Lionel Sanders’ Indoor Training Secrets


– Well, I’m delighted
to say that I’m joined by Lionel Sanders, recent two times winner of the Challenge Championship, and probably pretty famous
for his indoor training. Now, Lionel, thanks for joining us, and I’m gonna be picking your brains on how you train indoors, and basically if you’ve got
any tips for our viewers. So, start off. If you can tell me why you do so much of your training indoors, and how that kind of came about
when you started triathlon. – Sure, yeah, it was for
the most part it came to me. I got hit by cars four
times in four years. One of which I woke up in
the back of an ambulance strapped to the board,
front teeth knocked out, couldn’t remember who
I was, the whole thing, and I was like, “Is it worth it? “Do I really wanna die on the bicycle?” Well, not so much by getting hit by cars, perhaps from pushing myself to the limit, but not from the cars. And so, that’s how I
discovered indoor training. And then when I got onto the trainer, it was on the bike obviously, and I realized, “Wow, this
actually is just as good, “if not better than training outside.” There’s no stop signs, there’s no cars, there’s no anything to distract me. I can just focus on pushing big power. I can control every piece of the puzzle. I can control the rests, the recovery of the interval duration, everything, don’t have
to worry about anything, and so that’s why I got into it. And then I started to think, “Well, I wonder if it’s
the same for the running.” And then I got onto the
treadmill and I realized, “Wow, it’s the exact same thing as well.” It’s just always perfect. In fact, in the treadmill’s case, it’s almost like having a
training partner with you too, because I used to put my
treadmill backed into the wall, and you put it up to 12 miles an hour. Your incentive to run at 12 miles an hour is that if you don’t, you’re gonna slam into that wall and perhaps die, so. It was a good training partner too. So, when I discovered all of this, that’s when I really started
to gravitate towards it, and actually became quite
difficult to go outside. A lot of people ask me, “Aren’t you bored,” and all these things. I’m like, “No, it’s
the opposite actually.” It’s just so convenient. I can control every variable, and so yeah, at times
I have to force myself to go back outside to get
back into outdoor things. – Well, that’s kind of
brought me onto that, and how do you make sure that it’s, ’cause obviously you only race outdoors. Well, you’ve done a couple races indoors. – Yeah, not true actually. (laughing) – Okay, well most of your triathlons, the important ones, are outdoors, and how do you make sure that
what you’re doing indoors correlates exactly
enough to outdoor racing? – Yeah, this will be the
power meter on the bike anyway is power’s power, so whatever, in fact, I’ve come to find
due to the cooling effect whatever I’m pushing inside, usually when I go outside I
can push 15 to 20 watts more, so it’s actually kind
of almost like trainin’ in your big bulky runners and then puttin’ your racing flats on. Same sort of bump you
get when you go outside, so but power’s power, so if you’re pushin’ 300
watts on the trainer, there’s no reason why you can’t just go and push 300 watts or more outside. So, there’s really nothing
to think about there from that standpoint. On the treadmill, on the other hand, I mean you certainly
can utilize things like the Stryd power meter, the Garmin, the little the Foot Pod things. So, and I have used those
sorts of things just to get a sense of, ’cause
I have two treadmills, to get a sense of the
difference between the two. And then heart rate, as well,
is a great metric to gauge. Let’s say on my one treadmill
put it at 11 miles an hour, for instance, maybe my
heart rate will be 125, and I’ll go onto the other treadmill and my heart rate’ll only be 122. So, obviously the two treadmills
are not the exact same. But, it doesn’t really
matter for the most part. I mean, now that I’ve been
doin’ this a long time, a lot of my, I guess, training is for the most
part by feel actually. Now that I know sorta the
zones and what they feel like, and I just, I for the most part, try and get inside of those zones, and I know how they feel, so I just adjust the
treadmill based on that. – And does that feel, I know you said the
cooling effect outdoors it makes you feel a bit easier, but can you correlate, do you know if you’re not
looking at your power meter on your bike, do you know roughly how hard you’re working when you’re outside, ’cause there’s so many
other factors going on, and there’s wind, and there’s weather, there’s slopes, there’s other people. Are you able to still correlate that in your mind very easily? – Yeah, for the most part. I think at constant wattage, at 300 watts, for
