Higher, faster, stronger and more fun: why indoor riding is a must

Scientific and anecdotal evidence shows that the likes of Zwift will transform both your indoor and outdoor riding. Here’s why you must build virtual speed to reach the real-life finish line that bit quicker…

This article was produced in association with Zwift

Riding indoors as well as outdoors will result in a stronger you, one that’s overflowing with stamina and skill. Hop on an indoor trainer now and you’ll ride roughshod all over your goals in 2024. How? Well, the reasons to immerse yourself in the world indoor cycling are many but as a sampler we have: it boosts speed, stamina and strength in a safe, controlled environment; it's simpler to refine technique without the dangerous distractions of traffic; and, for those of you who have young children, you can rack up the miles without having to spend on a babysitter!

Virtual training platforms like Zwift are also a hotbed of structured workouts. Studies show that physiologically forging stamina and strength concurrently impairs the growth of each. Thankfully, Zwift’s archive of workouts stretches into the thousands, ensuring you can build each block of cycling fitness individually. That means you can work towards a faster, leaner you, without wasting any sessions.

And, of course, indoor riding to the tune of Zwift is also a rather fun experience. But you’ll discover that and many more reasons why riding within the virtual will result in the reality of a new PB in 2024…

Stickability is key

Many of you will recall times gone by when the only entertainment offered by indoor training came in the form of staring at the clock on your garage wall while the seconds ticked by interminably slowly. Tick. Tock. Pedal. Stop. Soon, your plans for forging a stronger, faster you had collected dust, just like your turbo trainer.

Thankfully, the likes of Zwift have made those tedious rides a thing of the past, with a multitude of worlds, routes, climbs, and workouts to take on. That’s something that has been proved in the laboratory thanks to the work of Professor Daniel Mestre of Aix-Marseille University, France, who showed that road cyclists cycled harder and stuck to a training plan longer when indoor training to the backdrop of a cycling simulator. Another study by Dr Jim Annesi also revealed that training-plan stickability proved greatest when indoor cycling took place against a virtual training group compared to standard indoor riding.

Competitive edge

There’s strength in numbers. That’s certainly true when it comes to the world of Zwift and it’s down to the Kohler effect. This is the idea that no-one wants to be the weakest link in a group setting… and arguably harks back to the school playground and praying you wouldn’t be the last chosen for that lunchtime’s footy match. Seen through a cycling fitness prism, this translates as digging that bit deeper to avoid the virtual broomwagon.

Research undertaken at Kansas State University discovered that people who exercised with someone they deemed fitter and stronger than them cranked up their workout time and intensity by a rather staggering 200%.

Riding in a Zwift virtual group will ultimately add accountability, too, as you’ll inevitably come across the same riders at the same times. Group rides make your training a social experience, and Zwift offers you the ability to organise your own meetups with friends, tag along with someone who is already Zwifting, or even join an organised worldwide event with hundreds of others. Agree to ride with a rider or two you’ve grown fond of will make it that bit harder to jack in the indoor ride because Loose Women is on TV.

Stomach for the ride

Your gut microbiome comprises over a hundred-trillion microbial cells. Over the past decade, the impact of these microbial cells on health and performance has become clear with studies showing its influence on your metabolism, immune system and even your cardiovascular fitness. The health, or not, of your biome is down to a number of factors including age, diet, supplementation and exercise. And it’s that last bit we’re interested in here, specifically research undertaken by an Italian team led by researcher Sabrina Donati Zeppa.

The gut microbiome composition of 17 students was analysed before and after nine weeks of high-intensity interval sessions aboard an indoor trainer. Analysis involved the rather unpleasant job of stool analysis. The training programme consisted of three mesocycles of three weeks each with efforts progressing as follows: mesocycle one, 3 x 55min sessions; mesocycle two, 4 x 60min sessions; mesocycle three, 5 x 70min sessions.

The result? Not only had the 17 students immeasurably improved their lives by discovering the joy of indoor cycling but they’d also transformed their gut microbiome, resulting in a group of healthier, fitter students (until the Student Union opened, of course).

Fun in the collective

Anyone who’s ever ridden in a group, of which there are many of you, know that the collective spirit is rather inspiring, motivational and fun. It’s the same on Zwift. No matter what time of day you fancy a ride, no matter what time of year, you can always hop on your trainer and hook up with hundreds of like-minded folk. Reeling in a competitor before leaving them for dust… before they reel you in and leave you for dust before you reel… You get the picture. This virtual game of cat-and-mouse is exhilarating. That’s taken to another level with the Zwift race option because, at the end of the day, there’s nothing like racing to fire up the fun synapses. And there’s different types of public races happening every day on Zwift, from short criteriums, to hilly Classics and time trials. With four categories to suit your level of ability, you can get racing as soon as you get setup on Zwift. The more you race, the more you’ll learn about its nuances and ways to be successful, making racing a fun, complementary part of your training routine.

Stay stronger for longer

Sir Bradley Wiggins’ chances of winning the 2013 Giro d’Italia came to a spluttering halt due to an upper respiratory tract infection (URTI), the Team Sky rider withdrawing before stage 13. Which arguably wasn’t surprising as URTIs are extremely common in cycling, especially in cooler climes.

One Finnish study from 2009 highlighted that URTIs occurred the most often when ambient temperature plummeted to 0°C or below. Those temperatures are very common for cyclists when you take into account wind chill. Through a rather complicated formula involving speed you’re riding at and ambient temperature, you can calculate exactly how hot or cold the overall temperature is. For instance, if you’re streaking along your local country lanes at 30mph when the air temperature is hovering around 5°C, the wind-chill temperature is -1°C.

This can aggravate your airways, albeit it’s actually the dryness that cool air brings rather than the cool air itself that’s the greatest irritant. This can be negated somewhat by wrapping a Buff or similar around your mouth. Or you can simply ride more indoors. It’s warmer, more comfortable and avoids you staining your Buff with your rather sweaty but dry breath!

Shop now