You know what’s involved, sweating, swearing, a swirling stomach tempting to eject breakfast with each passing second. The indoor trainer is a choice for some but a necessity for others at times when the outside can be even more hostile! So it’s raining outside, you only have time for an hour ride before you need to go to work, and you’ve jumped on your indoor trainer to get some real ‘work’ done. But now what? This article is intended as a DIY indoor training session builder. Hopefully, it will give you some basic info on training sessions so you can build your own and have some fun when indoors!
What do you want to get out of indoor training?
This should be your first question. What do you want to get out of this session? If you have no idea, that’s ok. Remember back to your last race or ride…
Q: Did you get dropped or did you want to improve on any of the these?
- Short climb (under 5min)
- Long climb (over 5min)
Now you have an idea of where you’d like to improve, it’s time to build a session plan. There are a lot of options so it can be a little daunting. But let’s work out some basics.
We won’t get too fancy with power numbers and such, but we do need a way to measure intensity. Let’s use the 10 point RPE, or Rate of Perceived Exertion, scale. That is –
- 1–2 is very easy.
- 3–4 is fairly easy but you can feel your breath and legs working.
- 5–7 you have a deep breath; your legs are straining; but you can maintain it.
- 8–10 your breathing is ragged your legs are on fire, you see breakfast!
In general, 3–4 is where you would sit for a long steady ride, 5–7 is where you would do your efforts over 5 minutes and 8–10 is your short sharp efforts. This is very subjective but after a few rides you should get a feel for the effort.
Using your gears or built-in resistance on your trainer, you can usually vary your cadence from Fast – Medium – Slow. In general, the faster end of the scale will make your heart rate and breathing work harder, while the slower end will be more about muscle strength. A good mix between the three sessions is usually best.
Warm up/Cool down
Before you start any efforts, make sure you have spent at least 10–15 minutes warming up. Slowly working your way up from 1–2 RPE to 3–4 RPE, and do at least one 2 minute effort at 6 RPE.
The amount of efforts you do can vary between individuals, but as with most training, favour quality over quantity.
Now we have the ingredients, let’s start cooking!
We will class ‘short stuff’ as efforts under 5 minutes.
- 10 second
- 30 second
- 1 minute
- 2 minute
- 3 minute
- 4 minute
- 5 minute
The focus for these, and most other efforts, will be on keeping a smooth effort for the entire duration. Your RPE for these efforts will vary between 8 and 10. With 10 for 1 minute and under, 9 for 2–3 minutes and 8 for 4–5 minutes. You will need to pay close attention to your pacing during the 3 min+ efforts. Starting out at an RPE of 7–8 will be best as the latter half of the effort will feel like a 10, but you will still be in the correct power range.
As the focus is on a strong effort, your recovery time will need to be long. A 1:1 ratio for 3 min+ efforts is best (that is, a 5 minute effort has 5 minute rest), while look for 1–3 minutes of rest, or as long as you need, for short (under 2 minutes) efforts. Complete recovery periods at 1–2 RPE with a light cadence. Recovery doesn’t need to be as long as short efforts, but a 2:1 ratio (10 min effort – 5 min rest) is a good place to start.
We will class ‘long stuff’ as efforts over 5 minutes.
- 5 minutes
- 8 minutes
- 10 minutes
- 15 minutes
- 20 minutes
- Steady state
Long steady state efforts (same power throughout effort) should be done with an RPE of 5–7. Like the longer ‘short’ efforts they will start out feeling relatively easy and the RPE will increase as time progresses while the power will be the same. The focus on longer steady state efforts should be your breathing and ‘form’ on the bike. With less need to focus on actually riding your bike, like out in the wilderness, you have more time to focus on maintaining a smooth cadence and a strong core. Along with a strong core, deep rhythmic breathing should also be your aim.
Long efforts can be spiced up with some variable efforts, within the longer effort. For example, a 10 second sprint (RPE 10) could be included every 2 minutes of a 10 minute effort (RPE 5). These short ‘efforts within an effort’ can help make the time go a little quicker! They also are great for responding to surges in a race or making it up short pinches on a long climb.
Mountain biking is very diverse; one moment you can be smashing it up a steep pinch, while the next you’re slogging it out up a ten-minute dirt road climb. To train for the diversity, mixing a number of different short and long efforts into one indoor session can be great training. It will also make time go a little quicker as you’re always doing something different!
Hopefully, this has given you a general guide as to how to build your own indoor training plan. What I’ve outlined are guidelines and are in no way ‘rules’. If you want to get creative, that’s great! But if there is one rule, it will be to write down a plan before you get on the bike. Knowing what your about to do and why you’re doing it are both great tools for smashing out a solid session. If you are still unsure, you can always use one of the many training apps on your phone or computer (JetBlack App) that will guide you through a workout. With time, hopefully you will develop and be able to form your own creative ways to suffer!
Want to know more? Check out Phil Welch’s take on indoor training.