Indoor Winter Workouts with Stages

27 October 2022

By Kate Hector - Stages Cycling

Indoor training can take a little bit more out of you compared to riding outdoors, physically, and mentally. Physiologically speaking there is no "down-time" on the trainer or smart bike.

While outdoors it's not uncommon to spend 10-15% of a ride coasting at 0 rpm, and most importantly, at 0 watts, riding indoors there really isn't any coasting. One hour on the trainer = one hour pedalling. So even though you may only be riding for one hour, there is room for a lot more quality. There are no junctions, no traffic lights, no traffic, or downhills. Which means more and more focus on the actual workout at hand.

So why is your power lower when you ride inside? Without getting into the physics of it, it’s worth noting that for most people, power indoors, at the same perceived effort and heart rate as outdoors, might be a bit lower. If you find that your sustainable power is consistently different by more than 3-5%, I recommend that you do a threshold test indoors, using the same protocol you use outdoors. You can then adjust your prescribed wattages based on whether you are indoors or outdoors. Over time, and with experience, you may find that your power numbers get closer to being equal and retesting should be considered after a month to six weeks of consistent indoor training.

Benjamin Sharp, Olympic and Stages Cycling Coach says: “Short, very specific workouts are ideal for indoor sessions. Every indoor ride should have a purpose. FTP, Threshold, Strength, Cadence, Pedalling Efficiency. These are some of the many areas you can focus on. Workouts should have set targets for intervals (durations/intensities) and keep the intervals short and engaging. This will help time pass quicker, and will keep you engaged in the process, not to mention maximize your potential for improvement. I never like to say “never” however trying to ride for three or four hours at 200 watts is a motivation (and crotch) killer. Leave the long endurance rides for when the weather clears, or you want to try out your new thermal jacket that was gifted over the holidays. Short, very specific workouts are ideal for indoor sessions.”



Since you’re in the comfort of your pain cave, there are no potholes, no menacing cars, and no lane-hogging lorries to avoid. This freedom from spending mental energy on trying to avoid the perils of being on the road means more energy can be spent homing in on and focusing on posture, positioning on the bike, pedalling skills, etc. I like to include over gear/low cadence drills, and fast cadence drills as a regular part of my rides indoors.

When it comes to cadence, there is no perfect number that everyone should strive to reach. Riders should instead strive to reach a cadence that is optimal for them and supports their overall fitness or race goals. Cadence on an average ride, outside of coasting down hills, or working your way up them, is usually between 60-100. However, there truly is no perfect number—how it feels when you’re cycling is an important factor for finding your ideal cadence. Your ideal cadence, or your cruise cadence, is the sweet spot where you’ll spend most of your time. Working at this number will improve the efficiency of your cycling mechanics.


Imagine that you’re holding a bucket of water on each arm, and your goal is to carry these buckets on your bike five miles down the road. Now, they are full buckets, so every time your upper body moves, you spill a little bit of water. The water represents your power—the power that your body is creating.

For this drill, focus on keeping your upper body relaxed, while using as little muscle tone as possible. This includes a relaxed grip on your handlebars. Gripping the handlebars wastes energy. Now, starting with your ideal cadence, you’re going to spin up for ten seconds and spin down for ten seconds. The focus is making a smooth transition while keeping your upper body relaxed, to conserve energy.


This is my “go to” workout when I’m not sure what I want to do but I know I want to do something hard. It’s relatively short and not so sweet but it’s engaging with many intensity changes. Load this workout on to your Stages Dash to easily follow along.

  • Ten minutes warm-up easy spinning, Recovery (Zone 1) with a couple minutes of Endurance (Zone 2) Ten minutes at Tempo (zone 3, 80-90 rpm)
  • Five minutes of Recovery (Zone 1).
  • Ten minutes at Tempo (Zone 3, 80-90 rpm) but include a ten-second ‘sprint’ (non-maximal effort) at the end of each minute.
  • Five minutes of Recovery (Zone 1)
  • 3 sets x 5 repetitions of 30 seconds "on" (VO2 Zone 5) and 30 seconds "off" at Tempo (zone 3) with 5 minutes of Recovery (Zone 1) between each rep. Note, the "off" portion of the interval is at zone 3, NOT zone 1.
  • Take 5-10 minutes of Recovery (Zone 1) to finish the workout.


As the weather shows hints of clearing, I like to incorporate this workout into indoor training in anticipation of doing some competitive group rides on the weekends. The accelerations are taxing and mimic the micro surges that take place in a rolling peloton. The Tempo at the end is good for working on endurance while slightly fatigued and who doesn’t like to end a workout with a sprint?

  • Ten minutes warm-up easy spinning, Recovery/Zone 1 with a couple minutes of Endurance/Zone 2.
  • 30 minutes of repeating :15 sec. at VO2 max power (zone 5) followed by :45 sec. of Tempo (zone 3). Note, the "off" portion of the interval is at zone 3, NOT zone 1.
  • Five minutes of Recovery (Zone 1).
  • Five minutes of Recovery (Zone 1)
  • Ten minutes of Tempo (Zone 3). At 90-100 rpm. At the end of the 10m, sprint all out, 100% for 20s.
  • Take 5-10 minutes of Recovery (Zone 1) to finish the workout.


These are a variation of the tried-and-true threshold interval. Each interval has three steps. Starting with Tempo (Zone 3) for 3 minutes, progress into the bottom of Threshold (Zone 4) for 4 minutes and finish the 10 minutes with 3 minutes at the top of Threshold (Zone 4). Repeat three times with 3 minutes of Recovery (Zone 1) between each 10-minute block.

  • Ten minutes warm-up easy spinning, Recovery (Zone 1) with a couple minutes of Endurance (Zone 2)
  • Three minutes of Tempo (Zone 3) – 80-90 rpm.
  • Four minutes of low Threshold (bottom of Zone 4) 90-100 rpm.
  • Three minutes of high Threshold (top of Zone 4) 100+ rpm
  • Three minutes of Recovery (Zone 1).
  • Repeat three times total.
  • Take 5-10 minutes of Recovery (Zone 1) to finish the workout.

A note about the sample workouts: When attempting an interval session, successfully completing each interval means averaging a power within the prescribed zone. If you haven’t done an FTP test this could help you define your zones. For the most part, when following structured training on a trainer or smart bike, your Adjusted Power or Normalized Power will fall in line with your average power closely. Adjusted Power tends to stray from average power when there are lots of surges and dramatic changes in pace, something that for the most part doesn’t exist when training indoors. The exception to the previous statement would be, unless the indoor training is replicating the dramatic changes in pace that are common outdoors, e.g. if doing a race or group ride on Zwift. In that scenario, I would expect Adjusted Power and average power to decouple as the variability of power will increase due to the demands of riding in a virtual peloton. For the workouts below, you should stay focused on your average power for each time span and aim to train within the prescribed zone.