Virtual reality: how to make the online world feel even more immersive

Cycling coach Deena Blacking outlines how you can maximise your time training indoors

indoor training
(Image credit: Future)

As a performance coach, I know the value of indoor training. The constant pressure on the pedals is a potent ingredient for building your strength and endurance. But the cyclist in me loathes the idea of training indoors. The garage door vista is unsurprisingly less inspiring than the great outdoors. 

This becomes especially true when sessions become painful; only a select few mortals enjoy devoting one hundred percent of their attention to the pain of an over-under.

This is where the best online training apps are my friend. Advancements in technology mean that the indoor experience is more immersive than ever. The more engaging your experience, the more likely you will be able to “get in the zone”. The more you can get in the zone, the more successful you will be in your training. 

In this article, I set out the key steps for maximising the immersive experience so you can get the most out of your indoor training session (and maybe even forget the pain!).

Step one: get to know your online platform

First things first: you'll need to register for an online training platform.

There are many different platforms available, you can read about them in our guide to the best indooor training apps. Many of the platforms offer free (or highly subsidised) trial periods. Give them a go and see which one works best for you.

Before you start, get to know the features of your chosen platform so that you can make the most of it. Ask your friends; go online; there is no shortage of online video tutorials. For example, Zwift has an entire community-driven website with the latest tips and tricks at zwiftinsider.com.

Step two: set up the optimal training space

To get the most from a training session, it's best to delineate a physical space where you can set up your equipment. Make sure it is free from all distractions.

It goes without saying that you need an indoor trainer. Whether you choose rollers, direct drive, or a wheel mount, make sure that your trainer is in good working condition. Only a bad work woman blames her tools…

To avoid unwanted dropouts, ensure that you have sufficient bandwidth to connect with and run the online platform.

Set up your portable computer device on a table or stand so you can see the screen directly in front of you. Make sure you are dead centre to the screen – there is no need to encourage a lopsided position!

Finally, create the correct ambient temperature– staying cool is key to successful indoor training. Use a strong fan and make sure that your towel is easily to hand.

Step three: ensure you’re prepped for the session

Getting ready for an indoor ride should be no different to the outdoors, ask yourself:

1) Do you know what session you’re doing?

2) Are you wearing comfortable bib shorts? There are some great indoor specific clothing options).

3) Is your heart rate monitor on?

4) Do you have appropriate hydration and fuel close to hand?

5) Whatever you need for a session, make sure it’s ready and close to hand before you start pedalling.

Step four: get in the zone

Just because you are at home, it doesn’t mean you should cram household chores between intervals. Avoid the temptation to multitask. It’s a false economy. If you have kids, ask your partner to take charge for your hour of turbo time.

Listen to upbeat, fast-paced music. Choose a playlist that motivates you and helps to focus the mind - studies have shown a strong link between music and motivation.

If you are on a virtual group ride, commit to the experience. Be present. Use the chat function. Recreate the social aspect of a group ride by chatting to other riders using audio calling services like Discord or Zoom.

Step five: levelling up the immersion experience with the latest technology

Once you’ve mastered steps one to four, it’s time to start thinking about moving up a grade, literally. The latest riser technology for indoor training recreates the sensation of cycling up grades climbing – check out the Elite Rizer, Wahoo Kickr Climb or the Wahoo Kickr Bike.

Whilst these clearly aren't essential, on test at Cycling Weekly, we've found them to be much more than a gimmick - the change in pitch forces you to work your core in a way that's similar to the outdoor experience. 

Step six: mind over matter

Success indoors requires more than equipment; your commitment is key. If you are training indoors, make a mental commitment to putting your full focus on your training session. Forget about what’s annoyed you this morning and what’s coming up later in your day. Pay attention to the training session at hand. 

There are many performance focus techniques you can use, including breathwork, counting your pedal strokes, visualisation and positive self-talk.

Whether you ride for pleasure or performance, indoor training will be a more rewarding experience only if you allow yourself to be fully immersed in it. 

Online platforms like Zwift provide you with the virtual reality world; hardware companies like Wahoo provide you with the equipment; it’s up to you to put it all together and make indoor training something that you love, not loathe. In the words of James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, “If you want to become significantly better at anything, you have to fall in love with the process of doing it.”

Deena Blacking is a cycling coach and sports consultant at drivetrain.cc

Deena Blacking

Deena Blacking is a cycling coach and sports consultant at drivetrain.cc