Posted On:
Tuesday, May 7, 2024
Updated On:

Coach Tip Tuesday: How to Handle The Transition From Indoor to Outdoor Training

Stream On:
Apple PodcastsSpotifyBuzzsproutiHeart RadioiHeart RadioPocketCasts

Spring has sprung!  That means that endurance athletes all over the Northern Hemisphere are starting to make the transition from indoor to outdoor training.

The transition from indoors to outdoors isn’t as seamless as many athletes might imagine or expect.  In fact, I’ve observed that the first outdoor workouts of the season are almost always harder than athletes anticipate, which is in turn is at least somewhat disappointing and frustrating for athletes.  There are a few factors that I think contribute to this and tactics that athletes can implement in their training so that they can ease their transition from indoor to outdoor training.

Indoor Data

The first factor that I think contributes to outdoor workouts feeling harder than expected  is that athletes are spending longer training indoors and training indoors more frequently than they previously have.  Indoor training platforms such as Zwift and Rouvy have risen dramatically in popularity, smart trainers and treadmills have come down in price, and there are more types of gym memberships than ever before.  All of this has made indoor training much more accessible, comfortable, and enjoyable than it has been in the past.  One of the downsides to these types of training platforms and technologies is that they are extremely data-driven.  Specifically, they showcase speed data.  

As anyone who has been following my blog and podcast or who has ever coached with me can attest to, I am a fan of data.  Data is important in my work with athletes since I coach remotely; data allows me to get a sense of what happened during an athlete’s workout.  Along with post-workout notes, data enables an athlete to share a more complete picture of what they felt and experienced during a workout or race.  However, indoor speed data is an issue because it isn’t ever accurate.  Ever.  I try not to deal in absolutes, but this is actually a rare case where I think an absolute is appropriate because it’s the truth.  

Unfortunately for many athletes, they believe the speed data that they see from their indoor training, whether it comes from a speed sensor, a smart trainer, an indoor training platform, or a treadmill.  Then, when they transition to outdoor training, they are confronted with the reality that the indoor speed data they had been believing for a long (six months or more) period of time is inaccurate.  Sometimes (definitely not always), it might be close, but this isn’t horseshoes and close isn’t honestly good enough when it comes to what athletes believe about their paces or speeds.  Indoor speed data can be inaccurate either way - meaning that it may be showing that an athlete is faster than they really are or that they are slower than they really are - but in my experience, it’s never accurate.  

That realization all by itself makes the transition from indoors to outdoors frustrating and disappointing for athletes.  This is especially true if the athlete was “faster” indoors than they are outdoors.  I have watched too many athletes be reduced to tears when they are confronted with the reality that they are not as fast as they thought they were.  Understanding that indoor speed data is inaccurate is an important part of managing expectations when transitioning to outdoor workouts.  

Yes, this means that you don’t actually know exactly what you are capable of speed or pace-wise if you’ve been training indoors exclusively for many months.  But if you really think about it: Even though indoor training platforms claim to tell you what speed you’re going, what they are really doing is just scratching an itch for you.  The companies that design these technologies and these platforms are providing you with a metric that they know is important to athletes.  My humble (and perhaps radical and strong) opinion is that it’s a marketing tactic.  The (hard) truth is that indoor speed never correlates to outdoor speed.  And if athletes are believing and relying on indoor speed data, this presents a big challenge for athletes when they do head outside.

This is okay, and all hope is not lost.  There are several training methods that are accurate indoors and work just the same outdoors, such as Rating of Perceived Exertion (also known as RPE or effort-based training - the true king of all training methods, in my opinion), heart rate, or power (for cycling). 

Training Differently Indoors

The second thing that I think contributes to a tough transition from indoor to outdoor training is that athletes often train very differently indoors than they have to outdoors.  In many ways, indoor training is a five-star, all-inclusive resort compared to outdoor training.  I always encourage the athletes who I coach who are training indoors to replicate outdoor training conditions as closely as possible.  This includes (but is not limited to) the following advice:

  • Train using a method that translates accurately to outdoor training.
    • As mentioned earlier, there are several training methods that translate accurately and well to outdoor training.
    • Using one of these methods as your training method indoors is a great idea because then you are able to really hone in on the method and build your experience and confidence in it.  Then, when you switch to outdoor training, you are not having to get used to a different training method in addition to all of the other changes that outdoor training brings.
  • Ride your bike in the position that you are fit for.
    • Don’t ride on the hoods if you are fit to an aero position.
    • Your bike is configured to the fit position that you were fit for.  If you ride the bike differently than how you were fit to it for an extended period of time, the bike is not set up and optimized for that different position and your probability of injury goes up.
    • Related: When you transition to doing your workouts outside, ensure that you are riding your bike in this same position that you have been riding indoors.  If you switch to riding a different fit position (for instance, riding in the hoods instead of in the aerobars), the probability of you getting injured goes up significantly because you are using your body in a different way than you have been training.
  • Do not ever have two hands off your bicycle. 
    • This entirely changes your bike fit position and trains a behavior that is completely contrary to how you actually ride a bike.  You wouldn’t ride a bike outside without both of your hands on the handlebars; ensure that you always keep one hand on the handlebars inside just like you would have to if you were outside.
  • Carry your fuel and hydration the same way.
    • Use the same fueling and hydration products that you would use outdoors.  
    • Use the same vessels to carry your fuel and hydration (such as bike bottles, a bento box, a running fueling belt, a running hydration vest, etc.) that you would outdoors.
    • Don’t use extra tables, the treadmill itself, etc. to store fuel or hydration.  If you wouldn’t be able to do it outdoors, don’t do it indoors.
  • For the love of all things sprinkled, don’t use your phone.
    • Would you text, scroll Instagram, respond to emails, etc. while on an outdoor bike ride or a long run outside?  If you wouldn’t do it outside, do not do it inside.  If you must answer a text or a phone call, stop your workout just like you would if you were outside.  The postural changes that occur because of this behavior are significant and cannot be understated.  Train the posture and position that you will be utilizing outside by training the behaviors you will be engaging in outside.

