There are varying opinions on the necessity of indoor training. Some say that every hour on the trainer is a year off your life, and that if it is too cold to ride you should be cross training, or you should just harden up. In fact, local cyclocross phenom ventured outside yesterday despite the 7F temperature. Although he is in the twilight of his cyclocross season, and probably looking to harden up in preparation for the U23 World Championships.
Personally, I am just beginning training for road season, and am not quite ready to brave such temperatures for an extended period. I don’t really like riding indoors, but I have found the controlled environment to have its own benefits. One helpful perspective is mentioned in Joe Friel’s The Cyclist’s Training Bible; that each workout has its own risk and benefit. The only risk with indoor riding is boredom and burnout.
Last year I was working a day shift, and had to utilize riding indoors more than I have in the past. I would ride home from work and start immediately, using my bike commute as a warmup. From a quick glance at my training logs, I put in about a dozen sessions last year.
This year I find myself in similar circumstances for different reasons. I am working a shift that leaves me home during daylight hours, but now I am alone with the baby and my workout options are more limited. This is one reason I plan to use running once per week in place of a ride during my first month of training, as I can run with the baby in the jogger. Another baby friendly workout is riding the bike indoors during nap time.
Trainer vs Rollers
During my first winter of serious training, I bought my first (and only) stationary trainer. It is an ancient Blackburn Trackstand magnetic resistance trainer. It is so old it has (faded) florescent graphics! I still use it to this day for warmups, but it has been largely replaced by my rollers.
One of the first benefits of rollers is ease of setup. Modern trainers are more user friendly, but still require balancing the bike to get the rear wheel into the device and clamping it down. Some quick release levers don’t work well with the clamp, and will cock the bike to the side, and/or the trainer can damage the finish on the lever. You will also need a wheel block. The rollers simply unfold (if they’re folding), and the bike is placed on top.
Another benefit is riding feel. The rollers feel much better than the stiff trainer. The pedaling motion is quite similar to riding on the road when riding in the saddle. Out of the saddle riding is different than the road on both rollers and trainers. The rollers are not rigid, but you cannot easily stand because the bike can’t rock forward and backward properly.
Some say the a benefit of a trainer is higher levels of resistance. This is true, to a point, but I have and can achieve pretty high resistance if needed. In my 53-12 on maximum resistance and a cadence of 110 rpm, I find myself putting out 950 watts, enough resistance for all but the most intense sprint or strength workout. A 39-25 with the resistance unit off puts me at 100 watts, a very easy spin.
The rollers take some getting used to, but I assure you, any cyclist can get the hang of them in less than an hour. It only took me about 10 minutes to get going the first time. I do fall off occasionally, but despite the perception your wheels don’t have enough inertia to move your bike very far if you happen to lose your concentration and come off. Basically, you just tip over and feel embarrassed (but no one is watching you… I hope).
Here are a few things I have used on the rollers in the winter:
Spin ups: With minimum resistance, gradually increase cadence to a comfortable maximum and hold for about a minute. For me this is about 140 rpm. Repeat every five minutes for an hour session.
Roller Sprints: With minimum resistance, quickly attain maximum cadence. Try to keep the upper body relaxed. I find I want to stop after 20 seconds, but can usually hang on for 30. Again, repeat every 3-5 minutes for a 40-60 minute session.
Isolated Leg: With low resistance, unclip one foot and place it on the chainstay. Personally, I can find a pretty good spot back there, but you may need to put a box or chair next to your rollers to put your foot on. Pedal using only one leg for about a minute. This is harder than you think, and I get tired after about a minute pushing a measly 120 watts. Again, repeat (and switch legs) every 3-5 minutes for a 40-60 minute session.
Endurance: Ride endurance wattage or heart rate (Friel Zone 2). I usually do 20 minute ‘intervals’ to keep attainable goals within reach. Between intervals I’ll take a few minutes to stretch on the bike, ride easier, and stand on the pedals for some variation. Some people advocate getting off the bike between intervals and treating the workout more like you would at the gym. I would not recommend doing this workout for more than two hours, although I have done three hours a couple times…
Tempo: Ride tempo wattage or heart rate (Friel Zone 3). I usually do 30-75 minutes in 15, 20, or 30 minute intervals. This is about as hard as I like to go on the trainer for extended periods. Threshold work is possible indoors, but I find it very hard mentally and physically to do so (I sweat A LOT). The ‘old standby’ of many is 2×20 indoor threshold intervals, but I prefer doing these outdoors, and with a periodized training plan I am not doing threshold work when the weather is too cold to ride.