Embrace the Intervals

CycleOps Fluid 2: Otherwise known as the bane of some peoples home gyms.
CycleOps Fluid 2: Otherwise known as the bane of some peoples home gyms.

Repeat after me: my trainer is not the enemy. My trainer is not the enemy.

I see it now. You got yourself a new (or used) trainer, set it in the corner of your room, and thought, “Cool, I can still ride when it’s raining.” It sat there, sad and lonely, gathering dust until the first big rain or frigid wind kept you indoors. You thought, “No prob, I’ll just ride the trainer!” You mount your bike, get your shoes on, clip in, and start pedaling. Only… it isn’t anything like you thought it would be.

Every time you stop pedaling, you slow down. You have to constantly apply pressure just to maintain speed. It’s more like climbing a never-ending hill than riding a bike. You try standing, and it feels wrong. There’s no sway to the bike, no side-to-side give. Your, “Hey, I can train indoors” quickly becomes, “This bites!”

First, let’s dispel some ideas that were bad from the start. Riding the trainer isn’t ANYTHING like riding on the road – apart from that it requires a bike. Second, the trainer isn’t a good replacement for getting out on a ride – not even close. Third, you can spend hours riding your bike and enjoy it. If you try to spend hours on your trainer, you will want to find the closest blowtorch and melt it to slag.

All that being said though, the trainer is great if you use it to compliment your road riding, not replace it. You had to get use to the feel of riding on an open road, and you’ll have to get used to the feel of riding on the trainer. And when used right, you can get a solid workout that will help you on the road in many ways while only spending a fraction of the time you’d normally spend on a road ride.

Just like when you go out on very specific rides – courses with lots of hills, or maybe one really big climb, a loop with rollers, a fast, flat route – the trainer can be used the same way to boost specific skills and abilities. Intervals are the key.

Below I’ll go through the various types of intervals that I do, and how they’ve helped my road riding. Some general things to keep in mind about the indoor trainer and intervals:

  • Like road rides, switch it up. Don’t get stuck in a routine, or you’ll plateau faster, and get bored quickly. Change the intensity, the type of interval, the duration, etc. Keep your body guessing.
  • Work your form. The bike is naturally stable on the trainer (or should be, unless you have rollers). Use that to your advantage. Steadier hips and upper-body means more efficient power transfer from legs to bike.
  • Quality over quantity. Don’t spend hours on the trainer. First, it’s boring. Second, you don’t need hours to get a solid, targeted workout. Don’t have time to do 10 sets? Do 5. You’ll still get most of the benefit of that 10-set workout.
10 min. warm-up, 5 sets at a 3:30 work, 3:30 rest.
10m warm-up, 5 sets @ 3:30 work, 3:30 rest.

Aerobics

  • Purpose: push the amount of time you can work without tiring (long shallow climbs, rollers, flats at a faster pace). During the work period, you want to remain seated. If you find yourself out of breath (i.e. can’t talk naturally), or it takes too long to recover between sets, you’re going too hard. You’re aiming for about 70-80% of your max effort. If you’re working too hard, drop your gear the next work period. Try to maintain the same cadence during both your work and rest periods. Your rest period should be at about 50-60% effort (not a real rest, more like a light-work).
  • Setup:
    • Warm Up: 10 min.
    • Sets: 5
      • Work: 90 sec.
      • Rest: 90 sec.
    • Cool down: 5 min.
  • Progression: as you get used to 1m 30s, increase to 1:40 the next time, then 1:50, etc. Keep the work and rest ratio at a 1 to 1.
10 min. warm-up, 10 sets at 45s work, 90s rest.
10m warm-up, 10 sets @ 0:45 work, 1:30 rest. Notice the larger difference between the work/rest speeds compared to the aerobics.

