What really makes a hard TR ride and a hard outdoor ride?

I’m in my third year of admittedly pretty intermittent TR use. I have never invested in a power meter and I train predominantly indoors with a focus on the 80/20 style of training as it helps me manage a chronic knee problem (more intensity and I break down). However I have somewhat prematurely set myself the target of competing at IM Lanzarote, with a notoriously hilly bike split. After a few outdoor rides I realised my hill climbing is pretty poor, yet on the flat I’m faster than ever (if Strava segments are to be believed).

So I did a little experiment this week and rather than do high speed cadence drills in the intervals I went the opposite way and did low cadence drills. It hurt A LOT, way more than my norm even for similar watts. So has anyone else had similar experiences? Do low cadence drills hurt more than higher watts and do they translate better to hill climbing?

Hurt more? Maybe.
Hurt different? Yes.

It is like most other training stuff, where the more you do something, the easier it gets. If you make a large change from high cadence work to low cadence work at the same power, it changes the loading on the body.

Doing low cadence training can be very rewarding, but it’s need is dependent on each rider and their needs for whatever they train to do.

I made a compiled list about Low Cadence work for those that want to add it into their training.

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When you say ‘hurt’, do you mean your knee(s) hurt? If so, I’m pretty sure that can’t be a good thing. Also pretty sure that Coach Chad recommends you stop if you experience knee pain.

I would look addressing your chronic knee pain. Have you had a bike fit?

When it comes to low cadence drills, it’s advisable not to do them if you experience any kind of knee pain.

Yeah tbh I have lived with it for about 3 years. It’s chronic and very sensitive to intensity but not distance but sadly self inflicted after a century ride with a malpositioned cleat. Switching to the “traditional “ model has all but eliminated it though. To clarify, the pain from the drills is just the typical “hard effort” pain rather than my knee specifically. I meant it felt like I was much closer to blowing up than I would have expected for that wattage output.

Another thing to try is using a lower gear on the trainer. Lower inertia from the trainer can alter your pedal stroke and is more like hill climbing.
Don’t take my word for it. Try it and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
IME doing low cadence high output drills on the trainer is a recipe for knee pain. Better to practice with a higher cadence and make the trainer feel like riding through mud.

Look after those joints and have fun.