As cyclists, we’re naturally target-driven, looking to improve our personal bests, drop other riders and maybe win races. Our training and riding all tends to be geared around getting faster and fitter and indoor workouts are usually a key aspect of that, with intervals and ramps designed to improve our FTP and other key metrics, which we track religiously.
But that excessive focus on metrics and performance can be detrimental to our mental health and can lead to burn-out and exhaustion. A diet of intervals over the winter, without much variety and with little else to look forward to until spring is bound to be soul-destroying.
Now that the off-season is here, a different approach to indoor workouts could increase our enjoyment of riding while still maintaining our fitness ready to ramp up once the new riding and racing season begins. A more mindful approach to indoor training could benefit us all.
What do we mean by mindfulness?
In days gone by, off-season training would mean long, steady miles outdoors. Even if they weren’t mindful, they at least made us aware of just how cold it was. Nowadays, we’re much more likely to take to the turbo for a quick interval session or maybe to compete on an indoor training app.
The UK’s NHS describes mindfulness as “paying attention to what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment” and experiencing the sensations of the present moment. It’s a state of being aware of our bodies and the sensations that we’re experiencing.
Mindfulness isn’t something that the average turbo session is geared towards. It tends to be highly target-driven, with intervals to follow or other riders or bots to try to drop or keep up with. You’re much more focussed on targets than on how your body and surroundings feel as you try to reach them.
It doesn’t have to be like that and you can still ride indoors and enjoy the experience in a more relaxed, contemplative manner. That’s where training apps come in, as they give you something to think about as you ride, rather than trying to hit an interval, maybe while playing music over headphones as you work out, so that your sessions become more mechanical than enjoyable.
Training apps don’t just feed you training schedules and sessions. Wahoo X, for example, includes motivational content and guidance on yoga, relaxing and staying positive, not just the notorious Sufferfest videos for which it became well known.
Rouvy is also a good option for more relaxed riding, with its real location videos allowing you to imagine that you are in the Alps or Dolomites rather than on your turbo at home and maybe helping you to plan for next year’s challenges. As with most indoor cycling apps, you can invite others or join a group ride, making for a shared experience.
Mental health benefits of exercise
It’s also worth remembering that any exercise has been shown to be better than no exercise for our mental health, so even a more gentle turbo session on a wet, cold evening will bring greater benefits to our wellbeing than sitting watching another episode on Netflix.
The positive effects of exercise on mental health, according to UK mental health charity Mind include: better sleep; happier moods; management of stress, anxiety and intrusive thoughts; better self-esteem; reducing the risk of depression; and connecting with people.
If you join a group ride on an indoor cycling app, companion apps such as Discord or the in-built voice chat in Wahoo RGT can offer connection with fellow riders. Zwift‘s large user base means that group rides are available pretty much whenever you want and there are different paces to suit your aims. You can always organise your own joint session with friends.
So don’t just see your turbo sessions as an opportunity to thrash yourself a few times a week. Take a step back from the standard exercise routines and find some new and engaging content to keep you interested and motivated. Doing something different and experiencing new sensations are an important part of mindfulness.
Schedule some more relaxed indoor cycling sessions into your off-season training, be mindful of how you’re experiencing them and come out of winter more relaxed and refreshed, ready to ramp up your indoor and outdoor training for the new riding season.