Indoor riding takes much of the fun away from this sport we love. Even when riding in the cold and wet, you still can feel fast, feel the bike respond to your efforts, feel the g-forces as you go through a turn, fight and overcome the resistance gravity puts on you when climbing. Our preference is to bundle up in our Fugujack and brave the elements.
Some days are just too messy to go outside unless you have a fully-fendered mountain bike. Some days are too cold to manage a high-intensity workout on the road. Sometimes, there isn’t enough time to clean the bike post-ride. These are the days we stay inside.
We’ve found the keys for us are to make the workouts short, focused, and varied. We want to still love riding and have the motivation to train when the winter is over, not have our soul crushed by a pool of sweat and the predictable resistance our rollers dish out.
As luck would have it, two RealRides DVDs, Climb and Power, arrived two days before almost two feet was dumped outside our door. And we’ve gotten snow every week since.
RealRides bills itself as a “training system.” There are seven DVDs, each focusing on a different aspect of training. They’ve even trademarked the phrase “train like you ride.” These DVDs are the virtual equivalent of riding in a studio, on the track, and on the road, and you’re taken through the paces with Robbie Ventura. Ventura you’ve probably seen on television as a commentator on Tour de France television broadcasts. He’s also the head of Vision Quest Coaching and Director of Training for CycleOps.
The seven DVDs are as follows: Strength: Build Core Power, Race Day: Race Simulation, Force: Threshold and TT Efforts, Climb: Ascend Faster and Stronger, Ride 101: Intro to Serious Cycling, Speed: Leg Speed and Sprinting. It is not recommended that you do any workout two days in a row, nor even twice a week. They are designed to be hard enough that you want to do them only once a week. Power is said to be the most intense workout, and Climb is not far behind.
The workouts contained on the DVDs mix efforts and intensities but with the title goal as the focus. If the other five are like the two we’ve watched, they all follow the same format. There is a progression of three workouts, each one a bit longer than the previous. For example, the Climb DVD has a 60-minute workout for weeks one and two, than a 68-minute effort for weeks three through five, and 81 minutes for weeks six through eight. When you watch them, you’ll see that the second and third are essentially the same as the first, just with some of the efforts, and corresponding video segments, repeated more. You can also build your own workouts. In the Climb DVD, there is a “benchmark” warm-up, which is an easily-repeatable at home ramp test. It takes about ten minutes. The RealRides site has a downloadable spreadsheet you can use to keep records on your efforts. Interestingly, the Power DVD also uses a ramp-style warm-up. Click here to see their video.
When you’re in the midst of the workouts they also follow a typical pattern. They start with the most intense efforts and most complete recovery and progress to longer, less intense efforts with incomplete recovery. As the weeks progress, you do more work over a slightly longer period of time. The workouts are fairly compact and you can feel pretty toasty after just an hour. The workouts are also fairly traditional, which is fine. They have proven successful and are easy to follow.
Much like a CycleOps Joule, the screen you’re watching has a dashboard. In this case, it frames the video you’re watching. On it, you see numbers that you can use to base your efforts on. The numbers for heart rate, cadence, speed, power (both average and current), are all based off of one rider doing the workout. When Ventura is riding, you get his numbers. They are there so you can have something to refer to, as in “I should be at 55rpm now,” or “I want to match RV’s power on this interval.” There is also a countdown clock telling you how much time is left in the segment and how much time left in the interval, and possibly most important, a perceived exertion (PE) number, telling you how hard you should be going at any moment. As the ambient noise during a hard effort can drown out the soundtrack, these reference points are valuable in terms of gauging your efforts. The designers were also pretty smart in flashing words on the screen when you should start, intensify, and finish the efforts. Getting “Start” and then “Recover” means you’ve got extra visual cues when you’re being distracted by noise and the brain drain of hard efforts.
