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How do I transition into indoor riding?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the year
How do I transition into indoor riding?

A: By November, it’s harder to get outside and get the miles in on the saddle. Daylight hours shrink, temperatures nosedive and you start looking for indoor options to keep in shape.

The good news is that from November to early March you don’t need to increase fitness levels. Your focus should be on maintaining a base level of fitness. Achieving that requires a minimum of three rides per week: two 45- to 60-minute rides and one longer 1.5 to 2 hour ride for endurance. If you’ve done indoor cycling before, you know it can become boring and monotonous. To keep motivated, sign up for some indoor spinning classes or indoor cycling classes where you bring your bike and trainer. A group class keeps you motivated and pushes you a little harder than you would push yourself.

Spinning bikes are a good option for indoor cycling. But they don’t simulate outdoor riding 100%. For that reason I recommend doing at least one of your weekly rides on your own bike on a trainer. You can make this ride your longer, endurance-based ride— (65–70% MHR (maximum heart rate) for 1.5 to 2 hours in total). The rule of thumb when riding indoors is: one hour on your bike on a trainer is equal to 1.5 hours on the road.

Indoor trainers can be purchased from most local bike stores. If you can’t find one there, then checking for one on the internet is the next best option. There are many brands and types of trainers on the market that range in price, from $350 to $400 for a basic trainer, and up to $2000 for a highly specialized trainer like the Computrainer. When purchasing a bike trainer make sure you have someone who knows how to set up your bike on the trainer correctly. Also make sure you keep the rear tire fully inflated each time you ride. Keeping the tires inflated helps prevent flats, just like it would on the road. Most cyclists don’t inflate their tires enough, which is the reason for 80% of pinch flats.

Once you’ve made the transition from outside to inside, here are some sample workouts to help get you through the winter season. Each of these workouts has a 10 to 15 minute easy riding warm-up and cool-down.

  • Spin ups:
    • Begin riding at 65% MHR for 1 minute, then increase to 70% of MHR for minute 2, 75% of MHR for minute 3, 80% of MHR for minute 4, and 85% of MHR for minute 5.
    • Follow with 3 minutes of light cycling to flush out the legs and to bring the heart rate back down.
    • Start with 2 sets and increase over a 4-week cycle up to 4 sets.
  • Steady and pump:
    • Begin riding at 65% of MHR for 10 minutes, then pump up the pace for 3 minutes, and increase the intensity to 70 to 80% of MHR.  Turn the intensity down to 65% for 5 minutes. Then, once again, pump up the pace for 2 minutes, increasing the intensity back to 70 to 80% of MHR.
    • Start with 1 set, and increase over a 3-week cycle to 3 sets. (20 minutes per set)
  • Ladder intervals:
    • Begin riding at 65% of MHR for 1 minute, then increase the intensity for 1 minute to 70 to 80% of MHR. Return for 2 minutes at 65% of MHR, increase again for 2 minutes at 70 to 80% of MHR, return for 3 minutes at 65% of MHR, then increase once again for 3 minutes at 70 to 80% of MHR. Then descend down the ladder, with 2 minutes of riding at 65% of MHR, increase for 2 minutes to 70 to 80% of MHR, and finish with 1 more minute at 65% of MHR, followed by 1 minute at 70 to 80% of MHR.
    • Start with one ladder, and over a 4-week cycle, build to 4 ladder sets.

If you don’t ride with a heart rate monitor, then use the perceived level of exertion mode for intensity. On this scale, 1 is the easiest level, and 10 is the hardest level of exertion. 65% of MHR would be approximately 7 on the scale, and 70 to 80% of MHR would be approximately 8 to 9 on the scale of perceived level of exertion.

Don’t let winter get you down. Get on a spin bike or trainer and maintain some of the fitness you built up over the summer. Next spring, you’ll be happy you did!

Diane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, contact Diane at [email protected] or at LinkedIn.

Training for a two-day cycling event


Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.



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