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Spin Smarter: Efficient Winter Bike Trainer Workouts

  • By Bethany Rutledge
  • Published Jan 23, 2014
  • Updated Mar 13, 2014 at 9:17 PM UTC
Photo: John David Becker

If you have the discipline to ride the trainer this winter, then it’s safe to say you want to make the most of time invested. You’ve probably heard a friend brag about watching multiple movies during epic spins, but saddling up for hours with no real focus isn’t going to get you much of a jump on next season. In order to improve, you need to challenge your body by varying intensity, volume, frequency and duration.

Assuming you’re an age-grouper with a limited schedule, you’ll benefit more from adding some type of intensity into your plan year-round instead of cycling at a very low intensity for long periods of time.

Before You Begin

All of these workouts should fit into a larger picture, which needs to be tailored to your goal race distance and time frame. Before you start, set your functional threshold power or heart rate zones to know your intensity levels. Metrics and structure are important to give direction and meaning to your sessions. Also, these workouts assume you have a regular base of weekly cycling for several months. Add in a 10–15-minute warm-up and cool-down based on how much time you have.

Workout: Progressive Tempo Riding

Goal: Improve steady and sustainable aerobic power, especially for 70.3 and Ironman.

Tempo work should be your meat-and-potatoes trainer workout. You can do one of these workouts every week. When done properly, they should feel challenging, yet not so hard that you can’t do them on consecutive days (see chart below).

Start with 20 minutes of total tempo riding and gradually build by five minutes per week. The rule is that you can divide the intervals however you want, but no single interval should be less than 10 minutes. You can gradually build up the total time until you’re doing a total of 80 minutes of tempo work. Aim for a short rest of 2–3 minutes between each interval.

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To add additional variety, switch up the cadence structure for each workout. Since the intervals will always be multiples of five, that’s an easy way to divide cadence targets.

You can divide your cadence into 4 on/1 off segments using the descriptors of climb, flat and sprint.

Climb: 65–80 RPM
Flat: 80–90 RPM
Sprint: 100+ RPM

Workout: Progressive Threshold Ride

Goal: Build functional threshold power (FTP).

Assuming your target race is a 70.3 or Ironman and takes place in the summer, you’ll want to spend a period of time focusing on building your FTP, or the maximum power you can sustain for one hour.

Use an accurate FTP wattage number or lactate threshold heart rate if you don’t have a power meter. In Coggan’s table, this is your Zone 4. Start with a total time of only 20 minutes and then gradually work up to 45–50 minutes total. Below is an example of a four-week sequence that gradually builds the main set (see chart).

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Workout: Race-Specific Intervals

Goal: Incorporate higher intensity work. Add this workout in the last 12 weeks prior to your “A” race.

If your goal race is a 70.3 or shorter, then this signals higher-intensity work. If your goal is an Ironman, then this means longer blocks of time in high Zone 2/low Zone 3. The total time at race intensity is proportional to your event distance.

Olympic Workout
4×15 minutes building from 90–95 percent with 3 minutes recovery between each.

Structure your cadence so it relates to your goal race terrain. If the race is hilly, then incorporate more climbing; if it’s completely flat, then do the intervals at your “flat” cadence or somewhere in the range of 80–95 RPM.

Ironman Workout
4×30 minutes building from 75–85 percent within each 30-minute period.

During both workouts you should strive to maintain the aero position and practice continuous pedaling — no coasting!

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5-Week Tempo Progression

Week 1 20 min 2×10 (2 min rest) 75–85% (build) 4 climb/1 flat
Week 2 25 min 1×15, 1×10 (2 min rest) 75–85% (build) 4 flat/1 stand
Week 3 30 min 2×15 (2 min rest) 75–85% (build) Choice
Week 4 35 min 1×15, 2×10 (2 min rest) 75–85% (build) 4 climb/1 flat
Week 5 40 min 2×20 (2 min rest) 75–85% (build) 4 flat/1 stand

4-Week Ftp Interval Progression

Week 1 24 min 4×6 (2 min rest) 95–105% Climb
Week 2 28 min 4×7 (2 min rest) 95–105% Flat
Week 3 32 min 4×8 (2 min rest) 95–105% Climb
Cutback Week
Week 4 30 min tempo 1×30 75–85% Choice

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