Indoor Cycling Workouts from Joe Friel

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Learn more about the science of training and ways you can optimize your indoor rides in Joe Friel’s upcoming book Ride Inside: The Essential Guide to Get the Most out of Indoor Cycling, Smart Trainers, Classes, and Apps, available as an e-book this August and a paperback this October.

Ride Inside Workouts

The following workouts are designed for riding indoors on a cycling machine or on a bike mounted on an indoor trainer. Note that some cycling machines and trainers may not be stable enough for aggressive pedaling while standing on the pedals, as when sprinting. You will likely need multiple fans (head-on, side, and rear) to keep you cool so that heart rate is stable. Sweat may damage parts of your bike or the floor where you are riding so absorbent covers may be necessary. Excessively dripping sweat indicates that you need more fans or a cooler indoor venue for the ride.

First, you’ll need to determine your functional threshold in both power and heart rate, preferably, as some workouts are best measured in one and not the other metric. Note that some workouts are combinations of two different kinds of workouts. First learn the single workout and as you build fitness, add the second component for additional workload in one ride.


Aerobic Threshold

The aerobic threshold workout will boost aerobic fitness by improving your body’s delivery of oxygen and energy, sourced largely from fat, to the muscles. This ride is done throughout the season but it’s especially important in the early Base season when aerobic fitness is the primary focus. 

Duration: 45 minutes to 2 or more hours.
Warm-up: The warm-up is relatively short. About 10–15 minutes is adequate.
Main set: Ride mostly in upper zone 1 and lower zone 2 at a steady effort. This main set may last from 30 minutes to 2 hours or more depending on the type of event you are training for and your current level of fitness.
Effort: Heart rate is the preferred measure of intensity and should be about 30 beats per minute below your FTHR (plus or minus 2 bpm). Using a rating of perceived exertion scale of 0 (low) to 10 (high) the effort of this ride is about a 3 or 4. Although heart rate is preferred, if you only have a power meter available, you may ride in low zone 2.
Recover: Recovery is not a concern for this ride as the effort is quite low.
Cadence: Ride at a medium cadence within your comfortable cadence range.
Cooldown: Ride in heart rate zone 1 for 5–10 minutes following the main set.
Progression: As your aerobic fitness progresses throughout the season this workout is done primarily to maintain aerobic endurance.

Coach’s Notes: The aerobic threshold ride is commonly the longest workout in a rider’s training week. As your aerobic fitness improves this ride may serve as an extension of your workout and be preceded by another main set forming a combined-ability ride.


Isolated Leg + Aerobic Threshold Combined Workout 

The purpose of this workout is to refine your pedaling skills and improve your aerobic fitness.

Duration: 45–90 minutes
Warm-up: Ride easily for 10–15 minutes.
Main set: On an indoor bike or trainer, using a very light resistance, pedal with one leg only. The resting leg may be supported by placing the foot on a chair or stool next to the bike or trainer. On an indoor trainer be careful not to get your foot near the back wheel. In a very low (easy) gear and using only one leg, turn the cranks with a high cadence for 30–60 seconds. Change legs when hip flexor fatigue begins to set in.

Focus on eliminating the dead spots at the top (12 o’clock) and bottom (6 o’clock) of the stroke. To do this try to move the foot and pedal horizontally at the top and bottom of the stroke. This can be done by lowering the heel slightly at the 12 o’clock position and raising it slightly at the 6 o’clock position.

Alternate pedaling and resting legs for 2–6 minutes to complete 1 set.

Recover between each set and complete 3–6 sets of isolated leg pedaling.

After the isolated leg portion of the main set ride in high zone 1 and low zone 2 (about your aerobic threshold as described in the Aerobic Threshold workout) for 20–60 minutes. During this segment of the workout focus on good pedaling technique, especially at the top and bottom of each stroke.

Effort: For the isolated leg portion of the ride heart rate remains in zone 1. During the aerobic threshold portion heart rate may be slightly higher in low zone 2.
Recover: Recovery between isolated-leg sets depends on how long it takes your hip flexors to feel refreshed and ready to go again. If you err here make it on the side of too much recovery. Recovery is not a factor in the aerobic threshold portion.
Cadence: During the isolated leg sets pedal with a comfortably high cadence. For the aerobic threshold portion use medium a cadence within your comfortable cadence range.
Cooldown: Ride in heart rate zone 1 for 5–10 minutes following the main set.
Progression: This workout is mostly done in the Base season when developing both pedaling skills and aerobic fitness are primary concerns. But this workout may be done at any time during the season to maintain skills and aerobic fitness.

Coach’s Notes: Most riders don’t take pedaling skills seriously enough assuming that there is no skill in pedaling. They are wrong. Economical cyclists have been shown to have more efficient pedaling skills when compared with less advanced riders. Improved efficiency means less energy expended and therefore greater fitness.


Joe Friel’s RIDE INSIDE offers cyclists and triathletes a smart guide to getting more fitness from every indoor cycling workout.