instance, is harder inside. So when you go outside,
you’re always like, “Oh,” pleasantly surprised at
how easy 300 watts feels. For instance, Ironman
Arizona, two years ago, I was doin’ my intervals,
I believe, at 320 watts two times one hour was my
peak workout at 320 watts. And then, I got into the
race and I pushed 320 watts for the first three hours,
it wasn’t that challenging, whereas on the trainer,
it was quite challenging to do two times an hour. So, I had actually went
into the race thinking, “Oh, I’ll probably be
somewhere between 300 and 310 for the average,” and I
ended up averagin’ 318 for the whole ride. So, it’s actually one of the, I believe, one of the benefits of the indoor training is you do get a kind of a
bump when you go outside, and I believe it’s predominantly
due to full-body cooling. Like, if you’ve ever put a fan full-tilt, a big fan full-tilt, that’s like riding at like
25 kilometers an hour, you know what I mean? Like, you need, like, some massive fans to create the cooling, full-body cooling effect to 40
plus kilometer an hour riding and I actually, a guy
did it for me one time in a sweat test said, “That’s
about 40 kilometers an hour.” And I had to wear sunglasses and stuff on the indoor trainer ’cause
my eyes were like dried, completely dried, I couldn’t blink, but that’s just the amazing part of when you’re actually
moving, the difference. – And that brings me
onto your actual setup, and we’ve seen glimpses on your station when you’re doin’ things, but what does your setup look like, and do you have a fan? What do have to hand around you? Yeah, what’s it look like? – Yeah, I got the Wahoo
KICKR and the nice table and everything, and then I’ve got my iPad set up on Zwift. Then, I’ve got multiple
different fans I’ll use for different types of workouts. I bring out the big painter’s fan when I’m doin’ a real
high-end VO2 Max long, continuous kind of interval. And then, on the treadmill, same deal. I’ve got the nice Woodway treadmill. I usually, actually the Woodway, the beauty of the Woodway
is that it’s Bluetooth, so I just pair the treadmill to Zwift to utilize that. My other treadmill, on the other hand, inside the energy lab
room that we created. It’s got a sauna, it’s insulated inside, got the heaters, infrared
heat lap, et cetera. That one I’ll use a Foot Pod
because it’s not Bluetooth, but I still use Zwift
and all that sorta thing when I’m training in there. – And is that purely
setup, that treadmill, for Kona-esk conditions? – That’s a hundred percent, 100%, literally it’s called the energy lab for approximately mile 17 to 26 in Kona. We create, you have to create a room to prepare properly for
that, those conditions, and the mental capacity
required to do well, which didn’t work that well actually, the training didn’t get me all the way I needed to go this year, but maybe a few more sessions in the room will help next year, we’ll see. – And do you ever ride
your bike without a fan on the turbo? – I never ride my bike without a fan. It’s just not, I find
it precedes exertion, actually this is a funny story. We were in Pucon 70.3, and I didn’t have a fan, and it was like we were on
the top floor of the hotel, and there was no air conditioning. It was, like, literally
90 degrees in there, at least, with very high humidity. And I was doing, I intended
to do an interval workout, and I literally was warming
up at like 250 to 280 watts, it’s like my easy pace. And my heart rate was a hundred, getting into a hundred and forties, which, for me, is like
high-end threshold heart rate. And I sit there, and I was like, “I literally cannot do a
workout, there’s just no way,” but I need to get some intensity
in my legs for the race, so I said, “I’ll give ya a hundred bucks “if you take my wheel bag and fan me “with the wheel bag for half an hour.” And she took me up on the offer. I still haven’t paid
her the hundred bucks. – And a lot of people often ask, and I comparing about the
problems on their bikes, of the salt, and affecting
the rusting, and things. Is there anything, what
do you do to your bike to sort of sweat proof it? – Yeah, I actually, ’cause I use to race and
train on the same bike, and I got to a race, it was
Ironman Arizona actually, a couple years ago, and
literally I’d press the brakes and springs snapped on the brakes, inside the brake mechanism
’cause they were so rusted out, and so that’s when I said, “Maybe you shouldn’t race
and train on the same bike,” and so that’s what I
recommend if you’re doing, like I literally was doing every
single ride on the trainer, so they do make few little
things, covers and stuff. I mean, if you can’t do
