Getting Started with Indoor Training, Beginner Info

I keep sharing the same info (below) so we’ve moved it to a separate thread to make it easy to share. (This is simply to reduce my repeated huge posts inside other threads.)

There have been a bunch of new riders posting different questions about getting started with FTP, what to do about the overall difficulty of workouts and plans, and generally how to advance through training. This is something I think about a lot and I’m trying to capture and share some of the novice knowledge to help others to be successful as they get more into training.

Ultimately, my intent with the info below is to be a little less hardcore about things and to make training a little less intimidating for novice riders, or anybody really.

The first link is to my getting started post from last season. Lots of basic info some of which you will already know but might be worth a look.

FYI I’m a mountain biker and mtb instructor and training for the Quebec Singletrack stage race next summer.

Introduction:

This is my opinion of what I think can help people to succeed with structured training based on my experiences and watching some of my friends. My approach seems to have helped me to succeed where others have not necessarily seen gains. By adjusting my workouts and calendar I have successfully complete 10 trainer road plans over the last 4 years and I have seen some good fitness and performance gains. I think understanding how to adapt your training is key to completing plans and success.

I’m on my 4th winter of Trainer Road now, and my third on an ERG trainer (Whoo Kickr '18). I LOVE indoor training. I have seen my performance increase year after year and my mountain biking fitness is much better, even as I get older (50!).

Quick Summary:

To be successful doing structured workouts and training you want to strive for the following:

  1. Hit target power and cadence.
    (adjust FTP slightly until it feels hard but right)

  2. Complete the workouts.
    (adjust intensity and duration)

  3. Stick to your plan.
    (Move days around or choose variations if needed)

1.00. Help yourself be successful.

Starting out with indoor training can be tough. Especially if you go all-in with an ERG trainer and you start using structured workouts. EVEN IF you are a seasoned rider outdoors, structured training is a big deal. The process of intentionally straining your muscles, breaking them down, and allowing them to recover and rebuild stronger is hard. Probably harder than you thought. So you really want to start moderately and work your way to high training stress.

A few tips:

1.01. Start with an FTP Test

If you are using structured training, you MUST complete an FTP test to get a baseline target for the workouts to scale to your needs. You can’t simply use your buddy’s FTP as as starting point. And forget about what other people post regarding their FTP test. The value is a personal metric for you to use, not a comparison of your ability as rider. Even if we all used the same equipment and testing procedures, the values might be measured comparably, but how each of uses our strengths as a rider differs, so it’s not worth trying to best your friends’ FTP for the sake of bragging. (Save that for the opening spring rides as you crush them). 10-20 watts too high in FTP is enough to KILL you on any threshold workout. When you are ready to start a program, begin with an FTP test.

1.02. Start with the correct program.

Most online training software and any plans you get from a coach are going to have phases. Typically Base Build-Strength Build-Specialty. There are proven scientific reasons each plans progression is structured as it is. You may find that Base Build, typically the first phase, is not as hard as you think you should be working. If you are planning on a full winter of training, base build will be 6-8 weeks. THEN you start the hard stuff. Even a shorter plan will start out gradually. For most riders jumping right into specialty plans is not as effective overall as if you started with a base build, then a power build and then worked on a speciality. Even if those are condensed programs, 4 weeks each. Unless you have your own coach providing you with customized plans based on test and performance data, you probably want to stick to a progression that prepares you for hard work over time. This typically involves 8 weeks or more. The timeline in my opinion is 12 weeks minimum, with 24 weeks being the timeline for my personal goals this winter.

When deciding on plans, be realistic about how much time you have, taking into account how much time you really have during the week, family commitments, Christmas and other holidays. Don’t try to commit to a LONG series of plans (5 or 7 days a week) if you know you are heading away on vacation for a month in January. Block off your trip time as a rest week, and work backwards from blackout dates and plan accordingly. if you have 10 weeks available, do an 8-week plan so you have some to adjust if needed.

