Indoor Training

Indoor Turbo Training     

It's that time of year in the northern hemisphere, the nights are drawing in, the clocks going back, and the weather is wet and awful. It's time to drag out the indoor (turbo) trainer.

So what can you do to make the experience more enjoyable, and importantly, repeatable (as you may well have to ride the indoor trainer quite frequently between now and next spring).

Many people detest training on a turbo trainer (including me!), but during the winter months it's an essential training tool.

What type of Trainer? 
There are many types of turbo trainer, which are available over a wide price range, from the cheaper fan based resistance units of around UK£50 to the expensive, and exotic electronic units costing up to UK£2000. So, which type of turbo should you purchase?

Fan Units-
Are generally the cheapest types of trainer, and are usually very noisy - which may or may not be a problem for you! Frequently, the front wheel needs to be removed from your bike and the rear wheel fits against a 'roller', which is connected to a fan unit. The faster, and harder you pedal, the greater the resistance

Fluid Units-
Are usually the quietist types of trainer - important if you live somewhere where the neighbours don't like to hear what they assume is a 'supersonic' washing machine… Attached to the rear roller is a unit, which houses a drum containing the fluid. As you pedal faster and harder the resistance increases. Be warned the fluid unit can get hot.

Magnetic Units-
Are also very quiet, although slightly louder than the fluid units. The main drawback (in my opinion) of these trainers is that the resistance generally doesn't increase as you pedal faster and harder, i.e., you have to manually increase the resistance (most magnetic units come with a panel of switches, which control resistance, or by upping your gears).

Electronic Units-
At the top end of the range are various trainers that are electronic, and can be connected to your computer, which can then produce lots of statistics, graphics, etc. Frequently, these are magnetic units with the resistance computer controlled. Such models are the Tacx I-Magic, Computrainer, Velodyne, and Kingcycle.

Furthermore, some trainers combine more than one type of unit, e.g., the Cateye Cyclosimulator (fan and magnetic based).

What you need
Additionally, to the bike, and yourself (!), you'll also need a variety of other pieces of equipment, which are generally essential to turbo training:

  • Clothing - keep clothing to a minimum, shorts, tee shirt, socks, and shoes.
  • Electric fan - to keep you cool, and wick your sweat away. This is vital, and you should purchase the biggest fan possible.
  • Heart rate monitor (HRM) - to monitor the effectiveness of your training, and to ensure you are training in the correct HR zones.
  • Several towels - one on the floor if indoors, one on your bike (as sweat is highly corrosive), and one to wipe yourself down with during the session.
  • Computer - A cycle computer to monitor your effort, if you have a power meter (e.g., Power-Tap, SRM, or your trainer displays power then this is best way of monitoring your performance).
  • Drinks - very important, especially if the session planned is going to be longer than an hour.
  • Music/television - the biggest problem with indoor training is that it can be rather boring. This can be alleviated with your favourite music, or, a television and video showing some bike racing. It can be very motivating watching the Tour de France, whilst turbo training.

Before the session
Prior to getting on the turbo you should plan the session (which should be done in advance). You should be targeting a specific training principle, a personal weakness, a strength, etc., rather than just getting on the bike and blasting your legs to pieces…

Now is the time to 'calibrate' your turbo trainer. If you have a cycle computer that works when on the turbo, then you can accelerate up to a set speed (e.g., 20 miles/hr) hold the speed steady for a short period (e.g., 30 seconds), and then stop pedalling. Immediately upon stopping, you should time (accurately) and record how long it takes for your rear wheel to stop spinning. You can then adjust the resistance every ride to be the same, and then sessions can be compared for fitness monitoring.

You should then warm up. In general a 10-minute warm up should suffice for an endurance type session (start in a low gear, and easy level, and then gradually start increasing the intensity after 5 minutes). Longer should be used for a more intense session (maybe up to 20 minutes). The warm up may need to be extended if the ambient temperature is particularly cool.

When training indoors your sweat rate is generally higher as the heat generated by your body cannot be well dissipated. Accordingly, you should use a large electric fan, and do your session in a well-ventilated room. Dripping sweat is useless at cooling you; therefore drink fluids throughout the session. For sessions under 45 - 60 minutes, water should suffice, but for longer sessions you'll need a carbohydrate - electrolyte drink such as Science in Sport's GO.

The usefulness of indoor training is that none of it is wasted, that is to say that unlike riding on the road there are no hills to coast down, or corners to freewheel around. Furthermore, you don't have to worry about traffic conditions, so you can concentrate on the session in hand. Consequently, an endurance ride on the turbo trainer can be shorter than on the road.

Training Examples

  • Endurance session - usually, 45 minutes to 90 minutes at low - medium level 2 in a medium sized gear at a varying cadence. Gear size could be 42 x 15 - 53 x 16 (depending on fitness), with cadence varying (either within the session, or between sessions) between 75 - 105 revs/min. Some riders can 'handle' longer than 90 minutes, but generally that's the limit to most peoples' boredom - tolerance level!
  • TT endurance session - after warming up, a steady upper level 2 effort for 15 - 45 minutes (adding 5 - 10 minutes, each week). Gearing would be medium - high, around 53 x 17 - 15 (depending on fitness), with a cadence of around 80 - 90 revs/min.
  • Interval session - after an extended warm up, ride at slightly above TT effort for 5 - 8 minutes (HR would be level 3 or greater), recover for an equal time, spinning gently. Repeat two - four times. Gearing and cadence should be as used for racing.
  • Power session - after an extended warm up, ride 'all-out' for 30 seconds in a medium gear, at high cadence (around 53 x 17 - 15, > 100 revs/min). Recover for a minimum of 3 - 6 minutes, spinning gently. Repeat the interval twice more, which completes the 'set', and then ride easy for 6 - 10 minutes to fully recover. Repeat the 'set' up to twice more.

All sessions should be proceeded by an adequate warm - up and followed by a good cool - down (~ 10 minutes, low gear, high cadence).

To ensure that you have adequately hydrated yourself you should weigh yourself prior to the training, and immediately afterwards. The difference in weight should be made up by drinking a, non-caffeine, non-alcoholic drink immediately afterwards, such as a carbohydrate drink (e.g., PSP 22).

Have fun on your trainer, and don't forget to wash your bike regularly as sweat will accumulate causing corrosion otherwise.

If you have any questions that you would like answered as part of Performance Tips then why not drop me an e-mail?


*Important Notice- This article is for educational purposes only. Before, embarking on any exercise regimen you should be fit, healthy and free from any illness/disease. If you have any queries or are not sure about your general health and well being, you should contact your health care advisor/family physician.

TrainingRichard Stern