Winter is now here and many athletes have given up on the idea of riding outside until the snow melts again in spring. This is great in terms of maintaining your body core temperature but it will do little to help your progression as an athlete for next season. But there are ways to not only maintain your cycling fitness through the winter but to build it. Your two main options are spinning classes and riding your bike on an indoor trainer.

Spin classes are good because they are convenient (almost every gym will have classes), they are motivating as there is an instructor leading the class and lots of other people working out with you, and they provide structure to you workouts. The downside of spin classes is that you are not riding your own bike in your position and hence not training optimally. Spin bikes are not usually adjustable enough to allow to you achieve your tri bike position on them. As well the workouts tend to include a lot of non specific work, things like out of the saddle riding, which should be of limited quantity inside due to the fact that the proper technique (body stays straight over your bike and your bike moves under your body) is impossible to achieve inside and therefore performing it reinforces poor technique. On the roads it is very easy to spot a regular spin class participant as when they get out of the saddle their bike stays fixed underneath them and they move from side to side over top of it.

Getting an indoor trainer is your other option. The idea of an indoor trainer is that you ride your own bike and the indoor trainer provides the resistance. You can get ether rollers or a fixed trainer, rollers involve a bit more skill and are more for intermediate to advanced athletes. Rollers allow you to ride your bike as you normally would. You are balanced on a set of large ¡§rollers¡¨ under the front and back wheels, so your bike is able to move side to side on them. This is great for your bike handling skills as it takes focus and smooth steering to stay on the rollers, the problem is when you don¡¦t stay on them you fall over! The other option is an indoor trainer which lifts up your back wheel and places a roller bar on your rear wheel, and this is what provides the resistance. There are numerous options to how the resistance is generated, from wind, to magnets and fluids (speak to your bike shop about the advantages and disadvantages of each), the key especially for a beginner athlete is that the indoor trainers¡¦ resistance is not so high that the athlete can only comfortably ride in a couple of gears.

Of the two options riding your own bike is definitely more specific and of greater benefit than a spin class but going to spin classes still far out weights doing nothing at all!


Below are some examples of workouts for different levels of athletes. Always keep in mind that when setting up workouts you need to factor in what level of fitness you currently have and what your goals are for your races next year. If you have just come off your end of season break you should be doing shorter workouts at lower intensity, if you are a short course athlete with your A race in July of next year you don¡¦t need to be doing hard 3 hour rides in the middle of winter. While if you are an Ironman athlete your workouts should be a little longer but at a lower intensity. For specific ride lengths and intensities please check with your coach.

The intensity of your workouts can determined by either Perceived Exertion (PE) or hear rate (HR). Below is a PE chart that explains what each level of PE should feel like and the corresponding heart rate zone. Heart Rate zones are most accurately determined by lactate testing.


Z1 „« Warm up and warm down, very light effort, breathing is very light
Z2 „« Comfortable training pace for long days, breathing again is very light

Z3 „« This effort level can be maintained for an extended period of time but takes some focus, this is where you will first notice a deeper breathing pattern

Z4 „« Tempo effort, takes greater focus to maintain the effort, breathing becomes deeper and more frequent and conversation starts to become difficult

Z5 „« This effort level makes conversation difficult and is mentally taxing, deep and frequent breathing pattern

Z6 „« This effort level is very taxing and conversation will not be possible, the effort level will feel extremely challenging with a significant burning sensation from the lactate accumulation, laboured breathing

Your workouts should always be broken down into 3 segments, warm up (WU), the main set (MS) and a warm down (WD). The purpose of the warm up is to get your body ready for the workout ahead but raising your HR and warming up the muscles, you should spend at least 10min lightly spinning (easy effort level) and slowly building your cadence up to your normal cadence range. The warm down is to allow your heart rate to fall and to help your body flush out any metabolic by products from the workout, this will allow you to recover faster and do more training.

The warm up is also where you will include some drills, these include one legged pedalling, this involves unclipping one foot and resting it on the frame of the trainer behind you and then pedalling with the other leg. The idea is to work on a smooth pedal stroke so you want to push down and then scrape your foot back across the bottom of the pedal stroke then pull up on the pedal and then drive it forward over the top of the stroke, this helps to promote a smooth pedalling style and increased performance. The focus is on smoothness not effort so it should be done in an easy gear with light resistance. In the beginning do these at whatever cadence you can do them smoothly, which will generally be lower than your normal race cadence and over time as you perfect your technique build the cadence up until it is within 5rpm of your race cadence. Another drill is ¡§spin ups¡¨, these are 15 second sprints where you slowly build up your cadence till you hit the maximum you can sustain with bouncing (this is a key, if you are bouncing slow down!) for the last 5 sec of the interval. Again these are about technique not effort so they should be done is an easier gear and really focusing on being smooth and not rocking all over your bike. The goal is over time to be able to hold higher cadences without bouncing.