Also be realistic about the FREQUENCY of your workouts. I use LOW VOLUME (3 days a week) training plans exclusively because I like to spend Saturdays and Sundays outdoors XC skiing, snowboarding and fat biking all winter. If I don’t go out on the weekend, I may add extra rides to my program, but I really only want to workout 3 weeknights. The weekend activities end up counting as recovery workout days for me. If you plan a mid-volume program with 5 rides per week and you only complete 3-4 workouts a week, your 8-week plan becomes a +12-week plan which you may never complete. Also, you do not want to take a one or two week break in your plan; use a shorter condensed timeline. You WANT to complete the plan so you can re-test and move to the next progression plan based on results. Using a Low-Volume plan gives you some flexibility in moving workouts around in your calendar. (more below)

1.03. Cadence is Key

Without getting too deep into discussion, it’s important to understand that cadence is a key element to riding an ERG trainer as the resistance gets harder. You can do 2 things to generate power; push the pedals harder or spin the cranks faster. If you slow your cadence and mash pedals, your ERG trainer will increase resistance to make sure you are pushing at the target wattage. If you slow down your cadence, the trainer INCREASES resistance and you will probably slow down even more, potentially cycling you down to ZERO rpm. (This is called the Wahoo Spiral of Death)

The number one thing I tell new ERG riders is that you must keep a good cadence up during tough intervals. When I started TR my normal cadence was about 75rpm. That’s OK, but when the interval resistance is 310 watts (110% of my ftp) it requires a LOT of pedal mashing to maintain 310 watts. By comparison, spinning faster at 90rpm actually REDUCES the resistance of the trainer during the interval. Power is power though; it’s just coming from different muscle utilization and technique. Unless you are intentionally doing slow cadence work, strive for a cadence over 85 rpm. (TR often has cadence recommendations in the instruction text so read the screen!). If you shift to one easier gear in most conditions, you will see an increase in your cadence, but the trainer will also add resistance so you could end up spiralling down. Make sure you stay on top of your effort! If you frequently find yourself in the Spiral of Death, then adjust your FTP. (See below)

1.04. Don’t quit. Adjust

1.04.1. Reducing Intensity

If you accidentally start out with an inflated FTP, you may find yourself failing to complete the hard workouts. Even if your FTP test is accurate, it may take some time before you acclimatize to the expected work load. If you become discouraged because you are quitting workouts you may decide to skip workouts you think will be too hard to compete, and quickly lose interest. It is my belief that you MUST COMPLETE WORKOUTS in order to be successful. 50% of a workout is not complete, nor all that useful in the big picture of structure training plans. 100% of a workout completed at 85% of the target wattage is ANOTHER ONE DOWN and training stress logged.

With the idea of successfully completing workouts, training week, and 12-week plans, make adjustments towards success.

If you’re struggling with workout intensity, you can’t maintain good cadence, or can’t push the pedals on a threshold workout at 90% FTP, REDUCE the target wattage using override buttons DOWN -5 to -10% so you can finish successfully. If you feel like you are bonking and your heart is going to explode, and won’t be able to complete the total time, REDUCE the workout intensity down so you can finish. Quitting a workout at 70% after only 2 Intervals nets you almost nothing in structured training. You MUST finish the workouts. So tweak the workout intensity if that helps you get to full time.

If this happens on consecutive workouts, your FTP is probably too high. CHANGE YOUR FTP by lowering it -5 to -10 watts and try it again and see how it feels. 90% FTP intervals should feel HARD! You have to WORK to keep the cranks moving with good cadence. But you SHOULD be able to complete them most of the time.

Remember that the value of FTP is important for the software to scale workouts to your required stress level, but it does not report on maximum FTP, VO2, heart rate zones, or lactate thresholds and is not a complete measure of ability, fitness or heath. Even when you retest you may not see an increase in FTP, even though you FEEL like you are improving. You may actually see a decrease for any number of reasons. The gross improvements you do get may be other elements of your fitness and riding ability, such as higher sustained cadence, improved VO2 max and lower heart rate or better recovery. Don’t obsess over FTP. Do the tests when you need to and tweak the value if you have to.

