Improving indoors but still struggling outside

I have a problem that’s really bothering me.
I’ve been doing a lot of consistent training indoors for the last year and a half, building sustained power and training for rolling road races/gran fondos.
The problem is that when I go outside, I’m still the same piece of crap I was before, in some aspects even slower. For example, I’ve nailed 4x15-minutes at threshold with 5 minute rests a couple of days ago, but when I wanted to do a climb that takes me roughly 15 minutes 4 times yesterday, I was pretty much wasted after 2 efforts. I’m not faster on straights or in any other aspect either.
So I guess my question is: how do I translate indoor improvements to outside riding? Looking at the successful athletes podcast or any other great riders doing inside workouts, they don’t seem to have such problems.

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Are you using the same device to measure power both indoors and outdoors? That was the first thing that came to mind.
Some other factors that might contribute to a difference in indoor/outdoor performance are pacing, cadence and whether your nutrition/hydration strategies are comparable.

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15min threshold efforts are pretty damn hard if you’ve nailed it down. Heat, humidity, hydration can easily knock you off the rails. I wouldn’t be doing two of these sessions a week.

What’s the weather like?

Were your hill efforts at threshold power?

Have you compared to previous efforts in the flat, eg a 10TT?

Hows your body composition?

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I’m not talking about power (only). I’m talking about speed, cause in the end, it’s the speed that matters, not power numbers.

  • The weather is sunny, 20-25 degreees, not really windy;
  • The power measurements are consistent both inside and outside and throughout the entire period of indoor training;
  • My body metrics are 182 cm, 68 kg, FTP 265; when I put out those PR efforts, I was 65kg with rougly 240 FTP;
  • I’m doing all sorts of rides, so I’m comparing efforts on flats, hills, descends and all other types of roads you can imagine;
  • I also have a nutrition “ritual” I adhere to regardless of whether I’m doing hard sessions indoors or outside.

I focused my question on climbs because on flats, aerodynamics plays a huge role and I’m aware of that and I don’t want this thread to go all-in on aerodynamics. Plus, I’m riding the same (non)aero style as I did before, so I don’t think that changes too much. Anyway,
If I phrase my question very, very simply, it’s: I have raised my power. I have raised my power/weight ratio. For the “FTP isn’t everything” bunch: I have improved my sustained power abilities. Why doesn’t this show out on the road?

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I’ve felt like this at times and then I’ve had a few days proper rest, or a forced period of little training for a week etc and then gone outside and been flying!

You don’t mention training volume, rest days etc etc but do not under estimate how much fatigue builds up and how it impacts you on these efforts. You said you do a lot of indoor training and that probably means a lot of fatigue building up, even if it doesn’t really feel ike it. Maybe try a proper rest period and get much fresher and see what comes of it…

I believe the Big Cat is fond of saying ‘fresh is fast’…

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I apprechiate your thoughts, although I find it hard to believe I’d be fatigued for outside efforts, then all well and rested the next day for the indoor ride :confused:

Because riding outside is inherently different especially when considering you’re climbing. If you want to improve your 4x15 outdoors and on a climb, do it outdoors, and on a climb. You’re engaging a different set of muscles in a different way. There’s tons of topics surrounding this phenomenon - get off the trainer and go ride outside. Trainer is good for certain aspects of training but I do not subscribe to their use year round.

I’ve done this before too, stayed super loyal to an indoor plan, only to feel flat when venturing outdoors. Hence the need to ride in real world conditions as much as possible. You can do effective workout outdoors, and I argue that they’re more effective, for most riders.

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I’m in a similar situation. Indoors I feel like I’m hitting my targets and completing workouts successfully and making progress.

Oudoors I’m not making much progress at all.

I appreciate the aero plays a role, and I’m a cycling barn door, so I’m not looking to be faster than other riders. But surely I should be faster than ‘previous me’ considering I’m same aero? I am not expecting to get KOMs but I am expecting to get PBs.

So not much help, just thought I’d let you know that it’s not just you.

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You have not really shared any specific data with what you want to accomplish compared to where you are. You mentioned that speed is the bigger thing you’d expect to see since speed matters when riding/racing outside. However, you did not mention your previous times up this climb compared to what they are now.

Are your times faster climbing now? If not, are you carrying more weight up these climbs?
How spikey is your power? If you’re blowing up after two, maybe you’re not riding that smooth. WHen doing threshold intervals, if you’re spiking repeatedly in the 110%, 115%, 120%+ of course you’re going to feel worse. Erg mode doesn’t exist outside.
Are you trying to get your indoor “speeds” to match outdoor? If that is the case, depending on what gear you ride inside that might not be possible since with TR workouts you’re not getting real mileage.

