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Indoor training shouldn't be a chore

You made a New Year resolution to get fit, dusted off the turbo trainer and you’ve done a few sessions. But it’s harder than you expected and you’re struggling to keep it up. Here’s how to make indoor training comfier and more fun.

Home trainer, indoor trainer, turbo trainer, instrument of torture — whatever you call them, devices that hold your bike so you can pedal while indoors have never been more popular. You can train in safety in the winter when there’s not enough light for long rides outside working hours, and they keep your bike away from winter’s salt, wet and crud.

The advent of online training systems like Zwift and TrainerRoad has boosted the popularity of indoor trainers; retailers tell us that they now sell as many trainers through the summer as winter.

We’ve explored the reasons why you should get into indoor training before; here are some tips to help you get the most out of it.

Choose your place

Tacx i-Genius Multiplayer models are among the stolen trainers

Tacx i-Genius Multiplayer models are among the stolen trainers

Ideally, your trainer should live somewhere you can keep it permanently set up, to reduce the faff of starting a session. It should also be relatively comfortable. Putting your trainer in a shed or the garage might seem like a good idea, but will you walk through a blizzard in just bib shorts and heart rate monitor to do a session?

Instead, set your trainer up somewhere you can keep everything you need (water, towel, computer gubbins if necessary, entertainment) to hand.

Read more: The best cycling turbo trainers — buyer's guide + 16 of the best trainers and rollers

Get the set up right

It’s important to make sure your trainer and bike are properly set up on a level, hard surface with an old towel or like that underneath so the floor doesn’t get damaged by sweat. Your bike should be held firmly in the trainer’s clamp, with the resistance unit’s roller pressing against the rear tyre hard enough that it doesn’t slip as you pedal, but not too hard or you’ll wear the tyre out faster.

Your trainer very likely came with a steel quick release that’s designed to fit in the clamp. Use it. Your regular quick release won’t fit as well, so may slip or get damaged from the force of the clamp.

Home trainers are notorious for wearing out tyres. If you've got a rear tyre you care about, your best option is to replace it with one that doesn't matter for the winter. You can get tyres intended for use on trainers, but given a Wiggle Lifeline Essential costs just £7, we'd use that instead.

If you've only got one bike that you use on both the road and the trainer over the winter, and you've got good winter tyres you don't want to wear out, then either pick up a cheap rear wheel and swap them over for turbo sessions, or take a look at Bike Trainer Tape. This adhesive tape is claimed to stick to your tyres to protect them from wear, but not to stick so hard you can't get it off.

Set aside the time

Give yourself time when you won’t be pestered or interrupted. Let phone calls go to voicemail. Ignore Twitter, Facebook and Instagram alerts. Very early in the morning, before the family is awake, and late at night are good.

Use a fan to keep cool

A fan (CC BY-NC 2.0 Jops|Flickr).jpg

A fan (CC BY-NC 2.0 Jops|Flickr).jpg

The easiest mistake to make is to forget that you don’t have air flowing over you to evaporate sweat and keep you cool. Without a breeze you can overheat really quickly, which isn’t just uncomfortable; you can’t perform at your best if your body is too hot, and you can even make yourself ill.

As a general rule, the bigger the fan, the more air it’ll push over you. You can get a 16-inch pedestal fan from just over a tenner, so there’s no need to suffer. There are options with remote controls too, if you want to add to your arsenal of geekery.

Warm up

It’s tempting to jump on your bike and start hammering away, but it’s far better to build up your effort gradually to give your body a chance to warm up. That’s why just about any indoor training program you’ll find includes a warm-up and cool-down in each session. Don’t skip them.

Drink

Don't forget to drink (CC BY-SA 2.0 Alexander Witt|Flickr).jpg

Don't forget to drink (CC BY-SA 2.0 Alexander Witt|Flickr).jpg

Even with a fan, you will sweat a lot when training indoors, and a lot more than if you’re outside riding in the cold. It’s vital to replace this lost fluid so keep a bottle handy and take frequent, small drinks.

Follow a plan

Aimlessly pootling round the lanes on a sunny day can be fun, but aimlessly pedalling away on a trainer gets very dull, very quickly. Rather than just sitting there watching your cadence and heart rate, work to a plan with specific sessions that vary your effort.

British Cycling offers a variety of training plans, and you can do the intervals on a trainer while getting out and riding in the big room at the weekend.

There are also free plans available from former US Postal Service rider Jamie Burrow and training guru Joe Friel.

