Neal Henderson is the founder of APEX Coaching in Boulder, CO which has just recently added an indoor cycling and strength training studio to their high-performance laboratory. He raced as an elite triathlete and is an experienced cyclist competing as a master’s athlete in road, mountain, cyclocross and track cycling.
Henderson has coached more than a dozen athletes and teams to a combined fifty plus world championship titles in various cycling and triathlon disciplines and has served as part of the Team USA Coaching Staff at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.
Below, Neal answers six questions our in-house road and gravel bike racer, Kevin Conerly, had about winter indoor training strategies.
1. What advantages does indoor training offer over riding outside?
Indoor training can offer some benefits over riding outdoors in that you can perform very specific on/off intervals without any disruptions. This is really effective for micro-intervals that are typically just 5 to 30 seconds long with very limited recovery between efforts, as well as learning how you evenly pace steady state intervals to prepare for long climbs and time trial type efforts.
2. How can I stay motivated when riding indoors?
First off, training with someone else can definitely help keep you motivated - that’s why indoor cycling in class settings is popular. Next, have a plan and purpose for your indoor cycling workouts. There are some great apps like The Sufferfest and Zwift that are great for being motivational and giving you a purpose to your sessions.
3. Does it matter if I train on high or low resistance?
There are many different types of stationary bike trainers - from dedicated indoor bikes like WattBike or Stages SC3 bikes, to low inertia trainers like RevBox and basic rollers, to high inertia trainers like the Wahoo KICKR and Tacx NEO. Each of these options has some associated positives and negatives.
The dedicated stationary bikes are nice in that you can just jump on and go anytime you want, and you could share the same bike with someone else - though you both couldn’t ride at the same time. Low inertia trainers are great for improving pedaling technique and a low inertia trainer with adjustable resistance like the RevBox is a great option to replicate the feel of climbing up steep hills.
The high inertia smart trainers like the NEO and KICKR are great for the cycling simulation apps like Zwift and RealRides, as well as other specific training apps like The Sufferfest where the workouts can be delivered in erg mode where you just simply follow the prompts and pedal - no extra thinking required.
4. Do you ever have an athlete ride endurance or are there always specific intervals involved?
Generally speaking, I don’t prescribe many, if any, general endurance sessions for indoor trainer workouts. For that, I recommend alternative cross-training activities like hiking, XC skiing, backcountry skiing, etc. to do general endurance if the weather isn’t good enough to ride outside. When we ride indoors, it’s generally with the purpose of doing specific efforts that are relevant to your riding goals. Not all indoor interval sessions are at maximal intensity, though, there are many ways to do intervals.
5. Is a power meter necessary?
For indoor workouts, a power meter is not an absolute necessity, but it makes completing specific high-intensity sessions more effective and is helpful in tracking your progress over time. If you don’t use a power meter, then at the very least you can use perceived effort to judge how hard you’re working, and a heart rate monitor is another fairly inexpensive tool that you can use to gauge your intensity. A lot of even relatively low priced smart trainers include power measurement, and there are even some training apps that will estimate power from a basic trainer based on wheel speed - so you’ll need a speed sensor for those to work.
6. I am training for climbing events. Is there a training benefit if I raise my front wheel to simulate the position of climbing?
There’s certainly no harm in elevating the front wheel to more closely simulate the position of climbing, but if you’re on a trainer that doesn’t offer enough resistance to be able to push big gears at relatively high power then you won’t get as much benefit as you’re hoping for. That being said, riding a course with a smart trainer like a KICKR CLIMB (front wheel height adjuster) is a pretty novel way to more closely simulate outdoor riding than just keeping a stationary elevated height of the front wheel.