Training inside can be quite stress on the body due to the lack of wind to cool you down like you have outside, therefore always ensure that you stay well hydrated before during and after your rides and workout in a cool room with a fan.


This workout is for beginner athletes or those who are just getting back into shape after their off season. The durations is short and the intensity is low.

Warm Up: 10min Easy, slowly bring your cadence up to its normal level

10min of one legged pedalling done as 5x(30sec left leg, 30sec both legs, 30sec right leg, 30sec both)

1min easy

Main Set: Set1 ¡V 3x3min cadence=80 at a Steady effort with 1min rest

2min rest between sets

Set 2 ¡V 2x5min cadence =95 at a steady to moderate effort level with 2min rest

Warm Down: 5min of easy pedalling

Total: 50min


This workout is geared more towards an intermediate level athlete, it is both longer and more intense than the beginner workout

Warm Up: 10min Easy, slowly bring your cadence up to its normal level

12min of one legged pedalling done as 4x(60sec left leg, 30sec both legs, 60sec right leg, 30sec both)

1min easy

Main Set: Set1 ¡V 6x2min cadence=90-100 at a Steady effort 30sec rest

2min rest between sets

Set 2 ¡V 4x(2/4/2 min with 15sec rest between each, 2min intervals are Steady, cadence= 80 , 4min intervals are Moderate cad=90-100), 2min rest between sets

Warm Down: 10min of easy pedalling

Total: 90min


This is an advanced workout and should only be completed once the athlete has a solid fitness base

Warm Up: 10min Easy, slowly bring your cadence up to its normal level

6min of one legged pedalling done as 2x(60sec left leg, 30sec both legs, 60sec right leg, 30sec both)

5min, 5x(15sec sprint, 45 sec easy spin) for the sprints build to max cadence for the last 5sec with no bouncing!

1min easy

Main Set: Set 1 ¡V 4x4min with 1min rest, cadence= 90 & 100+ for 1min each steady effort, focus on smooth pedaling

2min rest between sets

Set 2 ¡V 10x6min on 90sec rest
Intervals 1-3 (2min of cad=60/80/95 Steady effort)
Intervals 4-6 (3min cad=80 hr Mod, 3min cad=95 Hard)
Intervals 7-9 (2min of Steady/Mod/Hard, cad=95)
Interval 10 cad=95 hard

Warm Down: 10min of easy pedalling

Total: 2hours +

For endurance sports like triathlon it is aerobic endurance that is the key to success. Therefore workouts should focus more on longer intervals or have very short rest to them (ie the 15sec rest in the intermediate workout set 2). The intensity should be such that you finish feeling like you could do another interval and not so hard that you are completely wasted at the end. Indoor trainers are also great tools for higher intensity brick workouts, where you do multiple bike/run bricks. Workouts like 3x(5min bike/5min run at a hard intensity) are a great way to prepare you for running well off of a hard bike ride in races.

Varying cadences are also a good way to replicate some of the varying demands placed on your system in races. Many races have hills of varying slopes and lengths and by training different cadences this helps to simulate those hills. Therefore having a cadence computer can help to ensure that you are actually pedalling at the varying cadences, but you can also just count your pedal strokes, start at 0 and as your right foot hits the bottom of the pedal stroke and count the number of times it hits the bottom in 10secs then multiply by 6 and you have your cadence (eg 15turns in 10 sec = 90 rpm)

The Next Step:

Some of the things that can help you get more out of your indoor training sessions are a heart rate monitor and lactate testing. A lactate test will tell you what is happening physiologically in a specific heart rate zone and allow you to individualize your workouts by ensuring that you are working out at the appropriate intensity for your current fitness level and for your future race goals.
A lactate test combined with a power meter is the ultimate training tool for the bike. It will allow you to train with the most precision as well as providing daily feedback on your progression. Training with power will allow you to set out workouts based on watts and it will give you instant feedback on if you are meeting your goals for the workout. Power is by far the most accurate way to check your progress on the bike over time and if you use a power meter on your bike (as opposed to an indoor trainer with a power function) you will be able to compare the workouts you are doing inside with your outdoor rides.


An indoor trainer is a critical tool for any athlete. Whether it¡¦s for the middle of winter when you are unable to ride outside or during the summer when you only have a limited time to ride and need to do a quality workout, an indoor trainer will allow you to get an excellent training session done. Spending some focused time training on your indoor trainer over the course of the winter will have you hitting the roads in spring with a new found fitness and level of confidence!

Nigel Gray
Head Coach
NRG Performance Training
ph. 416-443-6258