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How To Convert Indoor Bike Training into Better Outdoor Performance

atlanta biking dr. sam performance physical therapy Apr 11, 2023

It is easy to monitor your cycling effort while on an indoor trainer, such as a Wahoo Kickr or Peloton. Using these indoor trainers makes it easy to track your progress and improve your performance during workouts by providing real-time feedback, utilizing easy measures such as power, cadence, resistance, and distance. Power output is the actual amount of power generated by your legs and is measured in watts using a power meter. Power meters are a common tool used by cyclists to monitor their power output, but they can be expensive and not always accessible when we return to cycling outside from the winter indoor training period. Fortunately, there are other ways to monitor your effort and power output while cycling outdoors, even without a power meter. Internal effort refers to the amount of exertion felt required to maintain a certain pace on the bike. It is influenced by factors such as cadence, gear selection, and terrain. We will discuss the best ways to monitor your internal effort and power while cycling outside without a power meter.


Monitoring Internal Effort and Power Output Outdoors

While a power meter is an excellent tool for monitoring your power output, it is not necessary to measure your internal effort while cycling outdoors. Here are some different ways you can monitor your effort and ensure optimal training sessions while biking outdoors without a power meter:

  1. Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE): RPE is a subjective measure of how hard you feel you are working. It is a scale from 1-10, with 1 being very easy and 10 being maximum effort. By checking in with your perceived exertion, you can adjust your effort level with each training session or ride.
  2. Heart Rate Monitor: A heart rate monitor is a simple and effective tool to monitor your effort while cycling. Heart rate is a good indicator of the workload on your cardiovascular system and can be used to estimate your effort level. The easiest and most common way to calculate your maximum heart rate is: 220 - Age = Your Max HR. You can determine your maximum heart rate and use it to guide your effort levels during your rides.
  3. Speed and Cadence: While speed and cadence alone cannot measure power output, they can provide a good indication of your effort level. By maintaining a consistent cadence and monitoring your speed, you can ensure you are maintaining a consistent effort level.
  4. One of the biggest differences between indoor and outdoor training is the change in terrain. Hills can significantly impact your effort level, so choosing your route or adjusting your effort based on the terrain can adjust your effort level during a ride.
  5. You may also try gradually converting your indoor training into outdoor rides during the late winter/early spring, flipping back and forth from indoors to outdoors. Focusing on your effort and power levels while on the indoor trainer, and matching that same effort to the outdoors can help your transition to better monitoring of your outdoor rides.
  6. Posture is an often overlooked difference between indoor and outdoor cycling. The need to look up at the road ahead and check for traffic while cycling can change your posture and therefore constant power effort while riding.


The biggest takeaway is making sure you have a good awareness of your effort at all times while riding, and you will have a better conversion from your indoor to outdoor cycling training.  Stepping outside of a controlled indoor environment into the Atlanta heat exposure, wind, and variable terrain will generate more differences in your perceived effort. Monitor and adjust your effort levels to maintain optimal power output while riding, and stay consistent with your training sessions to improve your performance.


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Thanks for reading, 

Dr. Sam, PT, DPT, OCS

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