The worst thing about indoor cycling exercises is that they can quickly lead to complete boredom unless you are very creative. Most of us like the change of scenery when cycling outdoors but this isn't available indoors. The best thing about indoor cycling is guaranteed good weather, all the conveniences of home, and constant availability of equipment whenever you have some spare time.
To solve the boredom problem we need to constantly change the conditions during each session. Physically, motivation may improve with vitamin D. Six to seven thousand units of vitamin D can bring dramatic mood improvement in people who are marginally vitamin D deficient. A lack of long summer days and too much darkness creates lower amounts of natural vitamin D in our skin through minimal exposure of our skin to the sun. Many cyclists never consider that sun exposure during the summer may have enhanced their cycling motivation, improving the odds that they'll find hard efforts more enjoyable.
Testing your performance every few weeks can provide a much needed purpose for those who are motivated by improvement. Why cycle endless hours without changing your goals or test parameters? At a heart rate of 150 beats per minute, how fast can you cycle on your indoor trainer? Can you increase your speed without increasing your heart rate? Have you tried lowering your torso over the handlebars or sat up straight to see how much difference there is in your heart rate? The lower the heart rate at a given speed, the greater your efficiency and endurance! This kind of experimentation is a vital strategy for group rides when the cycling season actually arrives. With outdoor cycling, all kinds of situations change our pace, effort, and duration of the ride. Indoors cycling needs to incorporate substitutes for a lack of these changing environmental factors to spur similar changes in pace, strategy, goals and fitness.
One of the common mistakes of indoor training is making every session a maximum effort until you drop from exhaustion and using this as the only means to gauge your current fitness. Just like cycling outdoors, there always has to be something new to experience or learn. Winter is a good time to read cycling books, understand the process of periodization training, or explore the limit of how much training your body can tolerate and how much recovery is needed. Fatigue often means you need to take a break and a lack of motivation often means you need to change something else.
Cycling indoors isn't the only source of stress in our lives, either. Often stresses of work, shortage of daylight hours or daily responsibilities may limit the amount of healthy training stress that can be tolerated on an indoor trainer. Try to accomplish something different or in a different way may be all you need to remain motivated. Because of the constant level of resistance and infinite distances you can cycle on indoor trainers, you can test different strategies and techniques under the same conditions for as long as you like. Do you take one day each week to determine the distance you can comfortably cycle indoors? Do you know your best average speed to complete a given distance? Knowing you can gain something valuable from indoor cycling is essential to remaining motivated.
How long is your endurance at a cadence of 70 and 90 rpm? What is the maximum cadence you can pedal smoothly at? Indoor cycling provides at constant playing field where you can determine what works best for you and where your limits currently are. Record the results of your tests and review them later to determine where an improvement has occurred or is needed.
Adding more time and/or frequency to your indoor sessions instead of greater intensity may be exactly what you need to escape the boredom of high intensity sessions. Leaving the really high intensity sessions for late spring when you can cycle outdoors will help sustain your motivation by selecting goals appropriate to your indoor trainer. Just because rollers offer low resistance doesn't mean you can't get as valuable a workout as you would on a resistance trainer. In fact, the lower resistance makes it easier to maintain a higher heart rate longer, burn calories fast and maximize your aerobic endurance through high cadence practice. You can choose goals with variations of time, distance, or cadence just like in an outdoor ride so that the sessions remain interesting.
Cycling experts sometimes suggest starting cycling sessions in heart rate zone 1 to warm up and slowly progress through levels 2 and 3, allowing time to reverse the process back down to level 1. By dividing your exercise sessions into equal periods of different intensities, you won't feel like a Puff the magic dragon, huffing and puffing until the hour is finally up. Instead, do your workouts at lower intensities and adopt a more meditative or contemplative exercise by refining the silky smooth revolutions of your pedals. By the time you've broken an hour long session down to fifteen minutes in zones 1,2,3 and a proper cool down, time seems to pass so quickly that an hour session seems far too short. Always leave your indoor training session the same as you do on an outdoor ride... doing a little less than you are capable of so that you are left wanting more, not less time on the trainer.
Using a heart rate monitor, one can gauge improvement and determine the proper amount of exercise. This is typically done in one of two ways: at a constant heart rate determine the average speed on an indoor trainer. Or, at a constant intensity determine the associated heart rate. Allowing ten or fifteen minutes to warm up, retest yourself with the same criteria every few weeks. The results may surprise you. When you nail the proper combination of nutrition, exercise and rest, your fitness will improve dramatically.
Even while sleeping you can know when your body has recovered from exercise and is ready for more. Wear your heart rate monitor to bed for several nights and note what is your normal average and minimum heart rates. When heart rate increases significantly during sleep, you can reduce the duration and frequency of exercise until your sleeping heart rate returns to normal. This will teach you how long it typically takes to recover from exercise and when to increase the frequency and duration to maximize your fitness.
Above all, record your training sessions, heart rates if you have a heart rate monitor, and occasionally check back from time to time, comparing notes. There is nothing more satisfying that to have the hard facts on paper or computer so that you can appreciate how much you have accomplished that would otherwise have been lost due to a lack of cycling during the winter in the land of the great white north.
As you can see, there are lots of interesting things we can accomplish on indoor trainers. Indoor cycling offers ways to improve your capabilities that outdoor cycling can't match due to a level playing field and control over many factors you can't control outdoors like traffic or weather.
Next time you are bored from cycling on your indoor trainer, instead of forcing yourself to spend another hour cycling aimlessly, spend the time devising new and interesting ways to improve your capabilities, record results and analyze what has worked and what hasn't. All this you can accomplish right at home!
See what I mean? All you need is a little creativity and a willingness to learn....