Loss of fitness from only riding outside: what now?

So last winter I completed the first structured workout plan in my life. It was with TR of course. Not having had too much of an athletic past and having focused mainly on non-competitive mountain biking, I was happy to make it to 3.4 w/kg. I completed the Build Plan (LV, Short Power) around late April and switched to outdoors biking to reap the benefits of my training. Then I went back for a workout today and…ouch. I thought I could attempt Spanish Needle at my April FTP. That was a failure within the first interval. Then I tried Augusta -3 just to see if I can sustain Threshold power for 12 minutes. Nope: had to trim down power by as much as 15%.

My fitness has dropped by a lot but I don’t want to give up the limited time I have for even a LV plan to recover/maintain fitness if I can be riding outside. So should I give up indoor workouts entirely, or, if I can find the odd one or two days per week - what workouts would you recommend to arrest the degradation of fitness? Should I do another ramp test to bring me back to reality?

Thank you


If I had to pick one indoor workout a week, it would be something like Washington - Somewhere between a VO2max and a threshold workout.

If I could do two a week, it would be a VO2 max workout like Kaiser and a sweet spot ride like Galena, or threshold workout like Lamarck if I was well rested.

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What are your outdoor rides like?

You answered your own question: if you don’t want to give up the limited outdoor time you have to ride indoors, then ride outdoors. Your enjoyment sounds far more important to you than your fitness level, so embrace that. You can come back indoors and regain fitness when the weather turns. Unless you have some event you’re training for or are hoping to be competitive, this is an easy answer: ride outside and do a new ramp test when you come back inside.

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If you have a PM/Garmin, the outdoor workout option works seamlessly. I’m getting back to structured training now after April.

Personally I wouldn’t give up outdoor riding for indoor. If I had no time constraints and lived somewhere with good outdoor riding all year round I would sell the trainer immediately! Unfortunately most of us have to train around jobs, family, cold weather, hot weather, dark winters, congested roads, etc, so the trainer is a great plan B.

I would start by trying to figure out why you’re losing so much fitness outdoors. An hour of outdoor riding never equates to an hour of indoor riding because you have to allow for freewheeling on descents, stopping or easing up for traffic, junctions, technical sections, etc but you can get it pretty close, maybe to within 20% if you’re on single track that isn’t too technical or steep so you can pedal fairly continuously. At which point it comes down to how hard you’re pedaling - if you’re doing structured efforts similar to a prescribed TR workout (whether measured by power, RPE and/or HR) then you should be able to maintain fitness if you’re training similar volumes. On the other hand if you’re doing recreational rides with friends or family where you’re just noodling along at low intensity a lot of the time, then yes you will lose a fair bit of fitness.

I normally do one group ride with fellow MTBers from a local gym but that doesn’t get me tired so I pre-ride the course with the most experienced rider from the group who is a Cat 2 racer and above my abilities. He is my ‘rabbit’ and I try to catch the rabbit. I do this once a week if I am lucky…just not finding the time. The rides are on flowy trails but unfortunately not enough climbs.

I’m in a bit of a similar situation rebuilding from a taper, and for my money I’d focus on sweet spot indoors.

Riding outdoors, especially MTB, you can beat yourself up pretty well with high end work or cruise easy in Z1/2. Its sustained, consistent, higher power efforts that I find hard to complete. Doesn’t help that I live in an area that’s all ~10% hills and precious little flat roads… Disregard if you live in the Midwest.

Just today I skipped out on beautiful weather, but was able to knockout 100 min at 87% with no wasted time. Not the most fun but a couple days like that per week will keep the aerobic motor tuned for the long weekend rides in the mountains and the odd race.

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