Indoor Cycling - Getting Started Guide

What is Indoor Cycling

Indoor cycling is basically cycling on a stationary cycle at your home or at an indoor cycling gym . This allows you to do your cardio that you would normally do on a cycle but without having to cover actual distance.

Indoor cycling is a good substitute to outdoor cycling; and still offers many of the same (and more) benefits. There is more to biking than covering the distance. Performance is greatly affected by training variables like slope, cadence, which can only be worked on in a controlled environment: like the one offered by indoor cycling.


Why Indoor Cycling

Indoor Cycling is a very efficient way to get cycling workouts done consistently. Few main benefits of Indoor Cycling:

  1. Controlled Environment leading to more structured workout Indoor training allows a rider to control their surroundings. No extreme temperatures, cars, wind, flat tires, and stoplights means you can get a great workout in, every time. It’s also a lot safer.

    When riding indoors, it’s easier to control important performance variables such as intensity of effort, cadence, gearing selection, heart rate and power—if you have a power meter. Since your environment is always the same, it is very easy to track your workouts week-to-week and see if you are getting better, and if so, in what areas. It is very difficult to do a structured workout outdoors with constantly changing terrain.

  2. Time Efficient: Training indoors allows us to spend more of our time training more specifically towards our goals and less time just mindlessly training. No stoplights, traffic jams, or just waiting until you get “out of town” to do those intervals. Get on, get warmed up, and get to work.

  3. Time Flexible: With outdoor ride, generally there is a limited time window in the day when you can go out and cycle. Traffic, office timing, weather - there are many factors which reduces the outdoor ride time window. With indoor trainer, you can workout as per your schedule. It made me much more consistent with my training.


Beginner list for Indoor Training

Besides a bike and trainer, you’ll want to plan for some accessories that can improve your indoor training experience.

  • Good Fan to keep cool. Explore if you can get remote control based fan.
  • Towel to keep sweat off you and bike
  • Water Bottle to hydrate your ride
  • Sweat proof headphone to listen to songs or watch Netflix
  • Optional : Cycling Mat for trainer and cycle.

Choosing a Trainer : Smart Trainers vs Non-Smart Trainers

Smart Trainers: These trainers automatically control the resistance, which can be especially helpful for beginners. These trainers comes with the added power meter built into each trainer. The two very popular smart trainer are

Smart Trainers are costly (INR 50k and above). Go for them only if you are sure you’ll race for next 5 years.

Non-Smart Trainers: These are basic trainer, with no external power needed. They generate resistance mechanically. There are two common types of non-smart trainers - Magnetic based and Fluid based. Fluid based trainer simulates the road-like cycling experience, so it is preferred by many people.

With these trainers, you will also need Speed and Cadence sensor to capture ride data.

Sensors I recommend

For non-smart trainer, Decathlon is the easiest choice. Two most common trainers are

Recommendation

If you are a beginner in cycling, I strongly suggest to start small. You do not need a smart trainer. Decathlon Trainer + Speed/Cadence Sensor is all you need to get started.

Why Listen to Me?

I’ve done 2 Full Ironmans, 4 Half Ironmans. I do almost all of my training on my basic (non-smart) trainer and for long rides I average a decent 32+ kmph on the road. I’m getting progressively faster with basic trainer and structured training.


Before, During, After Ride

Once you have the trainer there is still the training plan and training app to choose from. It is always a great idea to take help preferably from a Coach if triathlon is uncharted territory. For those who prefer DIY, there are millions of triathlon podcasts which can help you assemble the triathlete within you. My go-to ones are here

Before the Ride

  1. Find the training plan: The right training plan is one of the most critical aspect to progress without injury. A right training plan will vary from person to person - depending on the level, skillset, time available. If you do not have a coach, then there are many online programs available. I’ve used TrainerRoad Low mileage plan with good progression.

  2. Training App: The latest generation of training apps works across multiple platforms from PCs to smartphones and tablets. They offer hundreds of virtual places to ride with or against other riders, with realistic, real-time graphics or video.

    They can also connect to the latest generation of smart trainers to vary the resistance automatically, making the experience more authentic than ever.

    TrainerRoad and Zwift are the two leading apps.

    TrainerRoad is focused on just one thing (as per their CEO)- making cyclists faster. It has 1000+ workouts in it, and great Training Plans - well suited for people for all levels.

    Zwift is Facebook (or Instagram) of Training Apps. While it also has structured programs, it is popular because of the social aspects - you can do virtual race with others.

  3. Eat before the workout. Good carbs (A banana, apple, toast). And don’t forget the caffeine!

During the Ride

  1. Keep yourself fuelled : Both hydration and fuel should be taken care. It is easy to forget the need for fuel as it is indoor workout. But it is a mistake. Indoor workouts can be more intense than the outdoor rides. Aim to have 1 bottle of water (mixed with electrolyte) for every hour. Also eating during the ride will train your stomach for the race day.

  2. Keep yourself cool: When you are on road, the ambient air cools you down. On the trainer, there is no opposite air, and one can get heated up quickly. Ensure to use the fan directed on your face and neck.

  3. Keep yourself entertained: Watch that Netflix series! The time will fly quickly. I prefer action movies, which gives me extra adrenaline boost for the workout.

After the Ride

  1. Wipe the cycle: Spend few minutes wiping the cycle of any sweat. It will prevent corrosion of the frame.
  2. Eat good meal: Post workout, it is very important to eat a good meal of Carbs + Protein for faster recovery.
  3. Recover: In the world obsessed with “No Pain, No Gain”, we often forget that the muscle teardown happens during the workout. And only when you let body recover from the teardown, the muscle builds to handle more load and get stronger. Recovery is as important as workout.

Indoor Cycling: Final Thoughts

Indoor cycling is a jewel for those hustling between office, family and chasing the triathlon dream.

A triathlon like the Ironman by the very nomenclature is meant to mould you to swim, bike and run no matter the surroundings. The indoor trainer serves as the perfect start for this torture.

While preparing for my previous races I have burnt the midnight oil on my trainer Solo. But now since we are transitioning into the virtual world, apps like TrainerRoad and Zwift have introduced group riding features which make the ride however gruelling a little less torturous

Give it a try.

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