Ultimate Guide to Indoor Cycling: How to Effectively Train Indoors

cyclists on indoor trainer

Indoor workouts on your bike trainer are an excellent way for beginners and cycling pros to build strength, agility, and endurance. If you find indoor cycling under-stimulating or boring, it’s time to re-evaluate your indoor cycling workout plan. One of the many benefits of an indoor bike is the variety it brings to your cycling routine. Incorporating indoor bike workouts into your week can help you break through the physical and mental barriers holding you back from becoming a stronger, better cyclist. 

We’ll share everything you need to know to get started with indoor cycling, along with three of our favorite workouts and pro tips on how to get the most out of an indoor cycling session.

What is indoor cycling?

Indoor cycling simulates the experience of riding a bike outdoors on a smart turbo trainer or stationary bike. Smart bike trainers can automatically adjust resistance for virtual climbs using cycling apps like Zwift. An indoor smart trainer adds challenge and variety without additional risks. Indoor cycling can allow you to achieve greater precision with structured training by providing a more controlled environment without unforeseen obstacles like sudden rain showers, roadblocks, or rough terrain. 

We recommend supplementing your outdoor rides with indoor workouts, not replacing cycling outdoors altogether. Indoor cycling is a great way to improve your performance outdoors, but the freedom to explore new routes and the breeze and sunshine are just a few reasons cycling outside provides a unique, exhilarating experience.

Benefits of indoor cycling

Indoor cycling is more than just a last resort when weather or time gets in the way of an outdoor workout. It’s a great way to add variety to your cycling routine and often the best way to meet your training goals. 

Here are a few reasons why we get excited about indoor cycling workouts:

Physically and mentally challenging

Threshold and VO2 max interval workouts require pushing yourself until you reach or exceed your physical limits. Not only does this put your body to work, but it also requires mental focus.

A way to improve your performance

Indoor cycling workouts can improve your cycling power and speed. Improving your functional threshold power (FTP) should be a primary goal if you want to become a better cyclist, and measuring your FTP during training helps you maximize your workouts. Power, measured in watts, is the amount of energy you can produce to propel your bike forward. The fastest and strongest cyclists are those who produce the most power. Additionally, you can cycle faster if you improve your FTP.

To become a more powerful cyclist, learn the 10 best ways to increase your cycling power.

A way to perfect your cycling skill

Indoor cycling gives you greater control over your workout. You don’t have to worry about focusing on your surroundings to avoid falling or staying on course. You can devote this extra mental energy to focus on improving your posture, pedal stroke, or cadence.

A safe way to train

On an indoor bike, you’re stable and don’t have to worry about rocks, branches, lousy weather, and other obstacles that could result in an injury or a miserable ride outdoors.

A great option at any time

You can hop on your indoor bike in the morning or evening without worrying about it being too dark or too late to cycle safely.

An excellent workout for beginners and pros

Because the intensity of indoor cycling workouts is personal (based on FTP, heart rate, or cycling ability), anyone can do them. Pro cyclists can improve their cycling fitness and skill, and beginners can build strength and endurance. Indoor cycling is a great way for beginners to get familiar with the feel of a bike until they feel comfortable cycling outdoors.

A way to add variety to your workout routine

If you’re limited in outdoor cycling options, indoor cycling is an alternative to riding the same route with the same climbs day after day. You can easily control your resistance and power output and target specific training zones on an indoor bike. Training apps like Zwift allow you to travel virtually and join a community of cyclists you might otherwise never meet.

8 things you need to get started with indoor cycling

1. Bike 

First and foremost, you need a way to cycle indoors. One option is to bring your road bike indoors and hook it to a turbo trainer. Another is to use an indoor smart bike. Both are designed to mimic the outdoor riding experience. The more you are willing to spend on a turbo trainer or smart bike, the closer your ride will feel to one outdoors and the more metrics you’ll receive. 

2. A floor mat

A floor mat stabilizes your equipment, protects your floor from sweat, and reduces noise and vibrations. Choose a mat made from durable, high-density materials like PVC or rubber and easy to wipe down. Make sure you size it appropriately to accommodate your bike and trainer or stationary bike. 

