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Cycling: training indoor for hitting the road again

Massimo Massarini, Doctor in Sport Medicine, Vitalia Progetti Salute
These days, in many countries, people are not allowed to ride outside, hard times for cyclists, that are used to go out and train for hours. This scenario requires a substantial change of training strategy and the constant use of a smart trainer to maintain the actual fitness level. Let’s see then how to organize a plan to minimise losses and, perhaps, to improve on weaknesses.
So today, it’s not possible to train for long hours, thus we must accept to lose a certain amount of endurance qualities. Nevertheless planning our sessions smartly will allow us to hit the ground running at the restart.

What to do to keep our body fit for cycling

  1. Train the muscles around your belt, also known as the core . They are key to having a good pedal stroke. Pelvis stability translates into the strength the legs transfer to pedals and largely depends on these muscles.
  2. Plan training sessions between 45 and 80 min. If you’re aiming for quality you don’t need to spin for hours, maybe train while watching a movie.
  3. Set up a powerful fan in front of your bike to avoid your core temperature rising too much. When training indoors, you have not the cooling effect of wind to regulate your body heat. Therefore, blood is diverted away from the muscles and drawn towards the skin which can limit performance. Turning the fan on will reduce the problem and you’ll need just a bottle of water per hour of training.

Your core is the key to have a good pedal stroke

Training goals for short sessions: Reverse Periodization

It’s common knowledge to lay down a training program on the usual progression: base, development and peak.
In each phase volume and intensity increases progressively but, in this situation, we must adopt a different approach and go for Reverse Periodization. This is familiar amongst athletes who live in geographical areas where the winter is harsh or when it’s necessary to peak again in a short amount of time.

The goal is to focus on intensity and quality, postponing the long aerobic base works for the future times, when outdoor riding will be possible . This choice will allow improvements in VO2 Max, specific strength and pedalling efficiency. Developing these qualities will pay dividends when hitting the road again making it easier to go for long hauls. In fact, it has to consider that on a normal ride, there are many low or nil intensity phases such as going downhill, braking or drafting. All this doesn’t happen on a smart trainer that never gives you a bit of rest; thus, 1 hour on a roller can be roughly compared to a two hours ride.

Professional and amateur races calendar has been completely revised, this is also the case for top cyclists like Letizia Paternoster, track silver medal at last World Championship. Let's see hew she keep on moving.
"Hi guys, how are you?
These days, I'm using my time in the most active way possible, training, doing a lot of physical activity at home and using every corner to train and create new exercises and workouts. I start my day having a good breakfast, turn on the loud music then, it makes me so dynamic. So come on guys, train at home and you'll see... the days will end much faster and fitter!"

Know your numbers

All this being said, it’s time to start planning an indoor ride session taking in account individual values of power (watt) and cadence (RPM) at anaerobic threshold (AT). The AT values can be obtained performing a ramp test to identify HR deflection corresponding to anaerobic threshold, or using a 20’ continuous effort, known as functional threshold power test (FTP).

Sample Session
Each training session should begin with stretching of the calves, hamstrings and quadriceps.
Better results can be achieved using a foam roller that can help to loosen myofascial adherences.
The next step will be 3-4 exercises to strengthen core muscles: plank, bridge, twist and side plank (just to name a few).

Once that has been done, it’s time to move on to the smart trainer and start spinning following these examples:

Session 1, about 45-50’

  • 5’-7’ progressive warm-up with some high power, high cadence bout of 30”
  • 3’-4’ low to medium progression, cadence increasing from 70 to 90 RPM
  • 4-5 sets of SFR (high torque-low cadence reps) 2’ at 50 RPM medium power - 1’ recovery at low power and 90 RPM cadence
  • 4-5 sets of 3’-4’ reps from medium to AT power, increasing cadence from 85 to 95 RPM, 2-3’ recovery at low power, easy spinning at 80 rpm
  • 5-7’ cool down at low resistance and 90 RPM
Session 2, about 70’-80’

  • 5’-7’ progressive warm-up with some high power, high cadence bout of 30”
  • 3’-4’ low to medium progression, cadence increasing from 70 to 90 RPM
  • 2 sets of 5’ medium power at 90-95 RPM, 3’ recovery after each set at low power and easy spinning at 85 RPM
  • 4-5 change of cadence: 30” high power at 95-100 RPM-30” low power at 80 RPM
  • 2 x 5’ medium power at 90-95 RPM, 3’ low intensity recovery at 85 RPM
  • 4-5 change of cadence: 30” high power at 95-100 RPM-30” low power at 80 RPM
  • 2 sets of 5’ medium power at 90-95 RPM, 3’ recovery after each set at low power and easy spinning at 85 RPM
  • 4-5 change of cadence: 30” high power at 95-100 RPM-30” low power at 80 RPM
  • 5-7’ cool down at low resistance and 90 RPM
Repeat the 2 sessions 2 times a week for a total of 4 training sessions/week.

Take home message: Aiming for intensity and quality training is the right thing to do to get the most under these circumstances.
Mixing a variety of stimuli, using different combinations of power and cadence allow for training with specificity and to perfect the technical skills. This is all you need now in order to be ready to hit the road again.

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