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Turbo training tips — get the most from your home trainer

Indoor training shouldn't be a chore

You made a 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

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

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

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.

Measure your progress

If you're using a power meter or power-measuring trainer then you're occasionally going to have to subject yourself to the torture known as a functional threshold power or FTP test. Painful, but vital an FTP test gives you a benchmark for subsequent training, which is why training systems such as Zwift and TrainerRoad include FTP test protocols. Some models of Garmin bike computer will also work out your FTP for you.

Get connected

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.

Read more: Get started with Zwift and make your home trainer sessions more fun with virtual races and rides 

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

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.