Indoor cycling has had a reputation of being a good cardiovascular workout. And that is absolutely true. However, when an aspect of any activity is touted vigorously, the reputation that is created can become definition. Even a recent indoor cycling certification workshop I attended spoke of the aerobic benefits while going as far as to say other training approaches on the indoor bike are not recommended because they lack the aerobic focus. There is nothing farthest from the truth. Although cycling does not contain the weight-bearing qualities needed for holistic fitness, it requires the strength and conditioning of the entire body.
Building strength on an indoor bike requires a specific focus. Just this morning I trained a dozen cyclists on their road bikes and indoor trainers on muscular strength. This is one of the rare cases where our power meters can work against us. To develop strength, the muscles need to be stressed with great force. Due to the amount of resistance needed to apply this force, legs speeds are considerably lower (50 to 70 RPM). Anyone who has experimented with power quickly figures out that faster leg speeds are best for producing higher levels of power output (more watts). This knowledge and the presence of a power meter can be a hindrance to developing muscular strength. Why? Because riders will look at their power meters during a strength interval and see that they are generating less power, which often causes them to panic. To fix what they believe is a problem, they will reduce the resistance (force) and then increase their leg speed to increase their power output. This in effect will reduce the needed stress on the muscles and greatly decrease the effectiveness of the effort.
Power Per RPM
To set riders up for success, have them focus on how much force they can apply or power they can produce at a given leg speed or RPM. Let them know up front that this may be considerably less then they would produce during a steady-state threshold effort or high-tempo climb, but the “purpose” is to build muscular strength which will in turn allow them to produce more power when it counts.
Have your riders perform an interval (30 seconds to 2 minutes) and see how much force they can apply to their legs at 60 RPM, then 65 RPM and then 70 RPM. Use the cadence on your bike or the speed of the music to set the tempo. If your bikes have power meters, what is the maximum or average power sustained at the specific speed for the determined duration?
Strength intervals are usually done in sets with 1 to 1 recovery. So if you are performing 30-second intervals, riders should receive 30 seconds of recovery between each effort (and 3+ minutes of recovery between sets). The number of intervals you perform per set can also vary depending on who is in your class and if they are accustomed to strength training (WITHOUT weights) on the bike. As you and your riders become more conditioned, advanced combinations of repetitions, duration and recovery can be used.
Start incorporating some on-the-bike strength training and help your riders develop the muscular fitness they need. Indoor Cycling is not just for Cardio anymore.
Originally posted 2012-01-12 10:55:13.