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The Indoor Trainer: a Love Story

Home » The Training Hours » The Indoor Trainer: a Love Story

When the weather turns cold and/or the days get short, there are not a whole lot of options if you want to stay in shape for (next year’s) cycling season.

I am going to honestly admit that I actually LIKE riding on the indoor/turbo trainer. That for sure makes me a minority if not the only cyclist that enjoys it.

I find it the most convenient way to put the hours in, regardless of the weather and time of year. Even when I can ride during the winter when it gets dark around 4pm, it still takes me 15-25min to get ready to go outside (check tyre pressure, put 2-3 layers of clothing, shoe covers, fill my bottles, etc.) On the other hand it only takes me 5-7min to set up my Tacx Satori Trainer. If you don’t have a lot of training time the difference between riding outdoor vs the trainer can be up to 30-60min per week – a full training and this is time spent putting clothes on, NOT riding! I live in an apartment, so I do not have a dedicated “bike cave” and I store my trainer in a closet. Even so it is a quick wheel swap and trainer unfold in front of the TV.

It a perception in your head so getting into a different mindset will make a world of difference. It is your goal and only YOU can work towards achieving it!

The major stayaway point is that riding the trainer is monotonous and boring. I am a movie and TV series fanatic so in a 1-1.5h training I can watch a full movie or a couple of episodes of Friends, Seinfeld, Scrubs, House etc. Music works for some people as well. It a perception in your head so getting into a different mindset will make a world of difference. It is your goal and only YOU can work towards achieving it!

The indoor trainer is an invaluable tool for the following reasons

The Good

NOTE: I have found that I ‘lose’ about 20-30W for the same heart rate/perceived effort indoors, compared to on the road (both with a PowerTap and SRM). This seems to be the case almost always and even coaches do not have a clear explanation of why. 

Since ‘road and weather’ conditions are pretty consistent indoors, you can pace yourself by Heart Rate and Perceived Effort, much better than when fighting the wind and negotiating turns and/or street furniture. Even though the power readings are lower you can estimate your Training Stress by your HR quite reliably. Also you can compare sessions based on power.

TIP: You CAN use power to compare your workouts. Even though you “lose” 30+W, you will be able to see a 10W improvement. I.e if one week you did 200W average on the trainer, the next week 210W for the SAME perceived effort/HR, this is an improvement. I also record the resistance setting together with the gearing (i.e. Res 5; 53/17). If I am able to go a gear higher (53/16) with the same resistance without a drop in my average cadence/HR and perceived effort, I got fitter, etc.

Workouts at your Functional Threshold Power (2x20min @ FTP, 40min @ 90% FTP, etc) are a staple in any cycling program so doing threshold intervals is a breeze when done indoors. You can practice a comfortably relaxed TT position safely and under race power without having to worry about traffic, dogs, pedestrians and traffic lights. This is a HUGE advantage.

When there is the slightest doubt of black ice on the road, I do not even consider going for a ride outside. Falling on black ice is unexpected and fast. A crash can ruin my kit/bike, cause a lot of road rash, result in broken collarbone(s) , leg(s) and a lost season. Train smart, the indoor trainer’s got your back!

Warming up before a time trial (or a race, criterium) is a must, and usually you are not allowed on the course before your start so getting a good warmup on the streets in an unknown city is a challenge and adds unnecessary stress. In addition you risk puncturing your race tyres. Just unfold the trainer (behind your car in the parking lot) and start your warmup.

The Negative

Overall it might be a good idea to forget about the powermeter while indoors. Since your wattage is almost always lower indoors (30+W), it might take adjustment of your training zones until you can pace your intervals. Listen to your body and, monitor your HR. If you try to do the watts from last week’s road interval training it will hurt very quick…Ask me how I know.

The recommended intervals when training indoors are short with very high intensity. For example 5x(40s HARD and 20s easy) repeated 4x with 3min rest in between. It is just a reckless abandon as hard as you can, so no use looking at your powermeter or HR. For the same reason you might get burned out of the same painful workouts – I can’t blame you for that.

Marathon sessions (longer than 1.5h) are not recommended. If you need to do 2-4h rides to get used to 2-4h road races, you will have to compromise. You are still getting fitter and tuning up your engine sufficiently, however, you can’t get the specific requirements of what it takes to ride/race for 4h.

If you need to improve your bike handling, cornering etc, it will have to wait until the ice thaws unfortunately.

You sweat a LOT. Stay hydrated and clean up your bike (wipe it down with a soapy sponge and bucket of water) since salt can corrode aluminum parts and they can fail catastrophically. I have seen handlebars literally eaten away under the bar tape. Change your bartape often and inspect parts for damage. Use a towel on you handlebars and one around your neck. Also some kind of floor mat is also highly advised. You don’t want to be soaking your new carpet with sweat.

Conclusion

Although loathed by many, the humble indoor trainer  is an invaluable tool in the cyclists arsenal. Use it wisely and you will get rewarded during season.

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