It is February. We are gearing up for the race season, focusing on an upcoming century ride or tour, then BAM! I you live in the northeast, you wake up to a foot or more of snow. For those of us on the west coast, it is our rainy season and cold (ok, it is warm if you live in the northeast). Regardless, cold, inclement weather forces us to think about whether to venture outdoors or spend some time on the trainer.
One of my wife's favorite stories about me when I was on the National Team is when I tried to go out on my "beater" bike in a snow storm. I got about a mile down the road and, after falling multiple times, turned around. She said I was too stubborn to train indoors. Maybe so, but truth be told I really didn't like riding indoors.
Times have changed and, with all of the cool indoor training tools that now exist such as Ride Fit, riding indoors is a lot more bearable than it used to be. If you are training for an event, it is important to try and not miss a day (research says it will take you four to five days to gain back the fitness you lost in just one day), which begs the question: indoors or outdoors?
Indoor cycling workouts and outdoor cycling each have their pros and cons. A study conducted on the fitness level generated by indoor bikes states that indoor biking gets you on to around 80-95% of your heart rate. This means the cardiovascular functioning is more than facilitated through this medium, boosting over all heart health.
Outdoor cycling can be as efficient as indoor cycling workouts when it comes to getting the heart rate elevated and involved. However, it is a bit more challenging, especially if it is cold. Even though an elevated healthy heart rate is attainable, it is very difficult for cyclists to pedal fast enough to reach that particular threshold when riding outside. However, on the bright side, outdoor cycling involves more muscle usage, as it involves the hamstrings, the shins, glutes, calves and quadriceps, working towards strengthening the muscles and expending more calories.
During indoor cycling workouts, you are essentially riding a stationary bike. This means that you are performing the same monotonous drill time and again, which can get extremely boring. Added to that, since the bike is stationary, the ride does not involve any ascent or descents, meaning that you will be using the same set of muscles every time you get on a bike, making indoor cycling slightly more difficult than outdoor.
When it comes to outdoor cycling, it can be more leisurely and you can speed up a lot more with that than in the case of indoor cycling workout. Outdoor cycling requires much less effort in pedaling and execution, but if you want to heat things up, there is nothing to hold you back. Furthermore, with outdoor cycling you are more in contact with nature, get a change of scenery, some fresh air, all of which can have a positive effect on your body and mind both, making this form of workout refreshing and healthy.
There is no right answer to the question. Weather, time of day and your overall mood will likely dictate whether you stay in or go out. Also, take a look at what you have planned for training that day. If it is an easy day and the weather is borderline miserable, why go out? If you have three hour ride planned, if the roads allow it, why not go out? Just don't make the mistake I made and be so headstrong that short of lightning, tornado or hail I was going to be outside on my bike. Be rational, think safety first and decide which is best for you.