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Three classic indoor bike trainer workouts for triathletes designed to work on speed and power

Bike sets you can do on any indoor trainer

Winter means riding your bike indoors (mostly). Face it, getting on your bike and staring at the wall, television or an interactive indoor riding platform like Zwift can get boringIncorporating some intervals and structured workouts is a great way to keep you sane while working towards your cycling goals. There are an infinite number of workouts that can be done on the bike and there is really no wrong way to train. It can be argued that there are a number of cycling pillars that you can work on by doing specific work riding indoorsThe best place to start is to assess weaknesses that you know you have on the bike. If you struggle on the hills or to maintain consistent speed or powerthe workouts below will help address those issues. If you are already a competent “pro” on the bike then challenge yourself with these workouts and come back to them as the winter progresses to see if you have improved. 

20-minute drill 

The first workout on the docket it called the 20minute drill. A go-to set my dad developed while he was still racing (he created the set while balancing pro racing and journalism school)I have been familiar with this set for as long as I’ve been a serious triathlete and cyclist. It is a great set to do if you are crunched for time. You can get this done in 30 minutes if you want, but I personally find the workout a bit more enjoyable when you can carve away 40 minutes to allow for 10 minutes of warm up and the same for cooling down. This workout is quite simple and can be adjusted or changed to fit any kind of time length you want to push for. Once you get warmed up the workout goes as follows: 

  • 3 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy 
  • 4 minutes hard, 1 minutes easy 
  • 5 minutes hard, 1 or 2 minutes easy 
  • 3 or 4 minutes hard

The cool thing about this workout is it can be incorporated into any training schedule, if you have race tempo, use this workout to push the upper boundaries of what you want to hit on the bike. If it is VO2 or threshold work, use the hard sections of this workout to try and hit some PB’s. I find this workout to be a great addition to weekly training. Try this four times over a month and see if you were able to improve your power, anaerobic threshold or other metrics. 

Cadence Efforts 

The second workout is geared around cadence. The speed you spin your legs is an important aspect of cycling, and many triathletes favour snaillike cadence. While I am certainly guilty of often pushing a large gear at 70 to 80 RPM I do like ramping up my leg speed with cadencespecific work designed to focus on leg speed and see what kind of power numbers I can hit at different cadences. For this workout it is important to warm up for 10 to 15 minutes, incorporating at least one set of 5 x 1 minute progression of cadences starting at 80 and climbing to 120 RPM. During the warmup, the only focus should be on your pedaling – maintain the rpms and making sure you don’t have any dead spots” – times when you’re not maintaining pressure on the pedals – during your pedal stroke. Once you are warm the workout goes as follows. 

3 X 

  • 1 min @ 90 RPM 
  • 1 min @ 100 RPM 
    • One gear harder 
  • 1 min @ 100 RPM 
    • One gear harder 
  • 1 min @ 100 RPM 
    • One gear harder 
  • min @ 100 RPM 
    • One gear harder 
  • 2 to 5 min easy 

The goal in this section is to get comfortable pushing harder and harder gears at the same cadence. By trying to hold this 100 RPM cadence at different gears, you will see power, speed and heart rate increase. 

2 to 3 sets of 


  • 30 secs on 30 secs off 

During this section of the workout, the goal is to do these hard 30 second intervals at an allout pace. Gear selection is important as you want to get on top of the gear as fast as possibleTry them seated or standing, with the main focus being trying to reach at least 90 RPM’s. 

2 sets of 

  • 2 min @ 80 RPM 
  • 2 min @ 90 RPM 
  • 1 min @ 100 RPM 

Focus on the cadence. Adjust your power/speed accordingly in order to hit the desired RPM. 

Warm down 

Time Trial 

The final workout on the docket is less a workout and more a suffer fest. You use these workouts to gauge peak power and heart rate – basically, you’re getting a feel for your top-end ability. I have done time trial “assessments” for as short as a few seconds and as long as an hour. Five-minute (or less) time trials will give you an idea of what you might be capable of at an allout effort. Twenty to 30 minute time trials are a great assessment for threshold metrics, while an hour-plus time frame will give you a clear idea of what sort of numbers you might hold during the bike leg of a race. While working on these sorts of efforts is often uncomfortable and mind numbingI certainly know I feel more comfortable on the start line knowing what I am capable of, having pushed these limits during time trials.  

My advice for testing yourself against the clock is to start short: five, 10 or 15 minutes is offers plenty of time to suffer. Once you get comfortable with this type of effort, begin the daunting task of increasing the time trial length with the goal of reaching 50 to 80  per cent of the time you will be racing on the bike.  

The biggest benefit of all specific cycling intervals is overcoming or completing something you didn’t think you could do. By working towards cycling goals in increments, athletes can check a number of boxes that will give them confidence as they head into the new season.

This story originally appeared in the January issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada.

Sean Mackinnon is a regular contributor to Triathlon Magazine Canada. A former national team cyclist, he won two bronze medals at the 2015 Pan Am Games.