It seems fitting to chat about indoor trainer workouts on a day like today. I am staring out at several inches of freshly fallen snow here in Boulder, Colorado and I doubt my bike will be leaving the living room today.
I grew up in South Texas so using a wind/fluid/compu trainer was not really part of my training protocol. I think the only winter gear I owned in college was a pair of arm warmers. I have since moved northwards to the hills of Colorado and adapting to a new winter climate has forced me to change the way I train. When I lived in warm winters, it was never a challenge to fit in a normal training load on the bike in February; so when I moved to Colorado several winters ago I was confused with how to handle my training.
Initially, I figured that I would just do what I normally did; just inside staring at the wall instead of outside in the sun. Well, that did not work out too well so I had to rewrite my training plan. I knew that the weather would turn favorable in March and April so I simply wanted to come up with a few sessions that help make the transition to normal training easier for me. After a trial and error period, I eventually settled on three weekly indoor sessions (none of them long) that I felt would accomplish this goal.
The first session I came up with is what I call the “One Minute” session. This session is fairly straight forward: I ride one minute repeats at a solid effort with 2-4 minutes of easy spinning in between. When I lived in warmer climates, I would ride along easily on my base rides, but there was always a hill, a traffic light, or some variable that forced short bouts of higher power output. When I just sat on a trainer spinning aimlessly, I felt that I was missing this fartlek training. I always build my effort throughout each repeat (and each workout) all while allowing myself as much recovery as needed. The first session I do usually includes 4-5 repeats with 4 minutes of recovery. Over 4-6 weeks, I build to 8-10 x 1 minute on 2 minute recoveries. (Note: I would advise against attempting a new one minute power PB each week. Do that in a bike race.)
The second session of the week is what I call the “Over Under.” This workout is found in nearly all of the indoor training plans I have seen (so we’re either all right or all wrong). It involves doing repeats with a gear that yields a cadence of 55-65 at a moderately hard intensity. I typically begin by doing 4 x 5 minutes of BIG gear work (typically 53 x 13-11 gearing) with 2 minutes of recovery in between intervals. I eventually build to doing 5 x 8 minutes (two minute recoveries) over the course of 4-6 weeks. That takes care of the “Under.” The “Over” component is accomplished at the end of the session when I ride continuously at a cadence of 100-110 in an easy gear for 10-20 minutes. With a session like this, I have trained ‘over’ and ‘under’ my comfortable cadence.
The final session of the week is the “90/30” session. You can do this session based on feel or with power (I use power). Heart rate is less relevant since the efforts are short(er). In this workout, I ride 90 seconds ‘on’ and 30 seconds ‘off’ continuously 4-6 times through, coupled by 3-5 minutes of easy spinning in between each 90/30 set. I repeat the 90/30 set 3-4 more times as I progress over 4-6 weeks. For the 90 seconds ‘on’ I typically start around 80-85% of the previous season’s FTP (Functional Threshold Power; or 40K power) and I gradually lift the power to FTP as fitness returns. This session allows me to accumulate a fair amount of time at (or near) FTP, but it does not involve a lot of time with a high heart rate.
When I first began to train through ‘real’ winters, I always feared that I was behind the rest of the triathlon world. However, what I have since found is that I begin to come on form at right time of year and I do not require a major midseason break like I used to. This time of year can cause a lot of anxiety because we all want to be fit, but patience and persistence will pay off nicely when it counts.