It’s that time of year again. You know, the time when you hit the indoor trainer. Whether you’re faced with limited time, daylight savings, or the lousy weather, at this time of year many cyclists are faced with getting their miles in on a trainer or not riding at all. And for most of us, spinning on the trainer isn’t the most enjoyable part of the cycling experience, so I’ve got some tips to help make your trainer time more bearable.
Shortcut To Useful Tips
Setting up your training environment
Regardless of the type of indoor trainer you use — be it air, mag, rollers, or computerized ergo trainer — there are some things your should do to get your training environment set up properly.
- An Important Note on Safety
If you have small children or pets, please make an effort tokeep them away from the trainer/rollers while you are on them. You can use those flexible gates to make a protective barrier around the rear of the trainer to keep curious fingers away. In addition, the resistance unit of trainers can get extremely hot after a ride. So be aware if you are moving the trainer or removing your bike.
- A simple floor fan will help to keep you from overheating.
When you ride outside, even at slow speeds, you create your own wind. Many cyclists don’t realize the cooling effect of this self-made wind until they hop on the trainer and notice how quickly their bodies heat up when they ride with any sort of intensity.
You might feel chilled if you turn on the fan when you first start out, so you can wait a few minutes before you turn yours on or, if you have a remote control, you can start it on low and then increase intensity as you get warmer.
A front wheel stand helps raise your front wheel to the same height as your rear wheel. When you place your bike in a stationary trainer, the rear wheel is elevated by several inches. Without a front wheel stand, you will feel like you are falling forward and you’ll find that you get aches and pains in your hands, arms, and shoulders very quickly. You can buy ready made stands or make your own although some store-bought stands come with settings that allow you to set the front wheel level with the rear, or even above level — something that helps simulate a climbing position.
One of the benefits of training on an indoor trainer is that your time is spent in a controlled environment, something that you can recreate over and over. What this means is that, regardless of the day, the same level of effort can be expended to get the same result. In order to recreate this environment time after time, make sure that you use a floor pump to inflate your rear tire to the same pressure every time you get on the stationary trainer — if you ride rollers do the same for the front. And keep in mind that road tires set at high pressures can lose PSI overnight.
- Calibrate your trainer’s tension setting
Most stationary trainers have a ’screw type’ tension setting. Just like tire pressure, it is important that you use the same trainer tension every time you hop on the bike. Some of the better trainers out there have a cam system that sets the same tension every time you ride. My trainer is electronic and has a roll-down calibration utility that helps me keep everything uniform.
- Protect your equipment from sweat.
Sweat is a corrosive by-product of cycling — even aluminum corrodes in the right conditions. If you have a titanium bike, your headset probably has some steel parts that are vulnerable to the sweat that drops off your body during a training session. Protect the frame and headset area with a towel or one of those bike-specific terry cloth things. I also keep a small handtowel next to me on a stool or draped on my bar for wiping my face and blowing my nose.
Note: Try to remember which side of the towel you blew your nose into before wiping sweat from your face.
- Listening to music or wearing ear protection can keep you sane.
All trainers make noise. Some, like air trainers, are deafening while others just create a high pitched whine. Regardless, I like to have music flowing through headphones to help mask the drone of the trainer. I’d even wear ear plugs if I had to ride on one of those air trainers. Music is also a great motivator when the workout gets hard — punk rock works for me.
- Watching something other than the wall can keep you sane.
Typically, I play a cycling video or some old Tour De France footage so have something to look at when I don’t have my head down for an interval. I’ll almost always keep the sound muted and listen to music (see above).
- Have something to write on nearby.
I like to keep a small pad nearby with a pen because it’s amazing how easy it is to lose count of how many intervals you have done. “Was that 3 or 4?” Needless to say I always seem to round up so I started making little tick marks on the pad just to help remind myself where I was in my workout.
Get some feeback about your workout
As I mentioned earlier, trainer workouts take place in a controlled environment. There are no cars, stop signs, rocks, or roots to get in your way when you’re on a trainer and, while it might not be as much fun as riding outside, you gotta do what you gotta do. I take advantage of this environment to do some quality training and, part of getting a good training session in involves knowing how you are riding day to day.
Some trainers have a variable resistance and others get harder as you go faster. I have a Tacx Ergo trainer that displays power output, cadence, velocity and heartrate and can control the power output regardless of my cadence / velocity.
One of the best investments you can make is a bike computer with a rear wheel cadence meter. It will measure velocity and cadence for you at the rear wheel. A lot of the better stationary trainers — Cycleops, 1-Upusa, Kurt Kinetic — have power curves that give you a correlation between wattage and velocity / cadence.
A heart rate monitor is also a good feedback tool when used properly.
Making the time fly
Hopping on a trainer and just riding is utter agony for me and I can last only about 50 minutes while doing this. In order to make my trainer time fly, a structured workout is a must. With a structured workout, I find that rest periods go by in a heartbeat, although the ON times sometimes seem to go longer than I wish. And while it ain’t singletrack, there can be a sick type of fun from a really good trainer workout. In fact, it is really hard to get this kind of quality training when you are worried about cars, trees, and just staying on the road or trail. When I’m doing intervals on the trainer I put my head down, close my eyes and go for the gold.
If you need a bit of outside motivation, there are several cycling specific training videos such as the Coach Troy’s Spinervals series. These are a great way to pass the time if you don’t have your own plan and, given how strong my wife is riding from doing these videos twice a week, they really work. Personally, I follow the Dave Morris training program and, using this system, my time on the trainer is spent wisely. My workouts usually range from 30 minutes to 60 minutes with a few that go to 90 minutes (including the warm up and cool down session) and I am constantly amazed at how fast time goes when I’m on the trainer and have a defined plan to follow.
For example, this Monday’s workout is composed of 3 sets of 7 reps with 1 minute ON, 1 minute OFF with 3 minutes of rest between sets. I do the intervals at a set power output. Without a power meausurement I’d do them at a set velocity / cadence. And while it doesn’t sound like a whole lot, 7 reps x 2 mins x 3 sets + 6 minutes rest equals 48 minutes. And that doesn’t include warming up or cooling down. It is also an uncomplicated system, which is important when you start working really hard.
Riding on a stationary trainer seems to be at odds with the free spirited soul of cycling but, for many of us, there is no real alternative, especially if we want to race well. Hopefully, these tips will help your trainer sessions go well until spring comes and daylight savings time makes getting outside a viable option.