Get connected

Ride Zwift and escape the snow. Oh. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 clarkmaxwell|Flickr).jpg

Ride Zwift and escape the snow. Oh. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 clarkmaxwell|Flickr).jpg

Ride Zwift and escape the snow. Oh. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 clarkmaxwell|Flickr)

Services like Zwift and TrainerRoad help make turbo training a lot more interesting, and I have to confess here a convert’s zeal. I’ve dabbled in using a trainer now and then over the years, but always found it hopelessly dull. But I’ve enjoyed sharing Zwift’s virtual road with other riders, and I’ve been following a program created by former pro and time trial specialist Marco Pinotti aimed at building fitness for beginners.

Other members of the road.cc crew are big fans of TrainerRoad, which they say is better for structured training. I’m sticking with Zwift for the moment. For £8/month, it’s a bargain.

Read more: Get started with Zwift and make your home trainer sessions more fun with virtual races and rides that could see you training with Jens Voigt and Laurens ten Dam

Club together

Many clubs and shops — especially the more racing-orientated ones — run group turbo sessions. This is a favourite training technique of road.cc tech ed Mat Brett who says "I find them more fun and you work harder in a group."

Read more: Buyer's guide to smart trainers + seven of the best

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

9 comments

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CXR94Di2 [1860 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

Indoor training is fantastic, lots of upsides to it. I use a Wahoo Kickr direct drive smart trainer linked to a dedicated PC with large monitor.  I use Zwift for racing and social events, Trainer-Road for structrured workouts, Road Grand Tours for challenging 2 hour climbs and even bkool for specific roads I want to try out.

I havent had a chest infection since doing my winter training indoors. 

Get a big fan, cover your handlebars on a large towel, because you will sweat buckets if working out seriously. Fuel and hydrate

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don simon [1554 posts] 3 months ago
1 like

Give the bike a wash down every so often as sweat gets everywhere.

Personally I prefer rollers to turbos as I guess the mind has one more thing to think about.

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jollygoodvelo [1682 posts] 3 months ago
1 like

I'm sure I've read this article before, but another vote here for the joys of Zwift.  

You know that pre-ride faff meaning the two hour window you had for a ride becomes one hour by the time you've worked out whether it's 'thick jersey' or 'thin jacket' weather, found your gloves, etc?  Gone.  Turn on laptop and trainer, put on bibs, open Zwift, fill bottle, turn on fan, ride.  Almost looking forward to the winter  1

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alansmurphy [1248 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

I know there's a link to the best trainers article but with recency, thought I'd ask here.

 

Any thoughts on best bang for buck smart trainers, proper smart ones that increase resistance as you hit a hill etc. There seems to be a lot of bullshit marketing wizzadry that claims a 'smart' trainer when effectively they just guess watts etc.

 

Thanks. 

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davel [1998 posts] 3 months ago
2 likes

@Alan - hmmm, depends what you're after, and what your budget is.

I've got a kickr, which I can't fault, but that's a properly top tier  smart, direct-drive trainer. Pretty much plug-and-play with any of the software packages and really good 'erg' mode. That's what I was after, and it's been great. If/when I replace it, I'll probably go for an equivalent, and would be expecting to pay around the same money (£900ish). That said, the Tacx Flux gets good reviews for what - £700?

If I had £500 to play with, I'd probably be looking at the kickr snap, and if I had £300, probably the bkool one.

I think if my budget was any lower, I'd save up until it wasn't.

IIRC dcrainmaker does a breakdown of the various types/costs, with in-depth reviews.

Then you budget for the monthly subscription(s) to the software to control it. I'd expect that to come in at £8-10 per month per package - it's the combination of decent software that knows how to control the trainer, and hardware that can handle it, that you're after. Can't go wrong with TrainerRoad as an introduction.

 

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alansmurphy [1248 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

Thanks, the £300 to £500 range is where I was looking - haven't broken the £1k barrier for a bike yet. Which bkool would you suggest is properly smart rather than pretend smart?

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davel [1998 posts] 3 months ago
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Sorry - I just glanced at the (new?) bkool £300 on and thought the smart pro had come down in price. I'd go for the smart pro, that one handles 1200W and 20% slopes, but looks like £450 (incl 3 months simulator)

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bobinski [281 posts] 3 months ago
1 like

You may want to hang on a bitbecause there are supposed to be some announcements that MAY have an impact on mid to high tier trainers prices.

If in a hurry I would get a snap over the bkool mainly because if using Zwift it has a calibration routine. Bkool unlike most other units even the well priced Vortex, does not and it is not acccurate in Zwift overestimating power by 30-80w. That not a problem if you have a power meter for power estimation.

DCR is the place to go for reviews.

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alansmurphy [1248 posts] 3 months ago
0 likes

Thanks both!