Why indoor cycling is winning Kona, Tour de France & Olympic gold medals

[Mark Cavendish & Pete Kennaugh smashing it in indoor training]

How effective is indoor equipment; indoor focused sessions in a cyclist’s training arsenal?

Trainers, gym instructors, your mum always pipe on about the benefits of cycling indoors – its good for the legs, its safe, it allows you to bring your girlfriend down to the gym on a Sunday. BUT how effective is it really? And I mean from a results point of view.

Well you will find that indoor cycling and the associated training sessions which focus on it’s strengths are today meaning the difference between 1st and 2nd in a whole host of races – not just Mr Froome in the clouds. That’s why cycling labs such as Athlete Lab  in Singapore, Sydney and London are critical in any training regimen; and make sure you join up to our newsletter as we will be releasing a dedicated ‘indoor cycling’ newsletter in the coming week – SIGN UP

And if you get sick of rolling countryside on the screen, flick on a Rocky montage

And if you get sick of rolling countryside on the screen, flick on a Rocky montage

An increasing number of triathletes are choosing to do most of their bike training indoors year-round. That’s right not just in the heart of winter, or during the April showers but right throughout their training schedule year round. It is now not uncommon for top cyclists to do the vast majority of their riding indoors, as a growing bulk of evidence demonstrates that their stationary suffer-fests are much more effective than riding outdoors. Staunch supporters of indoor cycling include a host of world leading triathletes – 2007 Ironman 70.3 world champion Andy Potts, who does two-thirds of his riding indoors, as does 2010 Ironman Canada winner Meredith Kessler, who’s training regimen includes outside rides just once every two weeks.

Then there is Tyler Stewart, who won Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2010, who now has moved on to ultra running (probably knows a good few things about the merits of pain & suffering then!), Mirinda Carfrae & Caitlin Snow who came 1st & 6th for the women in the Ironman World Championships in 2013, and additionally Leanda Cave who was Ironman World Champion 2012, alongside her victories in the prestigious Escape from Alcatraz 3 times. Oh yeah and she has been crowned both ITU short course World Champion and ITU long course World Champion – a feat accomplished by only a select few women.

We haven’t even touched on the leading cyclists.

Well I suppose you can do a warm-up on rollers....advantages of a cycling trainer compared to rollers later in the post!

Well I suppose you can do a warm-up on rollers….advantages of a cycling trainer compared to rollers later in the post!

Sir Chris mentioned in the Evans Cycle blog the value of indoor cycling in the way it allows athletes to measure improvement:

“Objective measurements are crucial to know if you are getting fitter or faster and it is highly satisfying to see in black and white that you are improving. It’s great to have very clear data you can monitor.”

We understand that not everyone has a team of experts, but you can do a bit of data geek-ery yourself. If you fit a speed/cadence sensor, you’ll be able to monitor how you’re doing by speed and distance (compare turbo sessions to turbo sessions, not the road – the resistance on your turbo will mean average speed and distance is measured differently)’.

And if anyone witnessed the 2012 Olympic cycling documentaries you can see Chris Hoy putting this to full effect on the indoor bike at 8 seconds on this dodgy youtube video – anyone know where I can get the original copy?!!?

One classic example of the meticulous attention to detail provided by indoor cycle training was Chris Boardman (or shall I emphasize ‘The Professor’ nickname because of his obsession to details and technical know-how) and his hour record – which still stands today (of course we will see what Wiggins & Cancellara do to that feat in the spring!). He famously had an altitude tent built into his house around his cycling trainer in the lead up to the attempt, quite a revolution for indoor cycling at the time.

This Boardman’s Hour Record documentary showed the rider & his indoor training at 3mins 3 seconds on the video below:

And of course the focus on indoor cycling continues to this day (Hoy we miss you on the track….). A recent article on ‘How to train like a pro rider’ by BikeRader quoted Dani King, Horizon Fitness rider and 2012 Olympic gold medallist in the Team Pursuit on her use of indoor cycling:

‘Like most people who regularly train, I find it difficult to get myself out the door when I’m feeling tired from previous sessions, but here’s how I try to motivate myself. 

Having a variety of indoor sessions is always a good idea, especially if it’s raining or icy on the roads. If you’re out in bad weather, try to change a session round so you’re not exposed for too long: a one-hour ride with four or five hard efforts instead of a two-hour ride.’