The camerawork is designed to get you behind the bars and in the draft. While you start and finish indoor, watching three riders on trainers, each pedaling at a slightly different cadence, most of the DVDs are shot outside. For climbing workouts, you’re going uphill on a long climb. For power, you’re first on a velodrome, taking turns leading and drafting, and later out on the road in a paceline, chasing, attacking, and sprinting.
Ventura is talking just about the entire length of each workout. He’s effortlessly and tirelessly enthusiastic. While in the midst of each effort, he’s explaining why you’re doing it, how you should be doing it, what you should be feeling, and how it relates to the larger picture of riding well, be it on a climb, in a group, in a race. The emphasis is on real. We asked him about the patter and he explained, “I don’t have lines, I just talk from a coach’s perspective. I think it need to be real, it needs to come from the heart.” Behind him is a droning techno soundtrack. It’s boring, but keeps a specific tempo. You can just focus on the timing if you’re having trouble finishing an effort.
What was striking about the two DVDs we chose was that they had the kinds of workouts that are pretty difficult to do indoors. For the climbing workouts, there’s lots of standing on the pedals and powering away at a low cadence, like 45-55rpm. For the power workouts, there are lots of all-out 30-second efforts and some 30-second efforts immediately followed by a 10-second sprint. As long-time power users, we’ve found that our indoor wattage for efforts of 60 seconds or less rarely matches what we’re capable of doing outdoors. We can do VO2 max efforts and threshold indoors matching our outdoor wattage, but it seems that the thrashing necessary for those highly anaerobic efforts are just about impossible when our bike is either clamped into place or perched on top of rollers.
We asked Ventura about this. He concedes the efforts indoors won’t be exactly like the outdoor efforts, but they want them as close as possible. “Real rides big goal is to try to create intervals through the PoV camera can imitate and feel like they’re on the road. The goal for some of the out of the saddle climbing is to shift you’re body weight. High rpm climbing out of the saddle is hard on a trainer. Part of the goal is to develop that force. So it’s about gaining strength to put more force.” As for the 30-second efforts, “no matter what, group rides, races, the decisive efforts are 30, 60, 90 seconds in length…As far as building the high-end energy system, those lengths are good.”
We did these workouts on our Kreitler rollers with Headwind resistance. We watched the DVDs on a laptop with external speakers pumping up the volume. We considered pulling out the trainer, but we so detest the way it feels to ride, we sacrificed what might be a few extra watts to feel like we’re riding our bike. We had to shut the headwind door in order for the roller noise to be low enough to hear the DVD, but that was still enough resistance for sufficient power except when doing 60-second 55rpm efforts. Standing at high power was just about impossible, though the lower cadences suggested are definitely easier than road-like rpms.
Throughout the workouts, RV repeatedly warns that these workouts are too hard to do back-to-back. Initially, we disagreed with his assessment, but after twice doing a power workout on a Friday leading into hard weekend riding where we struggled on climbs we had recently crushed, we’ll revise our impression. Reviewing our normalized power for the indoor rides, we can see that our efforts were roughly at a middling-hard bike race for us.
Another plus of the workouts is having someone else telling you what to do. We do most of our indoor riding alone and routines of our own devising. Not having to think about what we’re going to do and having a cheerleader in our ear and riders to base our effort on makes focus easier and helps the time pass quickly.
For us the minuses of the DVDs are pretty small. Since we’ve got nothing to do but watch the screen, the more we watched, the more we saw certain clips over and over within the same workout. We understand why it was done, but we wanted to see something fresh after we saw a clip of Ventura standing on the pedals past the same woods for the umpteenth time. The music was another drawback; we’d prefer something sharper and more percussive when we’re going hard. But these things are pretty small gripes.
No, this isn’t as much fun as road riding. But in terms of adding excitement and some zest to indoor workouts, RealRides DVDs do an excellent job. If we had to spend the winter indoors, we’d strongly consider getting another one or two of these. We wouldn’t use them every ride, but add them to the mix of efforts we’re doing. We’d probably save the hardest workouts for programs of our own devising, as even using the workout builder feature wouldn’t achieve quite what we want.