3. A training app (optional)

An indoor cycling app, like Zwift, is a great way to have fun, stay motivated, and get competitive with structured training sessions. You can enter a virtual cycling world where your avatar can train or race with cycling pros like George Hincapie. For example, you can join the Hincapie Power Hour on Zwift every Wednesday at 7:20 PM ET.

If your goal is to become a stronger cyclist, Zwift can help you achieve that. Learn more about how Zwift compares to Peloton.

4. An indoor cycling kit

You can cycle indoors wearing exactly what you would wear while road cycling, but making a few small changes in your cycling kit can significantly impact your comfort when riding an indoor bike. Indoor cycling attire is designed to keep you cool and dry since you don’t get to enjoy the cooling benefits of the wind. Because there’s less airflow indoors, you’ll sweat more, so make sure your cycling kit has excellent moisture-wicking capabilities. 

5. Appropriate cycling shoes 

If you’re new to cycling, you may not know that even indoor cycling requires compatible cleats for clipping into your bike's pedals. The right cleats allow for better control and power efficiency while preventing your feet from slipping. This secure attachment is crucial for effectively translating your effort into pedal strokes, especially during high-intensity workouts. Additionally, ensure the shoes provide comfort and breathability for prolonged sessions. 

6. Fuel and hydration

It's vital to have a tailored fuel and hydration plan to optimize your indoor cycling performance. For endurance sessions, focus on foods high in healthy fats to support long-term energy needs, while for high-intensity intervals, incorporate more carbohydrates to replenish energy stores quickly. Hydration is critical in both scenarios, so always have a water bottle within reach, and consider an electrolyte drink for longer or more intense workouts to maintain hydration and electrolyte balance. Additionally, keep easy-to-digest snacks, like energy bars or fruit, handy to sustain energy levels during extended rides.

7. A workout plan

A cycling workout plan should be structured to help you achieve your goals and improve as a cyclist. The bulk of the workouts within your week should be focused on increasing endurance and may include a few sprints or intervals within those rides. But your training plan should also include workouts to improve your cycling power and fitness. 

If you’re new to cycling and unsure of the best way to start training, use our cycling training plan for beginners to prepare for your first Gran Fondo.

8. Baseline fitness test

Knowing your baseline fitness level helps you set achievable goals, structure your training plan to your specific needs, and track your progress over time. First, you must establish a baseline FTP (Functional Threshold Power) with a power meter. If you don’t have one already, you can choose from our list of 5 of the best power meters. An FTP test measures the highest average power you can sustain for an hour and indicates your endurance capabilities. 

9. Dedicated cycling space

Choose an area that’s free from distractions with sufficient ventilation. Also, having essentials like a towel, water bottle, and any required tech within easy reach is important for managing sweat and staying hydrated, especially during intense workouts. An organized and personalized environment will make indoor cycling sessions more enjoyable and productive.

Types of indoor bike trainers

Basic turbo trainer

Basic turbo trainers lack the interactive and advanced features of smart trainers, but they are an excellent choice for cyclists on a budget or for beginners hesitant to invest in more expensive equipment. A basic turbo trainer won’t automatically adjust resistance in response to virtual cycling routes or sync with online training platforms. However, this simplicity can be a benefit if you prefer a straightforward workout with no technological distractions.

When considering any turbo trainer (basic or smart), you have two main options: wheel-on and direct drive. Wheel-on trainers are the more practical option for casual or occasional users. The bike's rear stays on the bike and rests against a roller in the trainer. This setup is easier to set up and generally more portable. However, the friction between the wheel and the roller can lead to increased tire wear. 

Direct drive trainers require you to remove the rear wheel of your bike. The bike's chain then directly connects to a cassette attached to the trainer. This setup offers a more realistic riding feel and eliminates tire wear. While they are typically more expensive and less portable than wheel-on models, most avid cyclists prefer direct drive trainers for their performance and durability.

Smart bike trainer

Smart trainers have automatic resistance adjustments, connectivity options, and advanced training modes. Like basic turbo trainers, they come in both wheel-on and direct drive configurations, but they offer a more interactive and realistic ride experience than basic trainers. 

