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Cycling Indoors This Winter? 4 Tips for Staying Mentally Focused

Cycling Indoors This Winter? 4 Tips for Staying Mentally Focused

by: Dru Ryan
Thursday, November 19, 2015 - 3:32pm

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6 Winter Conditioning Tips for Cyclists
Best Indoor Cycling Instructors for Those Who Ride Outside
Spin Class to Riding Outdoors: 6 Physical Tips to Improve on the Bike
Cycling Indoors This Winter? 4 Tips for Staying Mentally Focused
Measure Your Performance in a DC Cycling Studio
Best Activity Trackers for Indoor Cycling
15 Tips for Washington DC Bike Commuters
Understanding Your Performance in Spin Class
5 Washington DC Area Bike Trails for the Indoor Cyclist Who Wants To Ride Outside
How Watching the Tour de France Can Make you a Better Cyclist


Like most outdoor riders, I scoff at the proposition of training indoors.  Boredom typically tops the list, quickly followed by an inability to create a workout that mirrors outdoor terrain.  For those willing to invest in trainers, where you connect your bike to a device providing resistance, programs like Zwift and Wahoo Fitness allow you to track your progress online. Additionally, cycling videos like SufferFest and PainCave provide cueing, allowing you to ride like your outdoors. 

Personally, the idea of riding a bike in my DC condo provides zero motivation and even less of a fun factor.  I'll leave that to the suburbanites with finished basements and man caves.  During the off-season, I take one spin class a week (I teach spin, so you should likely do more than that) and dedicate it to training.  I rotate the focus of each ride between power (climbing), endurance (cardio), and speed (cadence).  As mentioned in a prior article, 'training your weakness' will yield the fastest improvement. However, variety will keep your body guessing so it doesn't get accustomed to one type of ride. 

I'd like to offer some tips on maintaining your mental edge while training indoors.  While outdoors, the simple act of maintaining your balance is enough to keep the brain occupied.  Still, even the best cyclist has taken a spill from inattention. The primary casualty of inattention is the loss of power when pedaling.  Dubbed soft-pedaling, you think you're working, but the effort isn't optimal. Keeping a careful eye on your metrics (speed, cadence, heart rate and power) can help, but sometimes those won’t be available.  Here are a four ways to keep your head in the game as you train indoors:


1. Visualize the Effort: See the hill, be the sprint, create those rolling hills. In near unanimity, sports psychologists espouse theimpact of visualization in performance improvement.  For outdoor cyclists, recall a prior ride and like a method actor, use that experience to bring the effort out of you.  Otherwise, think of familiar terrain -- a hill in your hometown or neighborhood, a straightway on a track, even the up and down of a rollercoaster for rolling hills --  whatever activates your body to do more...find it and achieve it.


2. Train, do not Compete:  Every day isn't race day.  I laugh at folks who go for personal records (PR) every day.  That’s just not practical.  The growing popularity of fitness trackers has everyone looking to break some type of record.  Your PR should happen because you decided today would be the day to go for it.  Remember in school when you gave an answer and the teacher would ask you to explain WHY you thought you were correct?  Same thing goes on the bike.  As you train your weakness, set a target date to test your fitness.  That’s when you go all out.  Otherwise, how would you be able to replicate it?  For all you know, the bike was miscalibrated and your numbers were inflated.   Successful training means you know where the effort came from and how to call on it again. Focus on the journey, not the end goal.


3. Be Willing to Suffer:  You control three variables on an indoor bike, cadence: how fast you pedal, resistance, effort needed to turn the pedals, and intensity, your level of effort as you ride.  If done correctly, you will want to take a break and ease off. KEEP PUSHING.  Cyclists talk about a place called Sufferlandia, also dubbed the ‘pain cave’.  Embrace the discomfort. “It never gets easier, you just get faster.” said, Greg LeMond, the last American to win the Tour de France.  Your ability to work through the discomfort will bring dividends down the road.  If your legs aren’t talking to you, then something is wrong. That little bit of discomfort is your body’s way of saying ‘thank you.’


4. Feed your Bike Ego: I’ll admit to rarely finishing first when I ride at studios which track performance – Wired Cycling,Flywheel and Equinox (Bethesda).  I’m usually training, but I’ll choose my moments to show off.  It’s no fun when you are focusing on climbing and you totally neglect the sprints.  So find a song or two to remind yourself how great you are on a bike. I typically use these as recovery between hard efforts, before returning to the suffering.  When riding in studio, I’ll create a push (30-90 second hard effort) while everyone else is recovering.  Alternatively, I will extend a sprint or start a climb early.  I don’t have to be the best rider on every song, but I do want to remind my body where ‘strong’ comes from. 


Training indoors is tough.  As winter approaches, your choices are twofold: put on weight or train indoors.  If you do the former, you’ll spend half the spring just getting back to where you were in October. I know everyone isn’t looking to ride 50 or 100 miles next year, but WHY NOT?  Set the goal now and use it as motivation as you work through the winter. 

If you are a numbers person, use an app like Strava or MapMyRide to track your rides.  Both allow you to enter routes manually and yes, your indoor miles  count‼  Cyclists are data geeks and the ability to look back at past efforts and see your progress can be quite fulfilling.

If you have feedback, I’d love to hear it… jump on my Facebook page drop me a note.  Catch me on Instagram/Twitter@drucycles or drop by a class at Biker BarreMint DC or Sculpt DC.  Better yet, meet me on the road.  The new cycling season will be here before you know it!

About the Author

Dru Ryan is a daily bike commuter, indoor cycling coach (EquinoxCrunch, Mint DC) and road cyclist who averages 200 miles a week. Follow Dru on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook or visit his website