There was even an piece on Geraint Thomas, double Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist, in Yahoo on maximizing your time inside. Personally I take this guy’s word as gospel – did you see he broke a bone in his pelvis on only day two and still helped to lead Chris Froome to victory in the Tour de France? They are tough those Welshmen!

Like many endurance riders Thomas knows that whilst pros earn their living on racing outdoors, riding indoors is the staple of any training regimen.

 “If you’re able to cope mentally with two or three hours riding indoors then it’s more beneficial than the same amount of time riding on the road, where there are distractions and you have to stop and freewheel at points. And because you work harder indoors, it’s definitely a time-efficient way to train. If your time is limited (and whose isn’t?) training indoors is more practical as well as more beneficial.”

Tour de France cyclists note that some of the best attributes of cycling indoors include – perfecting riding position, focusing on intense efforts, adding variety to each session, setting training targets and enjoying distractions (a big fan of that one with this Deca Ironman training!).

Told you he broke his hip!

Told you he broke his hip!

‘So there certainly seems to be a trend in success & indoor cycling‘ – But why do these athletes believe their indoor rides are so effective? The fact is these are extremely intense and extremely focused workouts, which are highly structured to meet their training goals.

Matt Fizgerald, triathlete, author & coach (you can check out his profile here, he used to coach for Carmichael Training Systems, enough said) wrote that:

‘the indoor trainer, much as the pool does with swimmers, encourages athletes to divide their workouts into variable-intensity segments to stave off the boredom of training in a confined space. Consequently, athletes spend more time working at higher intensities on indoor trainers than they do outdoors—and they get fitter in the process’

It has been noted that particularly triathlete’s in a background in swimming can benefit from this controlled environment (but I suppose that just compliments the focus and determination in that sport). Andy Potts (via m2rev) noted that indoor cycling is

“a very controlled environment and you can document your progress very methodically. It could be that I gravitate towards that because of my background in swimming where it’s a very controlled environment. I don’t do the computer with it. I just ride ergometer mode and train towards watts and power. I probably ride outdoors maybe thirty times a year. I don’t ride very long’.

And if you quite frankly don’t enjoy cycling – and I have no idea why you have read this far – the cardio benefits of indoor cycling are still stellar. There was a  NYTimes article from Esther Lofgren – 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist in the Women’s 8 and member of the US National Rowing Squad – describing the role of indoor cycling in their cardiovascular training – they should know!

Guarantee the Olympic Gold medalist rower James Cracknell did lots of indoor cycling for his host of outdoor cycling challenges!

Guarantee the Olympic Gold medalist rower James Cracknell did lots of indoor cycling for his host of outdoor cycling challenges!

Now I must mention this whole article is not talking about training on spin bikes. The big drawback on this equipment is that riders aren’t in the same position as they would be on a road bikes, so they exercise their muscles differently. Professional cyclists use ‘cycling trainers’ either by attaching the back wheel of their road bike or using a dedicated frame. These trainers have adjustable resistance, and you can change the resistance by adjusting your gears. Cycling trainers allow you to do strength and power intervals. The benefit of using your road bike indoors is that you practice in exactly the same position you would use while riding outdoors. Comparing this equipment to rollers, the latter tends to offer less resistance than a cycling trainer and there is always the possibility of falling off the rollers as balance is necessary – not great when you are training to raise your FTP and cram in a beastly hour session at lunchtime!

So if you are a keen cyclist and your local gym is only going to offer a few spin bikes to do this type of training. Additionally your girlfriend doesn’t appreciate the living room stinking of sweat with a home device (which can also be fairly pricey) then you should probably inquiry with the state of the art cycling studios or ‘labs’ such as Athlete Lab.

Thought your outdoor sessions were hard, try Athlete Lab

Thought your outdoor sessions were hard, try Athlete Lab

Don’t get left behind.

Such has been the uptake of indoor cycling because of it’s effectiveness, high profile magazines such as Triathlete Europe are featuring articles such as The Endangered Outdoor Ride. In fact the whole business of indoor cycling videos has sky-rocketed – Computrainer and the Sufferfest being two notable examples. This ‘new’ trend – and we can’t really say trend when Chris Boardman battled out Hour Records against Graham Obree through the 90s – is here to stay.

Don’t get left behind on the next club ride. Get inside and get riding!

Did you enjoy that review? Interested what athletes are doing to improve their performance in endurance sport? You might even like to hear how a Deca Ironman can be pulled off?

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To reference your last epic training session – ‘Pain and misery loves company’.