that, then definitely, you definitely wanna be putting towel, and they do make a couple different covers to put over your brake, and
housing, and all that stuff, but I’d highly recommend
maybe training and racing on different bikes. – Yeah, and talking of
the different bikes, and going back to preparing for race day, and I know you had talked
about it feeling a bit easier when you actually get outside, but is there anything you do and how much outdoor training do you do before a race to actually
get that live feeling and to make sure you’ve got
the bike handling skills, and I know you’ve talked
about the bike handling after Oceanside, was it? And that maybe you need
to work on that as well. – It’s like anything. You drink too much water, you’ll die. You do anything too much it’s
probably not good for you. And so, I do really
believe in indoor training, but you gotta ride your bike too, you gotta handle your bike. And so, I’ve definitely
curved it back a little. I’ve been goin’ outside, and in fact, I think you
should probably go outside, not for your workouts,
but for your easy stuff. And do it on, find
really technical places. So, I have this like walking paths, really windy, it’s like five
kilometers in each direction. I mean, I’m confined to where I live. We don’t really have any
mountains or anything, you know what I mean? If I had some mountains, I’d certainly be going
up into the mountains, and comin’ back down, but you make do with what you have, so that’s how I’m goin’ about it. – Are we gonna see you
racing XTERRA anytime soon? – Oh, absolutely not. No, I mean, I’m lookin’ to live to see the next day, so yeah. – When you, when you trained
before Zwift came along, how did you mentally sort of
stop yourself getting bored? How did you keep focused? – I didn’t. I just got really bored, and eventually I came
to the conclusion that it’s all in the mind. I had a lot of time to
do some introspection, and I came to a lot of the realizations about my current race, how I go about racing in those moments when I would just stare at the wall, and just be with the intensity, and be with the movement, And, I mean, that’s also
quite enjoyable, too. Sometimes I just ride the
trainer without any stimulation because it is, sometimes you need that. You need just a moving meditation. And yeah, I mean, once again, too much of anything’s not good. It’s good to be a well-rounded athlete, so doing everything you
can see and think of, it’s all good for ya. Doing one is not gonna be
good for ya, do it all. – And so you do your own mental training and you let you mind go
sometimes when you’re, or you’re always bringing your mind back? – Yeah, once again, too much of anything is not good, so sometimes you allow
your mind to wander, and other times, especially
when you have anxiety in those sorts of things, it’s better to come back to center, and allow those anxieties to fade away, and then you put those
anxiety into perspective, and then you probably come back to, when you’ve done the exercise
to whatever the issue is, you have a much better perspective ’cause you’re not attached to the anxiety, so it’s all good. It’s all, and you definitely
should say sometimes, “I’m gonna stay totally
focused in on this workout,” and other times you can
allow yourself to checkout a little bit. It’s all good for you and ways to become a better athlete and a
better person, I believe. – And, I mean, you’ve
mentioned Zwift a few times and now it’s you moving
more into triathlon as well with the Zwift Academy. What are your thoughts
on that and triathlon, do you think triathlon’s moving more into more indoor training and is
that gonna help the sport, or how do you see that? – Well, time is such an
issue when you’re doin’ three sports, so the beauty
of the indoor training is the bike’s already set up, ready to go. Just flick the fan on, pair
the thing onto the Zwift, or whatever, and you’re ready to go. There’s no airing the tires up, getting to the proper roads, driving, whatever, all this stuff. So, from a convenience
factor it’s fantastic, which is the name of
the game in triathlon. And then Zwift, as well, for me anyway, I like ridin’ on Zwift a lot
more than staring at the wall, so I’m always a big
believer in the best time, or you get really good at biking when you’re riding your bike, so whatever motivates
you to ride your bike, you should do that. And being on Zwift, being in races, being with people, motivates
me to get onto the bike, so you should do that. So, I think it’s really good, and I think, and I certainly have seen, a lot more people going towards it, and I think a lot of
people are also coming to the conclusion that
the training quality, for most people, is better indoors on these virtual roads, with no cars, and no distractions, and actually stimulus that
