Winter is the time of the year when many cyclists turn to indoor training to get in their riding fix and stay in shape. Here are 5 Tips to help you get the most out of your indoor cycling experience:
1. Properly set up your bike on the trainer.
Read and follow the instructions that came with your indoor trainer carefully to be sure that your bicycle is attached safely and securely. If you still have questions about the correct way to set up the system, check with the local bike shop where you bought it.
Most trainers have a clamp that holds both sides of the quick release skewer on your rear wheel. In fact, most trainers come with a skewer that is designed to work best with the trainer; just swap out your original skewer for the one that came with the trainer. This insures the best fit, and it also keeps your nice original skewer from getting scratched up by the clamping mechanism.
Adjust the position of the roller on the resistance unit so that you find the "sweet spot" where it contacts your rear tire. You want the roller/tire contact point to be tight enough so that the tire does not slip as you pedal, but not so tight that it significantly increases the resistance provided by the trainer mechanism itself.
Note that your rear tire will wear out significantly during your indoor training season. Many people replace their nice rear tire with a cheap model of tire to use as a "trainer-only" tire.
2. Use a front wheel stabilizing block.
The trainer unit will lift your rear wheel off of the floor by a couple of inches. The stabilizer block (or riser block) lifts your front wheel up so that your bike stays at the normal, level riding position. A side benefit is that it keeps your front wheel from swaying side-to-side, so you don't have to worry about actively keeping your handlebars straight while you pedal.
Many stabilizer blocks, such as the CycleOps Climbing Block, have several height options. The lowest position lets you level the bike to have a normal riding angle, but the higher positions let you raise your front wheel more than normal, to simulate the position that your bike and body are in while riding uphill. This lets you do more focused conditioning on the leg muscles used in climbing.
3. Do something to keep it interesting.
You're more likely to stick with your training plan if you can keep it from getting boring. Set up your bike and trainer in front of the TV to catch up on your favorite sitcoms, movies, the news, or sports events. Or, crank up your favorite motivational music. Some people even catch up on reading by putting a book or magazine on a stand in front of their bike.
The best way to keep you motivated and make the most of your time spent on the bike is to use a workout video tailored to indoor cycling. There are many workouts available in DVD format, which feature professional coaches leading you step-by-step on the screen in a structured workout, telling you when you crank it up to a high gear, or spin fast in a low gear, or take a rest.
4. Dress like you're riding outside on a hot day.
Wear the same cycling-specific clothes that you normally wear for your outdoor riding, i.e. cycling shorts, jersey, and shoes (your helmet is optional, unless you don't follow Tip #1!). These clothes provide the same benefits of comfort and moisture management indoors as they to outdoors.
You may even notice that you sweat more when riding indoors in the winter compared to riding outdoors in the summer. This is because you don't have the air moving past you to dry the sweat off of your skin like you do when actually riding outside. For this reason, many people like to keep a towel handy to wipe their face, arms, and legs once in a while during their indoor workouts. You can also set up a fan in front of your bike to keep a nice cooling breeze going.
Also, don't forget your bottle of water or sports drink to stay hydrated!
5. Listen to the rhythm of your wheel.
Whether you're riding indoors or out, you should always think about pedaling in a circular motion. This may sound obvious; since your pedals move in a circle no matter what, how can you do otherwise? The term "pedaling in circles" means that you should concentrate and visualize applying a smooth, even pressure throughout the entire stroke of your pedaling, as opposed to a pumping up-and-down force.
This is one area where an indoor trainer provides an advantage to working on this technique. Listen to the sound that the resistance unit makes as your wheel spins on it. If you hear a distinct "whir-whir-whir-whir" of the wheel, you should try to pedal in smoother circles. Your goal is to get as close as possible to one long, continuous "wwwwwhhhiiiiiirrrrrrr...." sound.
If you work diligently on developing this smooth pedaling technique on your indoor trainer, you'll find that it translates to smoother, more efficient pedaling that does not tire you out as fast once you get back out on the road or trail.