by Team ICG® Master Trainer Joan KentIMG_0229

The subtleties of teaching authentic-style indoor cycling are what make it exciting.  One difficult thing to teach is the feeling of how resistance varies when you”™re turning a big gear on a flat road, as opposed to climbing.

Several years ago, I learned how to use 80 rpm to simulate “big-gear flats.”  I”™ve been told there”™s no difference between indoor flats at 80 rpm and indoor climbing at 80 rpm, that it”™s just a matter of terminology.  But, despite the similar resistance, the training feels quite different.

Say you”™re powering your bike at 80 rpm on a flat in your big chain ring, doing 20 mph.  Now let”™s say you”™re climbing a 4% grade in your small chain ring at 80 rpm, doing 10 mph.  The cadence is the same; the intensity is likely to be similar.  How do you interpret the difference in the resistance?  Is it worth communicating to your class?

This has actually turned out to be a favorite training approach of mine, so I thought I”™d pass along what I”™ve learned for anyone who hasn”™t yet done this in class and might want to try.

The first difference is what we see, the terrain.  You want to describe the flat road to your classes and fix in their minds that they”™re moving down that flat road very fast because of the big gear.  As all of you know, a big gear feels like high resistance on the legs, with a long distance covered on each revolution of the pedals.  Get the class to visualize and feel their speed on the flat road.

If you”™re using video, clearly you”™d want to select a flat road — the longer the better — and have them keep their eyes on the road as they ride.

Another difference is where on the saddle you sit.  On a climb, we shift back a bit on the saddle, giving the down-stroke a slightly more forward thrust and creating an almost elliptical shape in the pedal stroke.  On a big-gear flat, our position is moved a bit forward (“on the rivet”), making the legs circle smoothly but with more of an up-and-down, piston-type action.

A third difference is hand position.   While the hands would be separated on the horizontal portion of the handlebars for a climb (known by some indoor cyclists as position 2), they stay centered on the handlebars (in position 1) for these big-gear flats.  This is to keep you more centerline on the bike, as you would be on a flat road when going fast.

A fourth difference between big-gear flats and climbing has to do with upper-body motion.  On climbs, we may rock the body side to side, since indoor cycles obviously don”™t move the way outdoor bikes do, and we”™re simulating the bike motion.  But on a flat road, the upper body is still.  Keeping the hands centered on the handlebars, as described above, will also help to eliminate any side-to-side action of the torso as you ride.

Another aspect of upper-body positioning involves the degree of forward lean.  On an outdoor climb, the hill angle puts the front wheel much closer to your face, but that doesn”™t happen on a flat, so we simulate the flat indoors by maintaining a “normal” forward angle of the torso.

The final difference I”™ll describe here between climbing and riding in a big gear on a flat road has to do with cadence.  On big-gear flats, the cadence never drops below 80 rpm, although everyone knows it may on climbs.  Stay in a monster gear and stay at 80 rpm.  Keep the resistance as high as possible without dropping to a climbing cadence.

This is where beat-match can be absolutely invaluable.  If the cadence begins to fall as your legs fatigue, you can beat-match the music to stay true to the 80-rpm cadence while keeping the gear as big as you can handle.  Continuing to visualize moving very fast down the flat road will help, as well.

The cadence and the resistance are everything in this training.  Encourage your students to fidget as little as possible.  Encourage them to ride from the center and stay close to it, keeping one hand on the handlebars at all times.  You might tell them to “cut as fine a line through the atmosphere” as they can.

When done this way, this training — an all-time favorite of mine, as I mentioned — feels quite different from climbing, especially if the music is a consistent 80 rpm with an upbeat feel.

After a solid warm-up, I run my classes through three or four of these 5-minute intervals at or above threshold heart rate, with relatively long recovery between intervals.  A long high-cadence spin after the last interval helps to recover the legs, too.

If you”™ve never done this and give it a try, I hope it adds a new dimension to your class.  Please let me know how it goes.


Joan Kent

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