OK, so it's December and you live in Seattle and you plan to participate in a triathlon in April. You can find an indoor pool to train for the swimming leg. Although it's not particularly pleasant, you run outdoors in the rain and cold, knowing it will make you mentally tougher. But cycling during downpours -- which have been known to occur in Seattle -- on slick roads is not conducive to optimal training, and it's not very safe. So you're likely going to be pedaling indoors. There are ways to train on a stationary bike that will allow you to be in tip-top shape by race day.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Some professional triathletes cycle indoors even when they don't need to. Working out on a stationary bike is a very efficient and convenient training method. You don't have to deal with traffic, weather, terrain or other distractions on the road. Coasting or slow pedaling can be eliminated, which allows you to maintain workout intensity. You can watch the tube or a movie to eliminate the indoor cyclist's greatest enemy -- boredom. The Competitor TV Cycling website explains that the greatest disadvantage of training inside is losing your feel for the road. Cycling outdoors requires more balance and stability and tests cycling skills such as hill climbing, descent and cornering.
Controlling Workout Performance Variables
Cycling indoors allows you to precisely control your workouts. You can easily measure your intensity of effort, cadence on the bike, gear selections or resistance levels. Most stationary bikes measure your heart and pulse rate as well, enabling you to chart your performance and improvement over time. You also can take advantage of specific workout programs designed for triathlon training on stationary bikes.
Although you can interval train outside or inside, it's particularly easy to do so on a bike that displays time intervals in bold red numbers on the console on the machine. For example, you can perform Tabata intervals, which call for a series of 20 seconds of sprinting at different resistance levels followed by 10 seconds of resting, without missing a beat or trying to count off seconds in your head. It was invented by Japanese exercise physiologist Izumi Tabata. "You will find yourself breathing harder than you ever have in your entire life after the eighth and last sprint," according to the Triathlete website. Interval training is a relatively quick way to significantly increase your aerobic capacity and endurance.
If you are training at home, you can elevate your front wheel by placing it on a stack of books or a block of wood to simulate hill climbing. To improve your riding efficiency, you can put the front wheel on a half-round exercise ball, which requires you to pedal smoothly in order to keep from bouncing. You also can find programs that simulate actual road races, giving you a feel for the hills and dales you'll likely encounter on race day. Unless you have no other option, make sure you train on a stationary rather than a recumbent indoor bike -- you won't be sitting down in a seat, as you do on a recumbent bike, during a triathlon.
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.