After months of one-hour indoor HIIT sessions on Zwift, the cycling community is readying itself for a return to the great outdoors. But while many are shaving legs, fitting race wheels, and airing out club jerseys, few think about where the real gains are to be had. After all, the variable conditions of the open road can challenge the body in ways the basement can’t.
The unique demands of the road include factors like the stressing of specific muscle groups weakened by months of static indoor training, riding wheel to wheel with other cyclists, skewed power levels, and the psychological effects of actual headwinds over simulated headwinds.
An effective transition back to the outdoors may be what makes or breaks your season, so here are 4 tips to help ensure your hardwon form doesn’t go backwards with your newfound freedom this summer.
1) HOW TO CONTINUE A TRAINING PLAN OUTDOORS
If you’ve been following a multi-week Zwift training plan, then there’s no reason to stop just because we can all ride outdoors again. The Zwift Companion App workout viewer will allow you to log outdoor workouts too. Just make sure you hit “I did it” the next time you log back in.
When we’re in front of a widescreen monitor that has every conceivable metric to distract us from the pain, the indoor trainer allows us to nail those intense efforts at a moments notice. But completing such workouts on the open road is often a lot more complicated. Between other cyclists, road conditions, obstacles, and traffic, we’ve all got to exercise much more care outdoors.
But for those with dreams of salvaging the rest of the season, the open road is where it’s at, and it reflects the conditions every cyclist will face in the heat of a race. It’s time to seek out the long straights with that gradual 3 per cent incline and let the pain begin anew!
2) COMPENSATE FOR SKEWED POWER NUMBERS OUTDOORS
Unbeknownst to many cyclists, power levels can vary substantially between the basement and the highway. After a prolonged indoor training period, the first thing that many cyclists notice is that their power output is much higher on the road, sometimes by as much as 30 watts. Don’t be deceived by this. It doesn’t mean that you’ve suddenly got fitter, and there are several factors involved in this discrepancy.
If you’re using a rear-wheel resistance trainer, like the Tacx Blue Matic, it provides resistance throughout the entire 360 degrees of the pedal stroke. But on the road, the feel is different. The momentum from the active part of the pedal stroke propels us along, and it’s during the phase of the pedal stroke where we don’t apply pressure that our legs get a micro-break. The cumulative effects of this mean less stress on the muscles and higher overall power numbers out on the road.
WHY DIRECT DRIVE TRAINERS ARE THE IDEAL STEPPING STONE BACK ONTO THE ROAD
Direct drive trainers like our NEO 2T Smart combat this issue by simulating the momentum much more effectively with a heavier (in this case virtual) flywheel. They carry the inertia for a realistic road feel and emulate the micro recovery periods at the bottom and top of the pedal stroke to a remarkable degree.
This means that when it comes to power numbers, your FTP on a direct-drive trainer should closely resemble your outdoor capabilities due to the emulation of the pedal stroke.
MINIMISE THE ERROR AS YOU TRANSITION
Anyone following a power-based training plan should be particularly wary of errors in power readings, as all zones are based on FTP. Even a small error in power readings from the indoor trainer to the road may mean less effective training due to skewed zones.
If you use a separate power meter on your road bike for outdoor use, then make sure to calibrate it. An uncalibrated power meter in two places will skew power readings to an even greater degree. Hone your numbers on the trainer, then repeat an FTP test outdoors with a freshly calibrated meter to quantify any error.
3) HOW RIDING POSITION AFFECTS MUSCLE RECRUITMENT
With your bike clamped onto an indoor trainer, the body tends to adopt a more fixed position. But when we ride outdoors, we continually shift our body position based on terrain, wind, and effort, meaning that we recruit much more of our upper body strength.
With less variety in your position indoors, certain muscle groups become over-worked while others are underworked. By incorporating some strength-building exercises, you’ll help prime yourself for a successful return to the road.
Sadly, one of the most effective ways to do this is with the much-dreaded and painful plank. Holding your back firm and straight with hips high, try bringing your knees into your elbows to work the core, arms, and shoulders while engaging the abdominal muscles.
4) DEALING WITH WIND – THE NUMBER ONE ENEMY
Indoor trainers can vary resistance to simulate a headwind, but it’s a whole different experience outdoors. The absence of environmental variables indoors means that while your legs may be strong, your back, shoulders and core will likely give out after an extended period outdoors in the aero position battling a strong headwind.
To prevent it from turning into a hideous and painful slog, prepare yourself for the eventuality by incorporating some strength-building workouts around the serratus anterior muscles—those that extend upward from the ribs to the shoulder blades. Push-ups and vertical wall slides with a foam roller are very effective for building strength in this often-overlooked muscle group.
Whatever your condition, whether you’ve been doing the strength work along with the indoor training, or you’ve merely been expanding your waistline, it’s time to enjoy some newfound freedom out on the open road!