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Pedal Science Blog: Ride outside or indoors? Which is best?

Welcome to Pedal Science, the weekly bike fitting blog by Nick Thomas of The Endurance Coach.

This week our resident bike fitter Nick Thomas veers away from fitting and discusses the benefits of indoor V outdoor riding. He has been suffering in the cold weather and that's more to do with his mental toughness and less to do with body fat percentage.

For most people turbo training is a necessary evil and done out of necessity rather than choice. To provide more motivation to embrace turbo training it helps to understand the benefits of training indoors over road riding, and when cycling outdoors would be more beneficial.

There are several advantages to turbo training:

  • Training is not weather or light dependent so ideal for training throughout the winter
  • Specificity is increased: exact power can be achieved with specific cadence for a certain amount of time
  • There is no stopping or freewheeling due to traffic lights or congested roads
  • Sessions are more time-efficient so less training time is required

We regularly use turbo sessions for clients when we want to achieve high intensity training. This could be maximal efforts with long recoveries or sustained efforts at – or above – functional threshold. Because there is no interruption the athlete is able to achieve a certain effort and maintain it for the required duration. The sessions are very hard but usually over within the hour: this would be almost impossible to replicate on the road, especially if VO2 max efforts are required.

If the athlete has a power meter the benefits are even greater as the effort can be continually monitored throughout the session. People often comment that there is ‘no hiding’ during these sessions.

Turbo sessions are also useful to improve cycling technique. A power meter will usually provide a spin scan which shows the power distribution throughout every pedal stroke and because the information is in real time the athlete can focus on improving technique throughout the session.

Power meters can also measures the power distribution between each leg so inequality can be reduced by focusing on the non-dominant leg. It’s possible for distribution to vary between 40% - 60% and a turbo trainer enables the athlete to complete single leg drills in a safe, controlled environment.

However there are also aspects of cycling performance which can’t be as easily achieved on a turbo trainer. To ride outside the body needs to constantly balance and there is also the continuous vibrations from the road which contribute to overall physical fatigue. The postural endurance required to maintain efficient posture and cycling efficiency when fatigued can only be achieved by riding outdoors, especially during longer sessions. The ‘time on the bike’ factor becomes even more important for people competing in longer events.

For anyone needing to complete longer rides but unable to ride outside a set of rollers is the ideal compromise. The bike sits on a set of roller wheels but isn’t attached so the athlete is required to balance on them throughout the session. Rollers therefore enable the athlete to train indoors but also maintain/develop postural endurance at the same time.

Conclusion:

For high intensity interval sessions turbo training is the most effective way to train and also takes less time to complete a session. To develop postural endurance and adapt to the fatiguing nature of road riding longer sessions should be completed outdoors whenever possible. As a final point, if you don't do cafe stops, you're not a proper cyclist, so ride outdoors some of the time...

Nick Thomas is the resident bike fitter at The Endurance Coach. He is a fully qualified bike fitter and expert in lower limb mechanics, holding a BSc (Hons) in podiatry. You can contact him using the email address: nickthomas@theendurancecoach.com or see more about his fitting services by GOING HERE.



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