How can I Make Indoor Cycling Fun and Less Boring?
With a couple of solid cold snaps in the Midwest this winter, everyone’s well aware of the dreaded “Polar Vortex.” Sure – you consider yourself hardy, but maybe you don’t want to brave the elements to ride, so you reluctantly pull out the trainer and ride for all of 10 minutes. So how do you get the most out of your trainer? Is it possible to make it fun to ride indoors? There are some ways to get the most out of your trainer time. Whether you use rollers, and indoor cycle, or a stationary trainer, it is possible to enjoy the time or even look forward to it. The pay off is being ready when the roads are snow and ice free, and summer sun-filled rides are yours to enjoy again!
Most people don’t have a spare room for cycling, but dedicating a corner and not going through the trouble of setting up and tearing down each ride makes it that much easier to ride. If it’s not possible to leave your bike and trainer set up all the time, you can help yourself by setting up a day before you ride, so your bike serves as a reminder. Let’s face it, if you’re going to walk by it a few times, you’ll remember to ride!
Don’t Ride Alone!
For many, riding is social, so when winter comes and you’re shut indoors alone, it just doesn’t seem as fun. If your significant other rides, it’s a great excuse for together time, and you can both ride at your own pace side-by-side. During the season, my wife and I don’t always have the same interest in time or distance, but if we ride at home on the trainer, we each meet our own goals without changing the other’s experience.
It’s also possible to get a group of people together for a weekly “ride” at a meeting location. It could be someone’s basement, a workout facility or a local park building, but the act of scheduling something and meeting up makes it social. Peer pressure can be a great thing here because you can push each other (maybe just to show up, or to ride harder/longer).
First off, there’s a reason that great videos like Spinervals – On The Road series exist, and that’s to give you the sense of (or at least illusion of) riding in some great location like Tempe, Kona, or Lake Placid. For me, I like to mix in some variety and just include a variety of programs and videos to watch to keep things interesting. If it’s got good music and interesting scenes, that’s great, but a lot of dialog can be tricky to follow, so you might want to skip the latest foreign releases or psychological thrillers. The Art of Flight is a personal favorite of mine as well as catching up on my favorite television shows on Netflix, Hulu or other online offerings. If I hit the trainer before or after the workday, watching the news can be good on multiple fronts – You can feel more informed, use bumpers or commercials as interval sessions, and depending on the news of the day, you can take out your frustrations in a healthy way!
Here are some tips for how to pick what you watch or listen to…
- Pick something based on viewing length and ride for the whole thing. My first rides over an hour were due to interesting shows keeping my mind off the time.
- Ignore the clock – by following the rhythm of the show or the music you listen to, time goes much faster.
- Turn it up – The better your trainer, the quieter it runs (Fluid trainers or rollers are often the quietest), but turning up the volume a little bit or using headphones helps you be in the moment more.
- Have no shame – assuming you are riding alone, no one can judge your viewing choices. Whether you watch Duck Dynasty, or American Idol, no one can judge!
Once you’ve got the ideal program, make a game out of it. You can get on a trainer and simply ride, but if you do the same pace, time or intensity every time, you’ll get less out of it. By using your programming to divide up the time, you can create intervals or breaks in the action. Here are some things I do:
- Early in the season, ride to music: set a goal to ride for X amount of songs, and keep track of the amount. This will give you a general time length, but not specific.
- When watching the news, sprint in and out of commercial breaks, or sprint for a commercial.
- Increase your cadence (you can track this with a cadence equipped computer such as the Strada or on your smartphone using the Wahoo components) moderately for longer periods (like the length of one song)
- Un-clip one foot from the pedals and pedal for thirty seconds (one commercial) using one leg. Make sure you pedal smooth to strengthen left and right legs. Alternate several times and resume regular riding.
These are just a few ways, but however you do it, creating variety and things to make it more interesting helps the time pass.
Dress like you would for a ride, and mean it. I always put on good cycling shorts, a jersey and a cycling cap or headband to manage sweat. Because you are indoors with little wind other than a fan, you need to stay comfortable for your whole ride. It’s a good idea to change position from time to time, using different parts of your handlebar including bar ends or aero bars to change it up. It also helps to have trainer accessories to make things more comfortable and enjoyable:
A trainer pad/mat. Keep sweat, drivetrain lubricant and other dirt off the floor as well as quiet the trainer ride.
- Sweat Net – Protect your bike as well as the floor below it from salty sweat and energy drink by covering it. (Bonus – it’s a great way to keep remotes handy).
- Water bottles – it’s not good to break up a workout to get a drink, so keep your water or energy drink close at hand.
- Ride the Rollers – I love my rollers; this is as close as you can get to real riding when indoors, and for most riders they help improve handling on the real road come spring. This is another way to mix up my riding, plus setup and take down is as easy as it gets.
- Get a trainer tire – Rolling against a metal drum wears out tires, and its noisy. By using a trainer tire, you save your good rubber for the riding season, and its easier to hear the TV.
- Train with Heart Rate – Listening to your body is great, but sometimes it tricks you. By working with heart rate, or even with Power, you can get the most out of your riding.
Trainer riding is never as beautiful as riding outdoors during the season, but it CAN be fun and the reward for time spent on the trainer now is comfort, fitness and less chance of pain or injury in the middle of summer. By tapping into what motivates you to ride and making it part of your trainer routine, you can create a habit of riding. It’s also important not to stress about it – whether you ride 30 minutes once a week, or can slog through a three-hour session, you’ll be a better rider for it come spring.
How do you make riding in the winter enjoyable? Do you have any tricks or tips to share? Please tell us!