1.04.2. Reducing Workout Duration

My personal goal is always to complete every workout, and complete my weekly scheduled workouts, ultimately completing everything inside my target plan. But, sometimes I don’t feel like 90 minutes on the trainer after getting home, so I switch the workout to a 1-hour version. Occasionally, if I think the workout looks like it will kill me because I am tired from my recent outdoor activities, I will change from a 5 interval workout to a 3 interval workout of equal intensity but shorter duration. My goal is to complete my day, my week, my months, close to the target plan. Listen to your body here. If you feel tired, you are tired. Swapping to a shorter workout can keep you on track.

One really great thing about Trainer Road is that many workouts have variations. Some variations are shorter duration workout of the same interval (like 5,4, & 3 x 90% FTP) Others are similar in the intended structure with lower FTP targets. These are labelled with the same name and a qualifying value such as CLARK -1, CLARK -2 etc… You can access them from the workout start page or find them in the master list and swap them into your calendar.

So, if you are tired after a full day of work and your workout looks psycho, choose a VARIATION, -1, -2, -3 that is shorter, possibly even with adjusted intensity. Use a time shortened workout variation rather than skip a day. Drop the target FTP a few watts and work through it, within reason.

1.04.3. Adjusting your week

Skipping workouts all together and re-scheduling them affects the total time of your program. I’ve seen a few friends over commit to Mid-Volume programs (5 days per week) and only make it 4 weeks through the entire plan due to the extended time frame. If you play outside on weekends or have other commitments that make it hard to stick to your planned workout days, I suggest using LOW VOLUE plans and adding additional workouts if you have the time.

And if (when) you become fatigued and are skipping workouts because you feel really tired, space them out more in the calendar. You don’t have to obsess about maintaining your schedule at the expense of life or being fatigued. A few days off will not kill your training. Just be aware that your total calendar days in your plan are stretching out.

To summarize again:

To be successful doing structured workouts and training you want to strive for the following:

  1. Hit target power and cadence.
    (adjust FTP slightly until it feels hard but right)

  2. Complete the workouts.
    (adjust intensity and duration)

  3. Stick to your plan.
    (Move days around or choose variations if needed)

Don’t quit. Don’t get discouraged. Learn from each workout. Adjust and be successful.

You already started this so you’re ahead of the pack.

16 Likes

Can’t thank you enough for this information. Exactly what I needed to read as someone new to TR finishing his first week of low volume 1 sweet spot base later today.

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Good info… There’s one point I would like to add. When I started with TR i couldn’t handle SSLV1. It was just too much. My body, my mind, and base fitness were just not strong enough to be able to complete workouts. Let alone the plan. I was just not there fitness wise.

It took me a round of TB + a full summer of riding + 3 more rounds of SSBLV1 just to be able to work at the intensity of SSBLV2.

Some people will come into structured training after severe illness, to recover from an injury, a surgery or just after being a couch potato for a long time.

Accepting the level of suffering some workouts put you into requires base fitness, training both mental and physiological. While SSB might be the most time effective results way to start for most people, even the low volume requires some capacity to handle the discomfort and some time the pain related to completing SS treshold and VO2max work.

Even with time to train I would never have been able to handle MV SSB. Heck I wasn’t even able to handle SSBLV1. Some people NEED a round of TB.

And I suspect with the popularity of ZWIFT that a platform like TR will get more and more of these people who want to get faster got burned by zwift racing and their badly progressing plans and bizarre workout structure.

But lack base fitness as well as mental and physical fortitude to handle even the most gentle SSB. At least it seems there are more and more of those posts on the forum. I don’t remember seeing as much of them last year.

1 Like