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I’m with ibaldwin above - I also feel flat riding outdoors after an indoors block. Especially I feel like I can’t climb, and have no snap. This won’t be a popular opinion on here, but I’ve come to the conclusion that indoors training doesn’t really work for me - of course, I still ride indoors, but only for specific sessions or when I can’t get outdoors. I’ve also realised that “just riding” (outdoors) is much better training than many would want you believe. A lot depends probably how you ride and who with - you still need to push yourself sometimes.

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I’m in a similar boat - and am convinced that, unlike most people, my outdoor FTP is lower than my indoor FTP. I’m sure that indoor ERG mode v outdoor/real life mini power spikes is a factor in this.

Takes me a couple of weeks of dedicated outdoor riding for my indoor fitness gains to shine through.

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I also struggle to max my indoor power while riding outdoors, but that’s fine because when I’m riding outside I’m just enjoying life.

On a side note, I wouldn’t put much faith in average speeds outside. The weather conditions are just way too big of a variable to be able to have any sort of meaningful ride over ride
speed comparisons.

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I feel like I’m experiencing the opposite lately. But, riding indoors is so different for me than riding outside. Indoors I do a lot of Z2, and tempo/SST. Outdoors I’ll practice VO2max and neuromuscular sprints.

Our terrain is constantly rolling so I see myself going over threshold by a large percentage over and over and over. And I’m feeling pretty good and surprising myself by the numbers I’m seeing.

But I can’t even test myself outside. There is no 10 minute let alone a 20 minute stretch of flat road or a gradual climb to test on.

@KlemenSj I think this is a common issue that results primarily from a couple things…first, there are a lot of confounding factors that can cause outdoor power to be different than indoor power. Sounds like you are aware of these types of issues.

Second, whenever I ride outdoors & try to do a constant effort interval…when I look at the power data it’s a lot LESS ‘constant’ than it is on the trainer. My average power during the interval might be 300W but the power distribution is much more spread out & there will be several power peaks that are substantially above average.

After big blocks of sustained-power-type workouts I’m not used to dealing with these power spikes w/in an interval. It causes a lot more to fatigue to accumulate.

So, I wonder, if you look at a 15 minute interval done outdoors and a 15 minute interval done indoors…do you think there is a lot more power variability in your outdoor intervals? Especially with respect to power peaks…

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That approach makes a lot of sense to me. Our terrain is also pretty rolling, and also the roads are all short, it’s rare to ride for more than a few minutes before getting to a junction, or even just a sharp corner. So you need a lot of power variance to feel you can respond to the terrain. But when riding indoors, I usually do more steady-state intervals (the type I can’t do outdoors), so really focussing on short efforts on outdoor rides makes sense to me. I think I’ve typicallly just tried to do long z2(ish) rides outdoors without spiking power, but maybe the opposite is needed.

Train outside more often? Worked for me. About three years ago I started reporting on the forum that mostly indoor training in Erg left me feeling flat outside. Over a year ago I decided to take my training outside as much as possible. So much better now. If I was limited to training inside, would train in sim mode in Zwift or FulGaz or whatever.

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Yeah, this has been my experience as well. On shorter intervals like v02 repeats I often perform better outside, but when it comes to longer intervals the variation in terrain often makes the same power feel a lot more difficult- especially at threshold, where the margin is pretty narrow and power spikes can cost you a lot more than they would during a SS/tempo effort.
I’m typically a bit more lenient when it comes to power targets outdoors for this reason- as long I’m in zone, I’d rather complete the workout a few watts below than blow up chasing a number- I think metrics like NP, VI and even heart rate can be informative here.

As for the speed thing, I think there’s too many variables there for anyone to identify the cause especially over a forum- however I would agree that structured sessions outdoors generally improve with experience, and training outdoors fairly frequently is necessary to translate power improvements onto the road.

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Me, too! It’s not just you! For me, I suspect it’s stuff like maintaining traction on the climb (mtb) and because when I can see the steep grade, it mentally kinda adds cognitive load. But I definitely get disappointed that I don’t seem to see my indoor gains on my outdoor rides.

similar power variability inside versus outside in these scenarios:

  • flat with and without wind
  • sustained climbs

I use WKO and look at power standard deviation. On my Kickr wheel-off trainer, using small chainring has unnaturally smooth power compared to outside. So I use the large chainring, and that typically has 10-15W standard deviation in Erg. Outside I typically see 15-20W standard deviation. But visually they look almost the same.

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Ok it is maybe stupid but this is my experience last year - hitting FTP workout outside was extremely hard. I ditched erg mode and do all my workouts in level mode (level 2 or 0) and riding outside become no different than indoor - the same muscles are working I would say on the flats outside is even easier. It is maybe only bias confirmation but it is only significant change I have made and everything feels completely different. To the point that I have recently tried erg and it felt somewhat wrong.

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