Trek-Segafredo performance manager Josu Larrazabal's in-depth guide to getting the most out of your indoor workouts.
In this unprecedented period, it’s a time to shelter at home, and now more than ever, many are also cycling indoors. Before going into details of the different types of training sessions for indoor cycling, it’s worth underlining some of the basics.
Trek-Segafredo’s Head of Performance Josu Larrazabal has put together an in-depth guide to stationary training, a useful guide for those unable to ride outside at the moment, or those who enjoy online training or virtual group rides.
The temperature of the body increases when riding stationary as it eliminates the ventilation, which helps with sweat evaporation and convection. As a result, the skin can’t benefit from the wind to cool down the body, and the thermal regulation of the body begins to fail much earlier than it does outdoors. In other words, you will become hot and sweaty more easily when riding on a home trainer.
Using a towel can briefly simulate the effect of evaporating the sweat, but after a few seconds, the skin becomes wet again. In addition to using a towel, wearing the right clothing helps with thermal regulation. For example, wearing a base layer with a quick-drying capacity is better than not wearing any clothing.
Sweating is a bodily function that helps to cool you down. The sweat rate (the amount of sweat lost per hour) depends on a range of factors. Exercise intensity, temperature, humidity, fitness level, heat acclimation, and body weight all have an impact on the sweat rate. In normal riding conditions, this can vary from less than 0.5 liter/hour to 1 liter/hour. In temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius and in high-intensity racing, it is very easy to reach a 1 liter/hour rate or even exceed 2 liters/hour.
The sweating process will continue as long as the body’s temperature is higher than the normal physiological level. The body needs liquids to keep working, so hydration becomes crucial at this point.
Hydration is the only way to compensate for the loss generated by sweating. Through sweating you also lose minerals that are essential for proper muscle function. The critical mineral lost during exercise is sodium, which can be replaced by an isotonic sports drink.
Trek-Segafredo’s Sports Dietician Stephanie Scheirlynck recommends the following quantities to drink during your ride:
Note: The maximum amount of liquid the stomach can absorb per hour is 1 liter, drinking more than that could create gut discomfort.
In addition to the factors mentioned above influencing the sweat rate, take into account that the sweat rate and its mineral composition percentages are relevant to you. If you notice white spots on your clothing and are losing extreme amounts of salt, you can take extra salt capsules to make sure you stay well hydrated.
After finishing your ride, hydration remains essential. It is recommended to drink 150% of the water that you lost in the following 6 hours. Furthermore, it is better to use an isotonic drink or a mix of water with electrolytes (salt caps) instead of just water, as it is faster and more effective.
Those who ride with a power meter may notice that there is a difference in the power-heart rate relationship when compared to riding outdoors. As we have noted, the body is less efficient riding indoors, so it is entirely reasonable to lose some watts at the same heart rate.
As we have seen, while riding indoors the core body temperature goes up, as does your heart rate as it tries to cool down the skin. When riding indoors it is common to have less ventilation, more heat, and a higher heart rate. These factors together increase the perceived effort when riding at the same actual effort level compared to riding outdoors.
You can reduce your perceived effort by riding on the balcony or terrace, using fans, using a towel and/or a base layer to dry your sweat, and importantly keeping yourself hydrated.
When we look at stationary cycling, the main difference is that there are no downhills, thus no coasting time. When riding outside, you can spend 10-15% of the time not pedaling. However, when riding inside the time spent riding becomes 100% efficient, and that creates some extra fatigue, not only in the legs but also in the back.
On top of riding without any rest when riding indoors, the position on the bike makes it a bit harder due to it being completely static.
Generally, when riding seated, we see some sideways movement because of the ”non-perfect human pedaling technique. While riding the trainer, these sideways movements are amplified by the bike being fixed, which have to be absorbed by the body and creates extra strain on the back.
When riding standing, your body has more freedom of movement. The back will relax a bit, but the knees will feel the different movement patterns. Adding small standing intervals will help to keep a good balance with the position, start from 10-second intervals occasionally and increase progressively up to 1 minute.
When riding stationary, it is natural that we adopt a more relaxed body position as we don’t need to propel the bike. This can mean that we place more weight on the saddle, and the risk of developing saddle sores may increase even if we are accustomed to riding the bike outdoors.
In case you ride a lot indoors, a potential upgrade to your set-up is the MP1 Nfinity Trainer Platform from Saris. It is a platform that allows you to move the bike laterally, forward, and backward, and it’s compatible with every trainer.
Those who ride with a power meter may notice that there is a difference in the power-heart rate relationship when compared to riding outdoors. As we have noted, the body is less efficient riding indoors, so it is entirely reasonable to lose some watts at the same heart rate. There could be up to 30 watts difference, so don’t get demoralized because of the lower values!
Tips to take home
- Ride short sessions: <1h until you gain some experience. It’s better to do 2x1hr rides than 1x2hrs for a training day.
- Keep yourself hydrated with at least one bottle per hour.
- Add electrolytes and isotonic drinks when you have an intense and/or long ride.
- Continue to hydrate after your session.
- When possible, install the trainer on the terrace or use fans to create airflow.
- Use a towel and the proper clothing.
- Combine sitting and standing intervals to keep a good balance with body position.
- If you ride with a power meter, make sure to take into account the differences caused by riding indoors.
- If you ride a lot indoors, consider the option of investing in a platform that simulates the natural movements of riding a bike.