increases your intensity, increases your engagement to your riding. It’s better on there that it
is out in their whatever roads with all these cars and everything. So, yeah, I think we’ll just continue on down that pathway. And then imagine the day
when we get the VR goggles and everything, which
I’m sure is that not far down the road, and you literally will look over to the left in a race, and dude’s right next to ya. I mean, that’s coming. – Do you think there’s a
certain personality type that can get more out of
indoor training than others? Do you think you need to
have a certain like mindset to be able to train indoors? – Well, I think, I’m always, I believe this is 90%
mental, 10% physical, for the most part, this whole endeavor. – Yep. And so, if you label
yourself as I’m a person who can’t ride indoors, well there’s something to improve upon. And same for myself, who is a person who is
good at riding indoors. I need to outside sometimes, too, right? It’s just all becoming well-rounded. There should be no such thing as this is not ideal for me, right? That’s just a mental block that
you’ve created for yourself. And so, anytime you ever find one, that’s a great gift, because it’s an area to improve upon. And so, for me, the big
one for me right now is technical things, and so I’m getting rid of that. I’m gonna become a good technical rider, so that there is no, there are no courses that I can’t do. I’ll do all the courses. I don’t avoid courses. And that’s only gonna help when you do go to your courses that are built for you. You’re just gonna become
even more confident, more proficient, so no, there is no– Well, yeah there is but they
created that themselves. – Yeah, yeah. And do you have, can
you give us an example of one of your favorite sessions to do on the indoor trainer? – Sure, yeah. I mean, I use the trainer
in so many different ways as I’ve gotten to know it. Some sessions I just wanna do a straight, I’ll put it into erg mode, and I’ll just do like straight, let’s say 10 times eight minutes, that’s like a nice 70.3 session. 10 times eight minutes, with three minutes recovery, and I’ll put it right to the
exact wattage that I want, I’ll just hold a dead stay. That’s a perfect session for a
race like Challenge Samorins. Dead flat, no hills, very little corners. You just gotta be able to stay
in the time trial position and hold good power. So, for that workout, I
put the wattage at like 350 to 360 watts, and it’s just, that’s what you’re doin’ for
the next 80 minutes basically is holdin’ it dead steady, and tryin’ to hold good technique. On the other hand, you
can put the trainer onto, for different style of riding, and different types of courses, you can put the trainer onto
the controllable trainer mode, and ride around in Zwift, or whatever. And, the beauty is you
can take turns and stuff throughout the environment to simulate the types of terrains
that you’re gonna have. There’s gonna be some really steep climbs. And then I’ll build that
into like a VO2 Max workout. So, maybe I’ll do, there’s one pathway on
Zwift that’ll take me about 20 minutes, and has
a steep climb in there, and I’ll do a VO2 Max
interval up the climb, very hard, out of the saddle, 450 watts, and then I’ll take a
little bit of recovery, and then I’ll do the
next basically 15 minutes down in time trial position
at more 70.3 race pace, and then I’ll repeat
that three times through. And for me, once again, that
kinda simulates two things, can simulate a more technical bike course, a more I guess hilly bike course, like Saint George, or you
will have those big punches for three minutes or so,
and then more steady 70.3. But also, even in a race like this, where you’re catching
groups of guys and stuff, you need to be able to
put forth that 450 watt three minute surge and go
right back down into 70.3 nice, steady effort, so you can use the terrain
in the virtual world to simulate all that stuff, which, once again, I don’t
have hills where I lived. It would be impossible
to create that workout where I live, so it’s
another one of the beauties. So, that’s, those are a couple of the ways that I use it. – And do you have a
least favorite session? Which I imagine for you is probably, ends up being your favorite session, ’cause you turn it around. – Yeah, totally. – But, what is your
least favorite session? – My least favorite
session is the high-end one minute, two minute, three
minuter style intervals. And I trained with a guy, back in college, who he was a great miler
and 800 meter runner, and I was more of the endurance guy, so we’d do two workouts together a week, and he would write one,
I’d write the other, so his would always be
