Updated: Apr 26, 2022
Unless you’ve been living “unplugged” for the last few years, you’re probably very familiar with the meteoric rise of Peloton and its cult-like fan following. Earlier this year, there were about 1.4 million Peloton users partaking in virtual classes from the comfort of their own homes.
With cycling classes, core strength, running, weight training, and much more, you can easily make your Peloton workout as hard as anything you could do on another training platform. And the gamified platform is extra appealing to our competitive drive as you work toward awards, badges, streaks, and even in-class rankings. The real question is whether there’s a place for Peloton in triathlon and endurance training.
Of course, triathletes and cyclists are no strangers to indoor training. Most of us gravitate toward smart trainers and virtual apps like Zwift, Sufferfest, TrainerRoad, or Rouvy. It’s a great option for winter training and for athletes who live in busy cities or who want to avoid dangerous roads. Still, with a variety of classes and strength and core workouts, there’s a lot that triathletes and endurance athletes can enjoy about the Peloton bike and app, but there are a few factors to consider, too.
Peloton cycling classes are really spin classes
To start off, we have to “call a spade a spade.” The Peloton bike and the online classes are spin classes. Of course, they’re massively upgraded, flashy, entertaining, modern, and conveniently located in your own home. But at the end of the day, they’re virtual spin classes.
Spin classes really can be an effective tool in your endurance training plan--when it’s in the right place.
There are benefits to having a pre-planned, focused workout with a motivating instructor. Plus, for endurance athletes, the accountability of real-time metrics and the sense of live community are both motivational and offer another level of accountability.
One distinction though is that, unlike other Peloton regulars that are looking to stay in shape, triathletes and other endurance athletes need a more robust structure that moves them toward their overall goals.
Power zones classes can be a great addition to your training
There are loads of different class types and options on the Peloton app. Perhaps that’s one of the draws to the platform. Triathletes and cyclists would benefit most from choosing “power zone training” classes. Look for classes like Power Zone Endurance, Power Zone, and Power Zone Max as effective ways to maintain or improve your endurance cycling fitness.
During these Power Zone classes, the instructor assigns a cadence range and particular intensity zone for athletes to work in (based on Peloton’s version of an FTP test). Each zone is meant to improve a particular area of fitness, like endurance, anaerobic capacity, or neuromuscular power. The idea is that everyone can work in the appropriate zone for their current fitness level.
Matt Wilpers is Peloton’s resident triathlete and his power-based classes have garnered quite a cult following. If you’re looking for a specific Peloton instructor to follow, Matt is a good option! You can also use the Power Zone Library to find power zone workouts based on a particular instructor, class type, workout length, or other factors.
Beware of too much intensity
Most Peloton classes are designed for people who want to get or stay in shape. Most of their cycling classes are designed to help people put in a good hard effort, burn some calories, and improve general fitness levels. However, most endurance training plans mix high and low-intensity work. Too much high-intensity work (especially year-round) can lead to injury, burnout, and negatively impact your overall performance levels.
Beware of getting sucked in and committing the “cardinal sin” of too much intensity! Work with your coach to ensure the Peloton classes you’re choosing fit well with where you are in your overall training plan.
A great coach knows what kinds of intensity you need in your workouts this week to help you build toward your race goal six months from now. It’s ok to go “off-script” once in a while, but too much intensity too frequently can really throw off your training! Keep this in mind as you’re pedaling along with your favorite Peloton instructor.
Pelotons, smart trainers, and indoor riding options can impact speed perception
One benefit of training indoors on a Peloton or smart trainer is that you can put out massive power without having to worry about traffic signs and other things getting in the way. Unfortunately, too much time on a Peloton can negatively impact your speed perception--understanding what speed you produce for different effort levels.
Knowing what efforts produce what speeds (and in different conditions) is critical to helping you properly pace during a race. Of course, many athletes train with power meters these days and many coaches will help athletes develop race plans based on maintaining certain power outputs. Still, it’s important to have a sense of what different speeds “feel” like to your body and get a sense of how different power outputs feel in various conditions (hills, wind, rough roads, etc.).
Nothing can replace “time in the saddle”
For all the fitness and motivation benefits that Peloton offers, there’s one thing the super-stationary bike just can’t replace--time in the saddle. Riding a Peloton or other stationary bike (and even a smart trainer to a certain degree) cannot replace time on your bike out on the road.
Fitness levels are one thing; bike handling skills and cycling muscular endurance are entirely different! Let’s start with the bike “fit.” A Peloton or other stationary bike probably doesn’t fit like your road bike, tri bike, or mountain bike (or any other bike, really). Even with massive adjustments, it’s difficult to get stationary bikes to fit like true bicycles (the Wahoo bike being an exception to the rule).
Riding a Peloton bike doesn’t take much balance or core and it certainly doesn’t require knowing how to handle your bike in all weather conditions or learning how to navigate obstacles safely. Not to mention climbing and descending are technical skills that require practice--something a stationary bike (or trainer) can’t replicate.
In short, too much time on a Peloton (or a trainer) can build your overall fitness but at the expense of basic cycling skills. Make sure you’re balancing time on the Peloton saddle with time in the real-world saddle to stay strong and keep your bike handling skills sharp.
The bottom line is that Peloton classes and bikes can be a great addition to the “training toolbox” for many cyclists and triathletes (and other endurance athletes). However, it’s essential to keep the Peloton rides in their proper place in your personal training plan. Work with your coach if you’d like to incorporate some rides into your weekly routine to make sure you’re getting the most “bang for your buck” with each workout.