyzer and other interesting data. It also includes cycling workouts, including workouts that use actual Ironman race courses. However, you can get the benefits of a Computrainer by purchasing a fairly inexpensive bike computer and your own cycling DVDs. When using a trainer with the bike computer, you can get an accurate watts reading. A Computrainer retails at about $3,200 whereas you can purchase an indoor trainer anywhere from $200-$600 and cycling DVDs are $11-29 each. A cycling computer with watts readings can be anywhere from $50-$200.
My Trainer Decision
Since a Computrainer was clearly out of the question due to cost, I opted to purchase my own trainer and computer. After much research I decided to purchase the Kinetic Road Machine Fluid package from Velo Trainers which included the trainer, a floor mat and a riser ring. I also purchased the Kinetic Wired Power Computer which tracks my watts, speed, RPM, time, and more.
I chose this trainer and accessories for a few reasons. First, it was within my price range, which was $200-$350 for the trainer. Second, it was the trainer with the best reviews within this price range. I wanted a trainer that was 1) quiet and 2) durable. All reviews indicated that this trainer was easy to set up, quiet enough to watch TV while using, and held up with lots of use.
I’ve used my trainer twice so far and I must agree with all of the above advantages to using it. We used cycling DVDs both times and I definitely felt that the workout was more effective than a 1 hour jaunt down the coast. I used my cycling computer and was able to track my RPM and watts for the duration of the workout. I definitely think that we are going to see BIG improvements with these new training tools!
Have you used an indoor trainer and found it beneficial? Do you have any favorite spin DVDs to recommend?
I agree…I love spinning classes but hate how they’re always focused on burning calories. Let me know how you like the Kinetic trainer!
What type of bike computer do you use that gives you watts?
This one: http://www.kurtkinetic.com/kinetic-wired-power-computer-p-152-l-en.html It doesn’t give you watts outdoors though, just on the trainer unfortunately.
I purchased the same trainer about a month ago and immediately started using http://www.trainerroad.com in lieu of cycling videos. I’ve seen great gains already.
The weather isn’t too bad where I live but I’ve done trainer rides almost exclusively for the last month just due to how effective they seem to be and a lack of available daylight during the work week.
Gary Hawkins - Founder Ride Fit
I totally agree with you relating to the benefits and convenience of indoor cycling. Even here in sunny San Diego, indoor cycling is a key part of my ride preparation. In fact, that’s what led me to develop Ride Fit – a new series of virtual indoor cycle training videos. We recently launched the Ride Fit (www.ride-fit.com) product and our current titles feature five rides from the Southern CA area. We have lots more titles in development – one of our film teams has just returned from Madrid, Spain.
Are you the Gary Hawkins who wrote a book about bicycling in Europe?
Gary Hawkins - Founder, Ride Fit
I am not but a quick Internet search found the book you were referring to. Interesting to know a namesake is working in a closely related area.
I completely agree when you said that with indoor cycling you are in a controlled environment. When I go on a bike ride outside, I find myself getting distracted or too hot or too cold. When I’m inside, I can focus on my goal and not have to worry about any distractions. Another benefit of a cycling machine is that you can change the intensity depending on how much of a challenge you want. If you’re ever thinking of ways to go on a bike ride without having to deal with the elements out outside, indoor cycling would be a great option.