Smart turbo trainers connect to your TV, computer, or smartphone, and you can use apps like Zwift for a virtual ride experience. With Zwift, you can ride in virtual environments, compete with others, and participate in structured workouts. The trainer automatically adjusts resistance in response to virtual cycling routes or training programs for a realistic experience and an additional challenge.

Most smart trainers also include built-in speed and cadence sensors. These sensors provide real-time data on your cycling speed and pedaling rate, enhancing your training with detailed performance metrics. You can view this data on connected devices and track your progress over time. The power meter measures the power output in watts, giving precise feedback on your effort and performance. 

ERG Mode on smart trainers allows you to maintain a specific power output. The trainer automatically adjusts resistance so you stay at the desired power level, regardless of cadence. This mode ensures consistent effort levels for structured interval training.

Smart stationary bike 

A smart stationary bike is designed for an optimized and immersive indoor cycling experience. It’s not your traditional gym or spin bike. The design often mirrors the geometry and feel of a real road bike for a more authentic riding experience. 

High-end smart stationary bikes are generally more expensive than other indoor cycling options but a great investment for dedicated cyclists who prioritize having a high-quality, durable, and feature-rich training machine at home. They also eliminate the need for a separate bike and trainer setup, saving space and reducing the hassle of installation and adjustments.


Rollers are a unique and traditional form of indoor cycling equipment consisting of three rotating cylinders, two for the rear wheel and one for the front. The bike is placed directly on these cylinders without any attachments, so the wheels can spin freely as they would on the road.  

Rollers require constant balance and steering input, closely replicating the experience of riding on the road. This aspect of rollers not only improves physical fitness but also enhances core strength and bike handling skills. Maintaining balance and smooth pedaling to avoid veering off the cylinders can be tricky, especially for beginners. The learning curve initially makes rollers intimidating, but you can improve balance and control with practice.

One practical advantage of rollers is the ease of setup. Unlike direct drive turbo trainers, there is no need to remove the rear tire or make significant adjustments to the bike. Simply place your road bike onto the rollers and start riding.

How to structure your indoor cycling workouts

Indoor cycling workouts focus on improving physiological performance and are categorized into different training or power zones. Structured workouts in different power zones produce different levels of exhaustion and different results. You can choose which training zones to target in your weekly workout plan depending on your goals and total time for exercise.  

Training Zone FTP Description
1: Recovery 50–60% Warm-ups and cool-downs
2: Endurance 60-75% Cycling at a comfortable pace you can withstand for a long duration without feeling exhausted. Endurance rides should make up most of your cycling workouts.
3: Tempo 75-85% Cycling in this zone should only be moderately comfortable, meaning you can stay in the zone for a long time but not without a challenge.
4: Sweet Spot 85-95% Cycling in your sweet spot should feel challenging but not exhausting.
5: Lactate Threshold 95-105% Lactate threshold should feel difficult, and you won’t be able to stay in this zone for more than a few minutes.
6: VO2 Max 105-120% When you reach VO2 max, your lungs will burn, and you’ll be gasping for air. You won’t be able to hold the pace for more than 30 sec.–1 min.

Zone 1: Recovery

Each workout should incorporate active recovery at the end and throughout, between intervals. Recovery allows you to take a deep breath and allows your muscles to relax before the next sprint or completion of the workout. You should feel like you could cycle non-stop in this first training zone.

Zone 2: Endurance

Endurance workouts (60-75% FTP) are the foundation of your training and should occupy most of your indoor cycling schedule. Endurance rides last a long time, usually several hours, and improve your aerobic capacity to ride even longer distances. Endurance workouts are a great time to improve your technique with cycling drills, like foot positioning or pedaling. Improving cardiovascular endurance is crucial to training for a Gran Fondo or building up to a century ride.

You can incorporate a few drills to make your indoor endurance rides more challenging or exciting. Cycling drills, like pistons or sprints, can be incorporated into your ride to improve form and agility. Endurance or tempo workouts are usually the best for drills because your speed is controlled, and you can focus more on improving your skill.

Zone 3: Tempo 

Tempo (75-85% FTP) is the first training zone that feels strenuous, but only slightly. These workouts are steady and controlled, and you should be able to maintain a tempo pace for a long time without feeling fatigued. These workouts are great for transitioning from base training through the winter season before ramping up in the spring.