Anaerobics

  • Purpose: this will push your aerobic limits.; they’ll help you dig deep on the big climbs, and hold your top-end sprints longer. During the work period, hit your top gear and get out of the saddle. You probably won’t be able to go the full work period full-out, but keep pushing anyway. Don’t sit down until the rest period. You want to go beyond your “tired” point. 100%, all the way. Your rest periods need to be actual rests though. Drop down to 30% perceived effot, very light, just spin it out and get your lungs/legs back. If you’re not out of breath by the third or fourth set, push harder.
  • Setup:
    • Warm Up: 10 min.
    • Sets: 10
      • Work: 30 sec.
      • Rest: 90 sec.
    • Cool down: 5 min.
  • Progression: if you finish all ten sets and don’t feel like you’re going to pass out, add 5 seconds to your work periods next time, and drop the sets to 7. Work your way back up to 10 sets, and then increase your work time by another 5 seconds (don’t adjust your rest time).
10m warm-up. 2 blocks: 10 sets of 15s work, 30s rest, 5m recovery. Speed jump looks like anaerobics, but for much less time.
10m warm-up. 2 blocks: 10 sets of 15s work, 30s rest, 5m recovery. Speed jump looks like anaerobics, but for much less time.

Micro-Burst

  • Purpose: improve your short-sprint speeds, retain power over punchy climbs and rollers, and add bursts of power to finish sprints and big climbs. The idea here is to get out of the saddle – like anaerobics – but to push as fast as you can sustainably go (not as fast/hard as possible). Usually this means several gears down from your bike’s max. Try to maintain a high cadence throughout the work and rest periods. Might be easiest to just switch between your small and large chain ring for your work/rest periods. NOTE: I just made up the name micro-burst. This might have a real name somewhere… no clue.
  • Setup:
    • Warm Up: 10 min.
    • Blocks: start with 1
      • Sets: 10
        • Work: 15 sec.
        • Rest: 30 sec.
      • Recovery: 5 min.
  • Progression: start with one block (that’s 10 sets of work/rest, and a 5 min. recovery). Add a second block with 5 sets, and then increase that second block to 10 sets. Then add a third block with 5 sets, and so on.
Steady-state. In this case, I chose a 100 rpm cadence for 30m, focused on keeping good form.
Steady-state. In this case, I chose a 100 rpm cadence for 30m, focused on keeping good form.

Steady-State

  • Purpose: used to work on form, cadence, or for recovery the day after hard rides. Like the first time you jumped on a trainer and just sat there spinning, counting the seconds until you can stop, steady-state is the same. Only with a goal. Choose what you want to get out of the session before you begin, and then use the entire time to maintain that goal.
  • Setup:
    • Warm Up: 5 min.
    • Choose Your Own Adventure: 20-40 min.
      • Form: line a mirror up in front of you or to the side, or both. Set your highest comfortable cadence and try to maintain that while concentrating on your form:
        • Keep your knees inline with your bike; don’t let them swing out.
        • The faster the cadence, the more likely you are to bounce on your saddle. Smooth your pedal stroke and keep your butt planted.
        • Don’t let your hips rock from side to side. If you see your torso shifting left/right, steady it.
        • Keep your shoulders in line – don’t lean left/right. Put blue painters tape on the mirror as a guide to keep your upper-body from moving.
      • Cadence: set a minimum cadence and aim to keep your average above that. If your average cadence is 80, shoot for 90. If it’s 90, shoot for 100. Focus on keeping pressure constant throughout the entire circle of pedaling.
      • Recovery: Set a maximum heart rate, cadence, or speed. Stick below this, and focus on being as relaxed as possible. This is really helpful after a hard day or two of riding.
  • Progression: only for cadence, work your way up to faster cadences, but only so far as you can keep your body stable. If you’re unstable, then you’re pedaling too fast, and you’ll have less control.

Remember: quality, not quantity. If you’re going to hit the trainer, make it count. Have a goal in mind other than “just getting on the bike.” If you’re riding 2-3 days a week, try to add in a day of intervals in the mix. This can help you get used to multi-day riding when you don’t actually have the time to get that second day in (or the energy).