The training you do indoors pays big dividends once you move your riding onto the road. Whether you are looking to maintain your summer fitness during the off-season, build new strengths by adopting a more structured training regime or simply keep motivation throughout the colder months, riding on the trainer can benefit your cycling greatly. If you are looking to jump right into indoor riding, MEC carries smart trainers from Elite, Wahoo and Tacx that make riding in the virtual world of Zwift easy to do.

Photo: Matt Stetson

Starting with the plan below and continuing for the next three weeks, Canadian Cycling Magazine will feature weekly training plans that will help you build your base during the off-season. It’s a great plan that can work for a range of riders. If you’re a novice who wants to build fitness throughout the winter so you can keep up on group rides in the spring, you’ll want to check this out. Maybe you’re a more experience rider who wants to arrive at an early-season camp ready to go. This training plan will work for you, too. The workload each week varies between less than six hours to almost seven hours making the training plan not overly burdensome on your schedule. Along with the outline of the workouts each week, there will be .zwo files that you can download and import into Zwift so you can use the program’s workout mode to accomplish the training plan. Along with the prescribed workouts, we will have a look each week at a smart trainer that can help you train indoors effectively by linking into a stimulating and engaging virtual-riding experience.

Four-week MEC training plan outline

Training improves your aerobic ability by putting your body through workouts of various durations and intensities. You need to be able to hold steady efforts, respond to attacks with bursts of speed and sprint to close gaps or to cross the finish line first. This four-week training plan is built around long low-intensity base training that will help build the foundation for harder efforts. Some workouts will also focus on anaerobic fitness to build the form for surges and short, intense efforts.

To use this training plan, you will need to find your baseline fitness by doing a functional threshold power (FTP) test. (The classic way to calculate FTP is with Hunter Allen’s method.) The training program is built cyclically so you can run through it as many times as you’d like during the winter. Just make sure to retest your fitness so you can build on the work you’ve already done. The plan starts with a week focused on endurance and tempo before gradually transitioning into more intense intervals with a week of recovery.

Week One

Time: 5:50 hours
TSS: ~330

The first week of the training plan has 5:50 hours with an approximate training stress score (TSS) of 330. The workouts are primarily tempo and endurance with one intensity ride in the form of a Zwift race mid-week.

Monday – Rest

Our training plan starts with a day of rest. If you really want to ride, you can spin the legs easy for 40 minutes, staying in Zone 1. Days off the bike are an excellent time to focus on strength and core training. Do 25 to 30 minutes of work off the bike, such as planks, crunches, leg raises, squats and push-ups. You can also do some light stretching and activition drills to limber up and also start getting comfortable with a routine you should employ before and after rides whenever you can.

Tuesday – Tempo Build

Source: Zwift

Time: 73 minutes

A 73-minute tempo workout that focuses on riding in Zone 3 with periods in Zone 2 intended to help improve aerobic fitness and eventually help raise your FTP.

Download the Week 1 Tempo Build .zwo file here.

Wednesday – Zwift Race using the Zwift Event module

Time: Approximately 40-60 minutes

The day after your tempo workout, you can jump into the first real high-intensity effort of the training plan. Zwift has opened up the world of virtual e-racing that you can do any day at any time. Pick a race that will last between 40 to 60 minutes in Zwift’s event module. Before starting, give yourself time to do a 20-minute warm-up during which you can do two to three hard efforts lasting no longer than one to two minutes.

After the race, cool down for 10 to 20 minutes. While the focus is on endurance workouts, it’s still important to tax the system with hard efforts and anaerobic riding to make sure the body is accustomed to reaching deep into your reserves allowing you to ride all-out efforts when you need to.

Thursday – Rolling Tempo

Source: Zwift

Time: 68 minutes

After two solid workouts, we jump into a tough 68-minute session. You’ll be aiming to do efforts consistently in Zone 3 with one interval in Zone 4 and sections in Zone 2 for active recovery. The good news is that after emptying your legs in this one you get a rest day tomorrow.

Download the Week 1 Rolling Tempo .zwo file here.

Friday – Rest Day

Take advantage of your rest day to put your feet up and relax. Avoid physical activity as much as you can.

Saturday – Rolling Endurance

Source: Zwift

Time: 60 minutes

With a Zwift race and a tough tempo workout already in your legs this week, your workout today is focused on low-intensity endurance miles. This one-hour ride mostly stays in Zone 2 with a couple of short efforts in Zone 3 to challenge you a bit.

Download the Week 1 Rolling Endurance .zwo file here.

Sunday – Free Ride Zwift

Time: 90 minutes

One of the great things about virtual riding is how interactive it can be. In Zwift, you can tackle a variety of courses of world championship circuits to Watopia. Along the way you can ride with strangers, pros or even friends. For this endurance ride, you are aiming to free ride for 90 minutes on a hilly route that will allow you to hit the full range of your Zone 2.

Elite Direto

Elite Direto
Photo: Elite

Indoor riding has taken huge leaps, becoming more interactive and accessible thanks to improvements in software and trainer design. The Elite Direto is a great option this year for your winter training. It has a solid and rugged design. It does a good job of mimicking road feel and makes getting riding in on training apps such as  Zwift, Sufferfest, Trainer Road, VirtuGo, RGT Cycling and Bkool easy.

The Direto is a direct-drive trainer with a 4.2-kg flywheel, built-in power meter, speed and cadence sensors, and the ability to connect wirelessly to third-party apps like Zwift, which makes sticking to the MEC training plan a matter of discipline rather than equipment limitations. It can adjust resistance to mimic changes in the virtual terrain. You can also use the machine in erg mode to ensure you are doing the prescribed efforts during your workouts. Its compatibility with thru-axle and quick-release bikes means you can simply remove your rear wheel and start riding without any hassle.

Setting up the trainer is straightforward requiring only a cassette and a power outlet. With foldable legs, you can store the trainer away between workouts. The Direto is compatible with SRAM and Shimano 9/10/11-speed cassettes (Campagnolo freehub sold separately) and 130-mm QR, 135-mm QR and 142 x 12 mm axle standards. Pair the trainer with your bike computer, laptop, tablet or your phone via ANT+ and Bluetooth to get riding right away.

With a direct-drive trainer, you can ride really hard, which will be great once we get into the more intense intervals later on in the training plan and for your Zwift races. The Direto is able to simulate gradients of up to 14 per cent and has a max resistance of more than 1,400 W. Elite says the Direto Optical Torque Sensor power meter, which uses 12 points of measurement, is accurate to +/-2.5 per cent so you can be confident you are sticking to the prescribed intervals.

Ease of setup and use, compatibility with a variety of bikes and software, and engaging ride simulation are all very important to feeling motivated and excited to train during the cold months. A trainer like the Direto is perfect for your riding needs this winter and you can pull it out quickly the rest of the year if the weather is foul or you just don’t have the time to get an outdoor ride in.

The Elite Direto is available for $1,050 at MEC.