Turbo training: love it or loathe it, as the frost starts to bite and the daylight hours dwindle, more time on the indoor bike trainer becomes inevitable over the winter months if you want to hit those early season races strong next year.
As much as we might grumble about heading back into the garage for another winter, turbo training certainly has its merits. Bang for your buck workouts, an excuse to binge watch TV series without the “I should be doing something more productive guilt” and a way to get that much needed time in the saddle when the weather (and daylight savings) has other ideas. Nothing is ever going to beat the joy and the freedom of a ride in the real world. But with a few strategies in place, putting in the indoor miles can not only be hugely beneficial to your training – it can also be downright enjoyable.
Why should I bother with indoor training?
For some, just the mention of the word “turbo trainer” has them breaking out in a cold sweat. Riding your bike and going nowhere can feel like the epitome of pointless. The garage offers far less scenic views than a proper outdoor ride (unless you’re the owner of a particularly attractive lawnmower, in which case – congratulations). And let’s face it – we’re not made of sugar and we’ve got our awesome Stolen Goat AW22 kit to keep us cosy. So why waste time indoors when you could get out and Adventure More?
1) Virtual rides can give you big real-life gains
Completing sessions on the turbo trainer gives you the opportunity to get specific, work on the areas you need to improve, and go full gas in a way that you can’t do out on the road. Working on things like your top end power for cresting the climbs, or your final sprint surge will involve some true head down, eyeballs out, let’s hope the wind doesn’t change or my face will stay this way efforts. It’s far easier to get these done in the safety of your garage/spare room when you haven’t got to dodge potholes and traffic.
Virtual training platforms such as Zwift have an amazing offering of structured training sessions, taking you through a series of specific workouts targeting different areas. Whether you’re looking to increase your Functional Threshold Power or just get a really good aerobic base in place ready to ramp up your training in the Spring. Taking some of your weekly ride time indoors gives you the opportunity to really make the most of your time and up your Gains Per Minute (that’s a thing… we’ve decided)
Put in the work now and come the springtime you’ll emerge from your pain cave in desperate need of some sunlight, for sure. But more importantly: feeling strong and ready to fly.
2) It’s time efficient
The great thing about indoor training is that you’re not constrained by the few and far between daylight hours. Trying to fit in outdoor rides over the winter months is tricky, especially if you’re working 9-5. Taking a few of your rides indoors means that anytime is turbo time. It’s efficient too: no routes to plan, no time spent pumping up tyres or trying to remember where on earth you left your rear light. You can just roll out of bed, onto the turbo and get the work done before you’ve had chance to talk yourself out of it. Ideal for those cold winter mornings when your motivation might be running on empty.
3) It keeps the real life winter rides fun
Picture this. It’s Sunday morning. You open the curtains and you’re greeted with the holy grail of winter weather. Cold but not too cold. Crisp, sunny, with a gentle breeze. The perfect weather for a long easy ride with a stop at your favourite café for a cup of the good stuff. Except – you still haven’t done that interval session for the week. And now you’ve got to make the choice between an angry red blob on your Training Peaks graph. Or tearing up and down that stretch of road doing intervals, while your mates are getting their bacon roll orders in. Tricky…
Thankfully there’s another option. You wake up on a Sunday morning, greeted with the holy grail of winter cycling weather. Pulling on your favourite Climb and Conquer jacket, you head out for a glorious Sunday café ride. Feeling smug because you already got your hard session done earlier in the week – and speedy because your turbo training is paying off. You’ll never lose a ‘last one to the café gets the coffees in’ race again. “Make mine a flat white please!”
Getting the hard work done via your indoor training sessions means you can reserve those golden hours of outdoor rides for having fun. The “hey what’s down that trail?” explores. The “another slice won’t hurt” café rides. You get the best of both worlds: fun, freedom and fitness gains.
How to make turbo training bearable
Okay, so you’re probably thinking: “The above sounds all well and good, but how do I stop turbo training from being quite so mind-numbingly, soul-destroyingly… dull?” Sit tight, Goat, we’ve got some tips and tricks up our jersey sleeves for you!
1) Kit and set up is key
First things first, the only way to make yourself comfortable with indoor training is to quite literally make yourself comfortable. It can be tempting to reserve some old and knackered kit for wearing on the turbo. After all, no one is going to see you and it seems a shame to stink up your “good” cycling shorts with sweaty indoor workouts. But we speak from experience when we say that wearing those worn out old shorts on the turbo with very little padding left where it should be, will only lead to a very unhappy undercarriage. You’re likely to be sweating more than you usually would when you ride indoors and without the natural movement of the bike on the road, the pressure points on the saddle can be more intense. No one likes a dire chafe situation, so wear comfortable shorts and don’t forget the chamois crème!
Make sure you’ve got towels and plenty of hydration within reaching distance and invest in a good fan: ideally one with a remote control so you can easily change the speed depending on how fired up you’re getting. Oh and never underestimate the power of having an abundance of turbo snacks at your disposal to perk you up when you can feel your motivation slipping!
TURBO TRAINING ESSENTIALS
2) Netflix and spin: It’s all about the entertainment
Zwift on one screen, whatever the guilty pleasure TV series or film du jour is on the other. Use your time on the turbo as a chance to watch those films and TV series that you never usually have time for. This is your guilt-free “you time”, where you can be productive and watch or listen to something you enjoy all at once. Save things specifically to catch up on when you’re on the turbo trainer, so it’s less “ugh, turbo time” and more “yay, Stranger Things time!” It’s a great way to help you actually look forward to getting your sessions done.
3) Break up the time by focusing on skills and drills
90 minutes of easy aerobic base riding will never pass slower than when you’re watching the clock tick down. Break your session up into chunks and use the time as an opportunity to really focus on things like your riding position and technique. For example, you could set yourself three riding cues to focus on and perform these as 10 minutes “intervals” during your ride. It could be 10 minutes focusing on that shoulder squeeze in the aero position. Another 10 focusing on activating your glutes and really feeling the pull up on the pedals as well as the push down. And a final 10 thinking about your head position, keeping it nice and low. Having these timed focal points will help the session to pass by quicker, and it’s setting you up for good habits once you’re back out on the road.
4) Make it social with virtual meet-ups and races
Turbo training doesn’t have to mean long lonely hours, staring at a brick wall and slowly descending into an existential crisis. Virtual training platforms have gone social and a boom in users which was already in progress pre-Covid, has since gone through the roof. In November 2020, Zwift reported a 263% year-on-year growth in subscribers, so there’s never a shortage of people to ride with from all over the world.
You can get involved with races – the ultimate way to really push yourself in a way you never would when riding solo. Or participate in virtual meet-ups if you want something a bit more relaxed. In fact, our friends over at Aeonian Race Team regularly hold social rides over on Zwift – follow them on Instagram to find out more!
Signing up for a virtual platform is a great way to make the turbo rides feel a little less lonely.
So there we have it. A few tips and tricks to make your winter turbo training productive and enjoyable. If you’re a fellow Zwifter – we’ll see you in Watopia!
Still not on board with the indoor training concept? Hey, that’s okay. It’s not for everyone. At the end of the day, time on the bike is all about having fun and finding your own form of freedom. If that means you spend the winter getting out when you feel like it, and not stressing when you don’t – that’s awesome. Besides, we’ve got plenty of winter gear to help you keep the good rides rolling.