800 repeats, 400 repeats. I would just absolutely dread them. And then, he’d come to my session. We’d do like 10k threshold run, and I mean that’s good strategy, actually, is to train with a guy who has the exact opposite strengths as you, and you both hate each other, but you both love each other as well. – Do you have, how close
to your outside position is it with your head? Because if you do it all the time, I’m talking about it’s
easy to sort of find the more comfortable position indoors than it is outdoors ’cause you don’t have to see where you’re going? And how do you make sure that you train those muscles as well? – It’s a really interesting question. I’ve just discovered
it, actually, this year, that there is a significant difference between indoor position
and outdoor position, that you would choose because
of the force of moving. You have lift forces when
you’re riding outside, significant lift forces, and so the pressure on
your groin and everything is significantly different
outside than inside, so you would choose, self-select, a much different position
inside than outside. And it’s a question I don’t
really have the answer to. Where I’m headed is I think
I’ll develop two seat posts, two seats, completely
set up my indoor post, with the seats setup a
particular way on my outdoor, and a very similar idea
to doing different lifts, for different, on the same muscle group, but different lifts, right? A hammer curl, this type
of curl, blah, blah, blah. You recruit the muscles
slightly differently, so I’ll have my indoor position, my indoor which will be
just slightly different. I find like five millimeters
higher seat post, maybe seat a little bit
further back when I go outside, probably due to lift forces. And so, I’ll train on that
position on the indoor, and then when I go outside, I’ll put the different seat posts in and train on that outside. And this is all just theories right now, but that’s something I
just started to realize. when I really did, I set
mirrors up all around the bike, so I could start to analyze my position. And I mean, the process
that I’ve been goin’ through is just it starts with am I comfortable, and the next piece is
am I pushing good power, and the next piece is how do I look? And it’s just this, I
guess, process of doing that over and over again, and I still haven’t
come to any conclusions. I’m definitely getting better, but it’s still big, big work in progress. So, it’s a whole frontier
to explore moving forward. – And what would you recommend, to age groups and to our viewers, with that position that
you’ve learned from that. What would you say to
someone who’s getting onto the turbo, for maybe the first time, how do they workout and get their setup as close to outdoors as inside? – Yeah, I mean the number
one thing, once again, is you’re gonna get the
best at riding a bike while riding a bike, so you should probably
set your position up, in the beginning anyway, as comfortable as you can get it, so that you want to want your bike. And then you can slowly, as you adapt to that very
comfortable position, maybe then take a couple
spacers out on the front end. If you need to, maybe
you can lift the seat, get into a little more aggressive, and just slowly, this idea that like
everything happens overnight, just get rid of that, like it’s like, you’re gonna
spend years developing this, if you’re doing it properly, and you’ll get into progressively
more aggressive position and be able to handle it. And, yeah, I think that’s that proper way. Not just like throw yourself
into this ridiculous position. And on the topic of neck
and that sort of thing, yeah, definitely, you wanna
get a particular stand or something, for your iPad, to put it very similar to
where you will be looking on the road. That’s very important actually, for when you’re time trialing. If you got it, ’cause I
used to do that exact thing. I would set the thing up, so I’d be in this like perfect position, yeah, that could never do outside, because I’ll crash into something. So, if you’re really concerned, especially on your
race-paced kinda intervals, you definitely wanna have that iPad set up right where you’re
gonna be looking outside to get the proper adaptation. – Awesome. Well, Lionel, thank you so much for that. Some really interesting insights, and, I’m sure, a lot of points
that people can take away, so thanks for joining us. – Thanks for having me on. – And if you wanna catch
all of our videos from GTN, just hit the globe to subscribe, and if you want some tips on how to ride a hilly triathlon course, Mark’s made a video on that just here. – And if you wanna learn
to pedal like a pro, which I should probably watch this video, you should click here.

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