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Indoor virtual cycling, that's how you do it!

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The virtual Tour of Flanders was viewed by more than 600,000 spectators on tv a few weeks ago. Virtual cycling is on the rise. This is shown by the enormous increase in the number of virtual cyclists using Zwift, Bkool, Rouvy and other digital cycling software programmes. We are looking for ways to be able to cycle and race together despite all the measures. Has virtual cycling already triggered your interest? Or are you already a huge fan and need some practical tips & tricks from our professional Energy Lab coaches? Then this article will be your cup of tea !


Why indoor training?

Many cyclists believe that training sessions of 30 to 60 minutes are of little use and prefer to go for 1 to 2 long training sessions outside (mostly on weekends). However, in this case, the supercompensation principle tells us this situation is not optimal. Because of the time between the two training stimuli - weekend to weekend – the recovery time is too long and the effect of your one training session wears off. One or two sessions on indoor rollers during the week can provide a serious boost to your fitness, even if they last less than an hour. The advantage of training on rollers is that you can train very specifically without the impact of your surroundings (weather, traffic, roads, hills,…)

Perfect workouts to do indoor

  • Recovery training

These trainings are often underestimated, but are invaluable. There's nothing better than loosening the stiff muscles from your long weekend ride by spending 30 to 60 minutes on the rollers. A good recovery workout is done at a low intensity with a smooth cadence above 90 RPM (revolutions per minute).

  • High cadence training

With this 45 to 90 minute workout you'll increase your flexibility and learn to put less strain on your muscles during longer workouts. You can practice this perfectly indoors. Integrate short blocks of 1 to 2 minutes into your workout, deliberately using a smaller gear and aiming for a cadence of more than 100 RPM. Repeat the blocks 5 to 10 times and recover at an easy pace in between. Try to remain firmly seated in the saddle at all times and keep your balance.

  •  Fasted training

Losing weight and fat mass is often one of the motivations to workout. A fasted workout before your breakfast can help. These trainings should not be too long: the rule of thumb is 45 to 90 minutes at a low intensity. This way you optimize your fat burning and improve your basic condition. Make sure to rehydrate and eat a good breakfast afterwards.

  •  Strength training

Strength and strong legs are needed for uphills, sprints, cycling against the wind and just to go fast. Improve your strength by cycling strength specific intervals. Try to repeat this training twice a week and do it several weeks in a row. Build up from 3 sets of 3 minutes to 8 sets of 3 minutes - with 3 minutes of easy spinning in between. Compared to the souplesstraining you will cycle at a low cadence: 40 - 60 rpm. The intensity does not exceed 80% of your maximum heart rate. During your recovery moments increase to a smooth pace of > 90 rpm at low intensity.

  • Climbing specific training

You can perfectly prepare for the tougher climbs with specific interval training on your rollers. The intensity of this training varies between 75 and 90% of your maximum heart rate (depending on the moment in your preparation). In contrast to the strength training sessions where a low cadence is characteristic, you choose a higher cadence and a lower gear for the climbing training sessions. Blocks are finished at 80 - 90 rpm & a small gear. Build up from 3 sets of 3 minutes to 8 sets of 3 minutes - with 3 minutes of recovery (easy spinning) in between.

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Determining the intensity of your workouts

 How do you determine the intensity of your workouts? Most roller systems work on power. On the most popular online platforms such as Zwift, Bkool, Rouvy, Tacx, Wahoo, etc. you can do an FTP test, which determines the power you can use to complete different types of trainings. The 20 minute test calculates the power you can maintain for 60 minutes. Based on that outcome, training zones can be determined (within the platform you performed the test on).

DO's & DONT's of indoor bikes

  • DO: Use a fan

Your body produces heat while cycling. In the open air this heat evaporates largely through the air movement around your body. Inside, the heat remains stuck to your body, as it were, so that your sweat cannot evaporate properly. This evaporation of sweat ensures a controlled body temperature. An increase in the core temperature will reduce the efficiency of the workout and affects the heart rate, the recovery and more. So install a fan to provide air circulation around the body.

  • DO: Provide fresh air & sufficient water

Fresh outside air is a must, especially if you cycle in a small space on the rollers. The humidity and the concentration of CO2 will also increase if there is no supply of fresh outside air. In general, you will also lose more fluids during indoor workouts than during outdoor workouts. Drink at least 500 ml of water per hour. Measure your bodyweight before and after your workout and ensure you drink enough in the following hours to replenish your lost fluids.

  •  DO: Train specifically

 Training durations of more than 2 hours are mentally debilitating if you are going to finish them indoors. Therefore, make use of the indoor sessions to train specifically. This way you can train very efficiently in a short period of time.

  • DON'T: Go each workout for a personal best

 With indoor cycling, everything is very measurable. That's why many cyclists want to set a new record with every training session. Just a little harder, just a little longer, beat their personal best etc. Participating in a race or very high intensity training can be done occasionally, when you are in good health,  but is certainly not for every day. Also note that high intensity training does not improve the strength of your immune system.

 It's best to respect the 80/20 rule meaning 80% endurance training at a comfortable pace and 20% intensive training (not maximal heart rate !). You can test yourself on a regular basis by, for example, doing a fitness test every 8 weeks if your health and condition allows it.

  •  DON'T Finish long endurance training indoors

Because you have a constant tension on your legs during indoor training, indoor training counts for about 120% of the time compared to outdoor training. When cycling outside, the wind, intersections, traffic lights, descents, etc. will keep your legs still for up to 20% of the ride. An outdoor training of 2 hours will therefore correspond to a training load of 1h40 indoors. If, for example, the weather is very bad for a whole weekend and you want to finish the long training indoors, you can split the training: 1h sober and 1,5h with specific strength climbing or high cadence blocks. This way you’ll have cycled in total 2,5h which corresponds to 3h outside training.

 Stay safe, stay healthy & have fun cycling indoors!

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