Zone 4: Sweet spot

Sweet spot workouts (85-95% FTP) are the perfect combination of duration and difficulty, with the benefits of both tempo and threshold workouts. Sweet spot training teeters on the border of being too intense to maintain for too long, but you should be able to stay in this zone for more than an hour without reaching exhaustion. The sweet spot still burns but doesn’t wear you down as fast as a lactate threshold workout would. Sweet spot training improves lactate threshold and VO2 max and can be a good replacement for endurance training when you have only a few hours in the week to devote to cycling.

Zone 5: Lactate threshold

Lactate threshold (95-105% FTP) corresponds to functional threshold power (FTP), or the power you can maintain continuously for an hour. But cycling at lactate threshold will feel exhausting after about 20 minutes. Once you reach this threshold, it becomes difficult to maintain the intensity. Lactate threshold workouts improve your ability to maintain a high level of intensity for longer. Sweet spot training is a great way to improve lactate threshold.

Zone 6: VO2 max workouts

VO2 max workouts (106-120% FTP) are the biggest burners, leaving you gasping for air. They take a great deal of focus and perseverance. VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body takes in during intense exercise. These workouts are critical if you’re hoping to improve your race performance. Because of the intensity of VO2 max workouts, you only need to include them once or twice in your weekly training plan.

Indoor cycling workout structures 

Over-under intervals

Over-unders are intervals subdivided into aerobic (under) and anaerobic (over) segments. Workouts, including over-under intervals, are great for race training. The intervals are incorporated into either tempo, sweet spot, or lactate threshold workouts. At the beginning of each interval is a 20–180 introduction of intense over segments at max anaerobic effort, followed by the under interval of tempo, sweet spot, or threshold intensity. Allow for a few minutes of active recovery after each interval.


Sprints train you for a power boost that is essential for every type of cyclist. Sprints are roughly 15–20 second segments of all-out effort or 150% FTP. As you improve, you can increase the duration of your sprints. Sprints are a great way to increase cycling power and prepare for a successful breakaway in a race.


Tabatas are a type of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) exercise that includes a group of short intervals of intense exercise with a short rest period between intervals. You can do a full Tabata workout or incorporate a few Tabata intervals at the end of a ride. Like sprints, as you progress, you can increase the duration of each interval.

3 indoor cycling workouts we swear by

Here are a few of our favorite, tried-and-true workouts:

    Hincapie Tempo Workout

    5 min. Warm up easy
    5 min. 30 secs @ 80% FTP / 30 secs easy
    3 min. Easy
    5 min. 30 secs @ 80% FTP / 30 secs easy
    2 min. Easy
    5 min. Tempo @ 75% FTP
    2 min. Easy
    10 min. 1 min. @ 45 secs tempo (76–90% FTP), 15 secs acceleration / 1 min. easy
    3 min. Easy
    10 min. 1 min. @ 45 secs tempo (76–90% FTP), 15 secs acceleration / 1 min. easy
    3 min. Easy
    10 min. 1 min. @ 45 secs tempo (76–90% FTP), 15 secs acceleration / 1 min. easy
    2 min. Cool down easy


    Hincapie Sweet Spot Training

    5–10 min. Warm up easy
    20 min. 15 min. @ 88-93% FTP / 5 min.. easy
    20 min. 15 min. @ 88-93% FTP / 5 min.. easy
    5–10 min. Cool down easy


    Hincapie VO2 Max Workout

    5–10 min. Warm up easy
    Repeat 8x 1.5 min.: 30 sec @ 120% FTP / 1 min.. easy
    5–10 min. Cool down easy

    Incorporating these workouts into your training plan will make you a more powerful cyclist and improve your race performance. Choose from our handpicked list of 20 of the best Gran Fondos in the USA to give yourself a goal to work toward and keep you motivated during indoor cycling workouts.

    Indoor cycling is a great alternative when faced with bad weather or freezing temperatures, but it isn’t your only option. If you’d rather brave the bad weather, use our 20 tips for cycling in the rain and the best cold-weather cycling gear and riding tips to prepare well.

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