Engaging in different behaviors indoors may seem innocent enough.  But I’ve seen first-hand how doing this snowballs.  Transitioning to outside and all that comes with it (terrain, weather, etc.) is tough enough on its own.  It is made significantly more challenging when you have to change even more things (such as how you’re riding your bike, how you’re fueling and hydrating, etc.).  Changing too many things at once is asking for trouble (and that applies to more than just endurance sports training and racing).

All of this being said, there are some truths that must be acknowledged about certain indoor training habits that are inherent to indoor training itself and they cannot be changed.  Treadmills and Erg Mode on smart bicycle trainers are running you; you are not running under your own power or pedaling your bike under your own power.  This is significant and important to understand because outside, you are 100% responsible for powering your running and your cycling.  If you are used to having help (and a treadmill belt and Erg Mode are help, even if that’s hard to admit), it is going to feel challenging and difficult when you must operate exclusively under your own power outside.  Again, there isn’t anything that we can do to change this, so this becomes something that is always different about training indoors and outdoors.

The fact that you are not necessarily operating under your own power is just one thing that is different indoors than outdoors.  There are actually a lot of things that will be different outside than they are inside; temperature, precipitation, terrain, traffic, and other people are just some of them.  Ensuring that the things that can be the same indoors as they are outdoors are actually the same really helps decrease the number of “new” things that athletes are facing when they do go outside.  If they’ve been riding a different bike fit position, fueling and hydrating differently, and having a machine assist them to move, that is a lot of extra things to be adding to get used to.

How to Ease the Transition from Indoor Training to Outdoor Training

Indoor training is a wonderful thing; the most valuable thing that it does is that it enables athletes to train year-round.  It also enables them to train when conditions outside are truly unsafe.  For athletes in many parts of the world, training outside year-round is very challenging, if not impossible.  Most athletes I’ve worked with over the years need to train indoors for at least part of the year.  Depending on how long the Winter season is where they live, some athletes need to train indoors for more than half of the year every year.  All this to say: Indoor training is valuable, and it’s here to stay.  So how do we best manage the transition from indoor to outdoor training to help athletes be able to train successfully under the specific conditions that they will be racing (which is almost always outside)?

When athletes are transitioning from indoors to outdoors, I always recommend that their first outdoor workouts be shorter durations.  I have seen many times over that doing a long workout (more than an hour) as one’s first outdoor workout of the season is a surefire recipe for frustration, disappointment, and (in my experience coaching athletes who have self-reported this to me) tears.  

In all honesty, going too long too soon outside also significantly increases the risk that an athlete will sustain an acute injury.  The effective dose for outdoor training workouts is low at first.  It can increase relatively quickly (within a few weeks), but at first, the most appropriate and effective dose is low (less than an hour).  Though I warn athletes about this, my experience has been that most athletes do not believe this until it happens to them; many of them will ignore the advice and jump right into trying to do a long run or ride as their first outdoor workout of the season.  This is super unfortunate since helping athletes remain injury-free  is one of the most important parts of my job, and so I’m always really sad for an athlete when they find themselves in this situation.

In addition to sticking to shorter durations when they transition to outdoor training, I also recommend that athletes do not do any structured workouts for the first few workouts that they do outside.  As previously discussed, there are already a lot of changed variables in play when an athlete transitions from indoors to outdoors.  Attempting to do an interval workout as one of their first outdoor workouts is another thing to add to that list of changed things, and quite frankly, it’s an unnecessary one.

The Bottom Line

No matter how much experience an athlete acquires or how long they train for endurance sports, the annual transition to outdoor training after being inside (especially after being inside for a longer period of time) is always going to feel different and somewhat challenging.  It’s important to fully embrace and accept this truth.  Athletes would do well to give themselves some time and grace as they navigate this transition by planning for 2-3 weeks when their only objective is to get used to being outside again.  After that period of time, they can build their durations, incorporate more specificity and intensity, and progress toward their goals from there.  With a pragmatic perspective and approach, the transition from indoor to outdoor training can be made with ease and joy.


Coach Laura Henry

Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.

She can be reached at

Read Biography

Check out our other
recent Blog Posts

Start Your

Coaching Today

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Start Your

Coaching Today

Have a question or ready to get your TRAINING started?

Fill out our Contact Form to the right and we will get back to you shortly!

Check - Elements Webflow Library - BRIX Templates

Thank you

Thanks for reaching out. We will get back to you soon.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.