Three Considerations for Transitioning from Indoor to Outdoor Riding

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Spring has sprung, the ice has melted and it’s time to unlock your bike from the trainer, toss a leg over it and RIDE outside in the sun!

But before you do that, let’s talk about some considerations for making the transition from indoor to outdoor riding.

You have more endurance than you think you have!

If you’re an Endurance Nation athlete, training plan customer, or have been following our OutSeason® training advice through the winter, you’ve been dining on a steady diet of lactate threshold intervals and “long rides” of no longer than about 90 minutes. You’ve been dreaming of the day when you can get outside and ride with your (former) training partners. But they’ve been dining at the usual long slow distance buffet all winter long, punching the clock with regular 3-4hr base training indoor trainer rides in January and February for their A-race in September. They want you to join them for a 4hr ride in April. Our notes for you:

  • Volume is overrated: do not underestimate the endurance you’ve built by “only” cycling 3-4hrs per week, nearly all of it very hard. We’ve applied our FAST then FAR approach to thousands of triathletes since 2007. All of these folks have done what you’re about to do in April and were pleasantly surprised by the endurance they had built over the winter, on top of huge raw speed gains.
  • Expect some positional fitness issues: yes, you’ll need a few rides to break in the neck, shoulders, and sit bones to sitting on a bicycle for several hours and, yes, it will be uncomfortable for a while. But you’ll be fine in a week or two and the endurance WILL be there!
  • Expect some perspective issues: yes, jumping from a 90′ indoor ride to a 3hr outdoor ride is a big jump, mathematically. But we promise that in a week or two your head will be completely adjusted to it.

Again, we have a looonngg history of folks just like you making this transition and doing very, very well. The examples we use are our Tour of California and Tucson training camp attendees. Many of these folks jump straight from 3-4hrs indoor cycling weeks to an intensive 9-25hr cycling week with zero endurance issues. Trust us, you’ll be fine. Your neck, back, and ass less so but they’ll come around quickly, we promise!

Expect the Disconnect

There will be a difference between the metrics you’ve seen indoors and those same metrics outdoors:

Power athletes

People generally produce fewer watts indoors vs outdoors so you can expect a disconnect between the watts you see indoors vs outdoors. That is, an athlete with an Functional Threshold Power (FTP) of 250w tested indoors may find that his outdoor FTP is 270w. And as a result his outdoor training zones will be different from his indoor zones. In fact, April can be a confusing month for power athletes in colder climates as they are often forced to mix indoor and outdoor riding across the week, resulting a good deal of confusion about what zones to use when.

In our experience, this disconnect is a function of primarily two factors:

  • Decreased heat dissipation: when you train indoors there is less air moving around your body to cool you off. The engine runs hotter, so to speak, and your body has to expend more resources to cool you down vs pushing the pedals harder = watts are lower inside vs outside.
  • Higher mental cost: anyone who has done interval work on a trainer has observed the Time Distortion Effects of indoor riding — the clock slows…and in some cases even ticks backwards…as intervals get longer and harder. With no scenery, environment, and trainer partners to help us disassociate ourselves from the pain of hard work, most athletes simply push lower watts indoors vs outdoors due to the high mental cost of these efforts. In short, the mojo and motivation of being outside can equal many additional watts produced, in turn producing greater fitness gains.

Ok, I get it that my power numbers will be different for indoors vs outdoor riding. How much?

That’s a great question, we wish we had the answer, but there is simply no magic formula. One athlete may be training in a freezing basement surrounded by fans but has been battling motivation issues and so is not able to push nearly as hard as his Motivated Outdoor Self. Another athlete may be in a heated basement with a fan but has the pain tolerance of a mule. There’s simply no way of predicting what numbers these two athletes will see on the dial when they ride outside but, in our experience, they’ll figure it out pretty quickly through simple observation and perhaps some outdoor testing.

Heart Rate Athletes

Heart rate can be rather unpredictable when riding indoors:

  • Decreased heat dissipation: will generally increase heart rate over what you’d experience outdoors, as the body is forced to move more blood around to cool itself. But…
  • Higher mental cost: generally results in lower watts = not pushing the pedals as hard = heart rate is a little lower.

What’s going to happen when I get outside?

Again, it’s very hard to say. Your heart rate may be higher or lower for the same Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). Just observe, pay attention to your body, and understand that you may need to retest yourself outside to establish your outdoors, in the sun training zones.

Cadence

Cadence is the last area of disconnect. Generally, athletes often gravitate to a lower cadence style of riding after months and months on a trainer. So when you get outside you may find that your comfortable summer cadence of 88-95rpm has changed to 78-83rpm. Just expect it and plan some high cadence pedaling to dial yourself back in. In our experience this change is very quickly and easily made.

Congratulations on having successfully survived another winter of indoor drainer rides! As coaches, April is our favorite month of the year, as our athletes share stories of their new found power and speed built through a winter of WORK, not time spent on the bike!

Have you used our training methods over the winter, are able to (finally!) get outside, and are seeing for yourself the great speed gains you’ve made through the simple application of hard work? Please share your experiences with us in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!

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