3 Indoor Cycling Workouts to Make You Faster & Stronger

Posted On January 17, 2023 / Training Intel

By: Drew Hincapie

cyclists on indoor trainer

Indoor cycling workouts are fun and invigorating ways to improve your cycling performance or overall fitness. They’re a great way for both beginners and cycling pros to build strength, agility, and endurance. If you find indoor cycling understimulating or boring, it’s time to re-evaluate your indoor cycling workout plan. In fact, 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 3 of our favorite workouts and insights on how you get the most out of an indoor cycling session. 

Indoor vs. outdoor cycling workouts

Cycling workouts can be done inside or outside, but indoor cycling can allow you to achieve greater precision with structured training. Indoor cycling provides a more controlled environment without unforeseen obstacles like sudden rainshower, roadblocks, or rough terrain. An indoor smart bike or turbo trainer adds challenge and variety without additional risks. Outdoor cycling is always a great challenge and full-body workout, and it’s certainly more thrilling than cycling indoors. Indoor cycling should supplement your outdoor rides, not replace them. Ultimately, indoor cycling workouts aim to improve your performance outdoors. 

Types of indoor cycling workouts

Indoor cycling workouts focus on improving physiological performance and are categorized into different training or power zones. 

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.

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. 

Recovery

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

Endurance workouts

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 so you can ride even longer distances. Endurance workouts are a great time to focus on improving your technique, like foot positioning or pedaling, with cycling drills. Improving cardiovascular endurance is crucial to training for a Gran Fondo or for building up to a century ride. 

If you want to make your indoor endurance rides more challenging or exciting, you can incorporate a few drills. 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 are able to devote more focus toward improving your skill. 

Tempo workouts

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. 

Sweet spot workouts

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. 

Lactate threshold workouts

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. And, sweet spot training is a great way to improve lactate threshold. 

VO2 max workouts 

VO2 max workouts (106-120% FTP) are the biggest burners and will leave 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

Indoor cycling workouts can be structured in many different ways. Frequently they include intervals of high intensity with periods of rest between intervals. Here are a few example workout structures. 

Over-under intervals 

Over-unders are intervals subdivided into aerobic (under) and anaerobic (over) segments. Workouts including over-unders 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 

Sprints train you for a power boost essential for every type of cyclist. Sprints are about 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

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 each interval. 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. 

How do indoor cycling workouts improve 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 are capable of producing to propel your bike forward. The fastest and strongest cyclists are those who produce the most power. Additionally, you are able to cycle faster if you improve your FTP. 

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

What equipment do you need for indoor cycling workouts?

1. A turbo trainer or a smart bike

First and foremost, you need a way to cycle indoors. One option is to bring your road bike indoors and hook it up to a turbo trainer. Another is to use an indoor smart bike. Both are designed to mimic the outdoor riding experience. They often include built-in cadence sensors, power meters, heart rate monitors, and many other performance features. 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. In ERG mode, many turbo trainers and smart bikes can automatically adjust your resistance based on your cadence to keep you at a certain power output, or, you can manually adjust the resistance. 

2. 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. Every Wednesday evening at 7:20 PM ET, you can join George and a community of other cyclists for the Hincapie Power Hour on Zwift

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 road cycling, but making a few small changes in your cycling kit can have a big impact on 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. Proper fueling 

Make sure you fuel sufficiently for the type of workout you choose to do. Endurance rides use fat for energy, while short bursts of VO2 max intervals burn carbs. So make sure your body is equipped to supply the energy needed for the demands of your workout, and have water and snacks within reach to refuel on longer rides. 

6. 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. To do this well, you first need to establish a baseline FTP with a power meter. If you don’t have one already, you can choose from our list of 5 of the best power meters

If you’re new to cycling and not sure of the best way to start training, use our cycling training plan for beginners to get ready for your first Gran Fondo. 

Benefits of indoor cycling workouts 

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. 

  1. Indoor cycling workouts train you physically and mentally. Threshold and VO2 max interval workouts require you to push yourself until you reach or exceed your physical limits. Not only does this put your body to work, but it also requires serious mental focus. 
  2. Indoor cycling workouts are a safe way to train. On an indoor bike, you’re stable and don’t have to worry about rocks, branches, and other obstacles that could result in an injury outdoors. 
  3. Indoor cycling workouts are a great option at any time. You can hop on your indoor bike in the morning or evening and don’t have to worry about it being too dark or too late to cycle safely. 
  4. Indoor cycling workouts are a great option in any weather. A thunderstorm, snowstorm, hail, high winds–none of these are excuses to skip an indoor cycling workout. 
  5. Indoor cycling workouts are great 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. 
  6. Indoor cycling workouts add variety to your workout plan. 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 control your resistance and power output, and it’s easier to target specific training zones on an indoor bike. Training apps like Zwift allow you to travel all over the world virtually and join a community of cyclists you might otherwise never meet. 
  7. Indoor cycling workouts allow you to perfect the fine points of cycling. Indoor cycling gives you greater control over your workout. You don’t have to focus on your surroundings to avoid falling or to make sure you stay on course. You can devote this extra mental energy to focus on improving your posture, pedal stroke, or cadence. 

3 of the best indoor cycling workouts 

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 list of 20 of the best Gran Fondos in the USA to give yourself a goal to work toward and to keep you motivated during your 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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