Sunday, 20 March 2011

Training and Time Efficiency

As many readers of this blog will be aware I do the vast majority of my winter training in particular indoors on my VELOtron and in fact also spend time training indoors throughout the year simply because of the time-efficiency and effectiveness of this type of training.

Many riders spend many hours during the winter out in all weathers spending a great deal of time "getting in the miles" when in fact a great deal of that time could be better spent (in terms of training at least) making use of an indoor trainer. Much of the time on long training rides, particularly in groups, is wasted. I do recognise that there is a strong social element to outdoor riding, that is the reason most of us do it, but it is I believe a mistake that endless miles will actually get most riders fitter.

This may or may not be of interest but I thought I'd share with you an example of what I'm talking about by showing you some data from 2 types of different rides, one long (4+ hours) road ride with a group of friends that I did today and one much shorter (2 hours) trainer ride I did a week or so ago.

The two upper graphs are the most important and show the power distributions (in training zones) for the 2 rides. As you can see the indoor trainer ride included some pre-programmed threshold (L4) intensity work and shows that I spent 29% of the session time at that intensity (which is VERY productive in fitness terms) and 62% of the session was spent in UPPER L2 (around VT1) which is also very productive training. As you can see only about 6% of the time was in my active recovery power zone and this time was actually during the warmup and cool down sections which I have pre-programmed into the session.

Contrast the above with the second graph from today's group ride in the hills of Northumberland. As you can see 56% of the riding time was spent at an active recovery power level which has essentially no training value whatsoever (soft pedaling, draughting, freewheeling downhill, all common in group rides). Adding up the total time spent in L1 and L2 (not working very hard at all in power terms) we reach a staggering 78% of the total ride time which is well over three hours of the 4+ hour ride essentially wasted in training terms but of course enjoyable in social terms. There is some time spent at the higher intensities where there were harder hills but these are the intensities which are also far better managed during an indoor session in order that the training benefit of these intensities can be maximised.

The final graph simply shows the HR data to go with the power data from the longer ride. As you can see there was very little cardiovascular challenge during the longer ride with around 15% of the time spent at a tempo HR level and <5% of the time up at L4 (threshold) HR levels and virtually nothing above that.

This is just an illustration which I hope may be of help in clarifying how easy it is to make the mistake of riding lots and lots of miles or many many hours which is in training terms unproductive. The problem is if they are not ridden at the right intensities to make the body adapt they will never make a rider quicker. A great deal can be achieved with an indoor trainer without exposing oneself to winter weather and in particular to the risk of slippery roads and the greater risks of accidents that winter brings.

Indoor Trainer Ride - Power Distribution
Outdoor Ride - Power Distribution
Outdoor Ride - HR Distribution


  1. Hehe. You don't work hard enough outdoors. ;)

    Personally, I ride for the unfettled joy of cresting that summit, the exhileration of speed, the thrill of cornering on the edge of control leaning into a bend as I descend at speed, spending time with the wind in my face, the sweet smell of the countryside as I watch the seasons change it every day.

    Turbo's are none of these things. Its the journey not the destination for me.

  2. How do you get over the sheer boredom of riding on a trainer. After two hours I fear would be brain dead. I try, but by one hour I am near crazed and start thinking of ways to get off the bike.

  3. Hi Mark, I too ride for all these reasons. Unfortunately rain, wind, sleet, snow, hail and general nastiness take much of the pleasure away over the winter, for me anyway. I prefer to train indoors over the winter and then hopefully the pleasure is greater when the weather is decent and I'm going faster and/or easier and not struggling to hang on quite so much. Each to their own methods I say, "Vive La Difference", et "Vive Le Sport" :-)

  4. Hi Glenn, I guess I'm just used to it now! I watch videos and also use the ErgVideo system with my trainer, I listen to music, spend the time thinking, watch the power and HR data, that kind of thing. In the end it's down to personal taste and I find I can get away with it and it makes winter training less time consuming overall and above all a whole lot more consistent. Consistency is everything.

  5. I would agree with Quentin a bit here. I've been training for a Sportive (L'Etape du Tour Act 2) this July. Although I'm typically a "journey" person, the "ends" do matter as well to me. I want to be able to say to myself that I did the best I possibly could (given the time constraints placed on my life). If that means that I do more (lot's more) trainer work and less road work with my buds, I'm all for it. "How" I finish L'Etape matters: hopefully strong knowing that my training (including substantial indoor training) was key to my finish. Even if finish in the bottom of the rankings, I won't care as long as I know all those who finished in front of me were just stronger riders. I won't be able to say that unless I do the best that i can. And that means getting the most out of my time on an indoor trainer. -Ed see