Balancing Indoor and Outdoor Training

Balancing Indoor and Outdoor Training

ON May 17, 2023 by Zwift


After a winter on Zwift, the weather is getting warmer and the days are getting longer. The great outdoors are calling, but you don’t have to leave Watopia behind to answer!

Indoor training can help you throughout the year, even when the weather is warm and mild. To help you balance your indoor and outdoor riding, we spoke with a couple of coaches and Zwift experts to get their advice.

Paul Ozier has been a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach since 2003, and he helps lead training rides held by Peaks Coaching Group on Zwift. Stephen Gallagher is the co-founder of Dig Deep Coaching and, along with Dan Fleeman, has been a designer of the Zwift Academy Road training program for multiple years.

Coaches Paul Ozier (left) and Stephen Gallagher (right)

Why Keep Zwifting?

First of all, it’s fun! It’s also convenient if it rains or you need to stay home. There are training benefits to riding indoors, too.

Stephen Gallagher: “Combining both indoor and outdoor sessions is the perfect combination for developing your fitness and keeping motivation high… I would suggest having at least 1 day a week indoors and hitting the key areas of fitness you want to maintain or wish to develop. Doing this in a controlled environment allows you to hit your targets, and it is also easier to see progress and development.”

Paul Ozier: “When a rider needs focused structured workouts, indoor on a trainer (Zwift) can work better than going outside where the terrain may mess up the ability to maintain the structure. On a trainer, a person can get in a very rigid, structured 60-90 minute workout where things are completely controlled. It eliminates the randomness that may occur outside.”

Build Up Slowly

You’re probably excited to enjoy the nice weather for as long as you can, but be careful! Bumping up your training volume (how much you ride) and trying to keep the same intensity (how hard you ride) at the same time can burn you out.

PO: “When transitioning from usual short duration workouts, like 60 to 90 minutes, it is very easy for an athlete to feel ‘good’ and decide to go out and do excessive miles/hours too soon.”

If you haven’t been getting in long endurance sessions on the trainer, Oziwer recommends taking at least 4 weeks to gradually work up to longer and longer rides outdoors.

SG: “If your aim is to increase total training volume, i.e. the amount of hours you do each week, then I would look at reducing the intensity which has been done on indoor workouts. This is especially key in the early phases of moving to more outdoor rides to avoid overreaching in your training and overall load.”

If you’re not increasing your volume much, keep making time for high-intensity sessions. This will help you maintain that fitness you’ve worked so hard to build!

Use Training Wisely

Riding inside helps when you need structure and focus. One way to balance your indoor and outdoor training is to save short, intense rides like interval sessions for Zwift.

PO: “Usually indoor (instead of) outside is used when we are in a critical period of the season and details are important, and usually when a rider lives where terrain, or maybe city traffic can really destroy the intent of the structure with interruptions… Outdoors, with available time, can be simply longer workouts or group rides, or training events/races.”

Ozier recommends following a training plan with a coach who can give you personal guidance. If you don’t have that, think about working on the types of efforts where you struggle or making your strengths even stronger. Or try one of Zwift’s training plans or a workout series like the Spring Training Series!

SG: “Typically, it is easier to do more focused intensity through structured workouts indoors than it is outside. Being able to control the effort and have structured recovery without interference allows you to maximize each effort. Outside riding is essentially better for longer training sessions and more endurance work. Combining both is the perfect scenario to allow you to develop all key areas of performance.”

Race With Purpose

Not one for structured workouts? You can race on Zwift year-round and still have energy for your outdoor goals. Just make sure that they take the place of an intense session in your schedule, Gallagher warns. Don’t add them into an already difficult week!

SG: “Using Zwift racing is a great way to hit some intensity and stimulating areas of your fitness which need to be increased in a more fun way. It is also a good way to push your limits in a way that is maybe not possible in a structured workout. I would advise that you look at the type of racing/course that will target the key area of fitness which you want to develop.”

For improving sustained aerobic power, like FTP, look for races on routes with long climbs. If you need to train explosive anaerobic efforts, look for short, punchy hills. You can also pick different parts of a race to focus on, or race them in different ways, Ozier added. Try to hang onto a fast group for some threshold over-unders. Attack and recover for some intense interval work.

PO: “I may have a rider that is struggling with race starts simply do a pre-race warm-up, then join a race… do the start, hammer for 5 minutes… and if they get gapped, that is it. They ride easy for 10 minutes, and then I may give them a workout to do after that geared towards improving the race starts.”

You can do the same thing while getting social in a Zwift group ride, if you want. Some feature sprints at every banner or a just-for-fun “race lap” at the end. Just pick your focus and stick to it.

Coming Back Inside

When fall approaches and you start riding inside more, it’s tempting to start working harder during your short indoor rides. But just like in the spring, your goal should be a gradual change.

PO: “We have limited long outdoor endurance rides, but we use the time for focused, quality workouts. Usually a person will have a few weekends when the temperatures let them get outside for some longer rides.”

SG: “When we do indoor sessions, they typically are shorter (less than 90 minutes) and the temptation is to do these at a higher intensity. This will see a greater stimulus to than you are used to so this must be avoided if you are to continue a training load without excessive fatigue. Make sure you avoid too many back-to-back intensity rides and also remember that endurance aerobic riding for more than 90 minutes is still essential for fitness development, not just higher intensities.”

Wherever you go, enjoy the ride!