Cycling indoors can never fully replace the outdoor riding experience. Outside you directly propel the bike forward, maintain balance and deal with swallowing bugs – but let’s focus on the exercise piece of the equation. Biking hills requires you to alternate challenging resistance with moderately fast pedaling. A bike trainer, stationary bike or cycling class can all be used to mimic this scenario. Each is a supplemental tool that can bulldoze training excuses and help you maintain consistency in your workouts, especially when it’s too dark, too cold or too hot outside. With consistent efforts, those hills will get easier and easier over time.
Take a cycling class. Peddling on a specialized stationary bike with a room full of people can be a motivational, intense workout. With a hill-worthy playlist and an instructor leading the group, these sessions of 45 to 90 minutes include seated and standing simulated climbs and faster all-out sprints. Most instructors include active recovery as well, so you can catch your breath and get ready for the next ascent.
Hop on a standard stationary bike at the gym. These bikes are better for seated workouts because they can have an uneven pedal stroke and often lose resistance when you stand up to climb. Warm up at a light pace for three to five minutes so you start to get a little out of breath. Increase the resistance and pedal at a moderate clip for five minutes. Work at an intensity where you could have a short, choppy conversation with a friend. Increase the resistance on the bike and pedal for the amount of time that you’re usually climbing a hill. Work at a high intensity in which you feel in control, but prefer not to talk. Recover by pedaling at a moderate intensity for twice the time you spent on the hill. Repeat for the average length of your outdoor ride.
Hire a bike trainer to turn your own bike into a stationary version at home. You’ll be able to train with the same seat, handlebars and positioning that you’re used to on your outdoor rides. Prop your bike up on a mechanical model so you can adjust the resistance as you ride. Follow the interval workout that closely resembles your outdoor hills, or try shorter intervals to do shorter bursts of higher-intensity work. Sprint on the bike for one minute, ride at a moderate pace for two minutes and repeat.
- Make sure all your bikes are adjusted properly to fit your body. Your rides will be more comfortable, and you’ll be less likely to get injured.
- If possible, adjust the ambient temperature to mimic your regular training climate outdoors.
- Interval workouts can be intense. Always work within a safe intensity range for your fitness level and stop if you feel dizzy or ill.
Suzanne Reilley is a fitness professional with a BS in exercise science and more than four years of experience as a full-time ACSM-certified personal trainer. She has been featured in DailyCandy and "The Washington Post," and has taught at Rancho La Puerta, rated Top Destination Spa by "Travel + Leisure."