How To

Five reasons why you should use the turbo trainer this winter

Need an excuse to stay out of the cold and miserable British winter? We’ve got five...

For many, winter means it’s turbo trainer season, when riders choose to stay out of the harsh British winter weather, instead opting to spin away in their living room, garage or shed in order to maintain fitness levels.

Purists will advocate riding outdoors whatever the weather, be it on the road or the cyclo-cross course, but turbo time is a great way to keep your legs ticking over and build up your fitness, without having to commit to hours in the saddle.

But, do you know exactly why you should be using the turbo trainer, or what you could get out of it if you decided to invest in one?

We’ve spoken to two coaches to get their views on why turbo training will benefit all of us, and why you should take it up this winter.

A turbo trainer session is a necessary evil in winter – here’s why you should embrace it (Pic: Simon Wilkinson/

It’s more accurate

One of the main reasons to use the turbo trainer in the winter – and at any time of year – is the ability to train with far more accuracy than you might be able to outdoors.

“By training on the turbo you can measure and plan your training more accurately, because there are less variables on the turbo like adverse weather and traffic,” says Tim Kennaugh, coach of the JLT Condor team.

A turbo trainer is a great tool for monitoring progress

“This means you can compare your performance more accurately to previous sessions or tests, making it a great tool for monitoring progress.”

– Five of the best turbo trainer sessions –

It’s the specificity of a turbo trainer that appeals to Rule 5 Cycle Coaching’s Ian Jenner too, with the turbo ideal for packing in short, sharp interval sessions which ensure you get plenty of bang for your training buck. 

“Its great for interval sessions,” says Jenner. “You can fully concentrate on working to the exact heart rate or wattage [if you use a power meter or smart trainer] and that makes each session high-quality.”

It’s more convenient

Turbo trainers also offer the benefit of staying out of conditions that can be plain unsafe during a British winter.

As Jenner explains: “You’re going to stay safe and well – less susceptible to catching colds, flu and bugs, which no-one wants – as long as you keep your turbo setup clean.

“Additionally, you’re likely to be more popular with the family. If you head out on a two to three hour ride, that can take up half your day, whereas a quality hour on the turbo will do the same – if not better – job for you and you can get back to the family commitments. You can almost be forgiven.”

Set your turbo up at home and it’s easy to hop on and off if necessary – not so when you’re out on the road in the depths of winter (Pic: Media-24)

Kennaugh also points out the added benefit that, should something come up while you’re on the road, it can take time to get back and in a position to deal with it.

– High intensity training vs. base training –

Being on a turbo in the garage means you can literally hop off and deal with it quickly – perfect if issues like childcare are relevant to you and you’re short on training time.

It’s far more time-efficient

Not only is the turbo more convenient, allowing you to jump on the trainer at a whim, it’s also more time-efficient. Maximising your training time, especially in short winter days, is ever more important for cyclists with busy lifestyles and the turbo allows you to train effectively and get fit for summer, without leading your home.

“If like most riders, you don’t live the life of a pro cyclist and have to squeeze your training in around work and family commitments, the turbo is ideal for getting quality training in after work,” says Kennaugh.  

An hour on the turbo is a more efficient use of your time than several hours on the road (pic: Tacx)

“Out on the road you will inevitably spend 10-15 per cent of your ride freewheeling or stopping at junctions or traffic lights, interrupting your efforts.

– How to make the most of a turbo trainer session –

“An hour on the turbo means you will likely pedal for around 99 per cent of the time, so you’re making the most of the time you’re on the turbo, as well as the session you’re doing.”

You can monitor your technique

Using the turbo can also offer the opportunity to take a look at your technique while in the saddle. It’s another aspect that can be consider year-round, says Jenner, but during the winter it can be especially important when rolling at a steady pace or taking extra care because of hazards or conditions that can disrupt your technique on the road.

– How to improve your pedalling efficiency and technique –

“Turbo training gives you the opportunity to really concentrate on your pedaling technique – anything from cadence work, to gear selection and your general position,” he explains.

You can also hone your technique on the turbo

As well as working on your technique, Jenner also points out that you can use the turbo trainer to work on specific power output improvements, with only one notable exception: “Of course, you can’t truly replicate out-of-the-saddle sprinting, but seated sprinting and efforts will still be useful for muscle recruitment and power generation.

– How to create the perfect winter training plan –

“That kind of cycling – accelerating repeatedly at a high effort level – actually plays a huge part of everyday cycling, so shouldn’t be ignored.”

It’s more interactive than ever

The days of sitting and spinning on the turbo while staring on the wall are long gone. With the rise of new interactive platforms like Zwift, and subscriptions services like TrainerRoad, as well as the software packages provided by smart trainer manufacturers, you can almost literally be transported away to a far away place to do your turbo session.

– Beginner’s guide: everything you need to know about Zwift –

“These days you can ride with friends, celebrities, ex-pros on these virtual platforms,” Jenner says. “And now it’s even more interesting, especially with smart trainers that can adapt to the terrain the software is visually displaying.

Zwift has added a new level of interactivity to indoor training (Pic: Zwift)

“It pushes training to a new level of performance and interactivity – so if turbo training has previously felt boring to you, it’s time to embrace the change and liven things up.

– Buyer’s guide: smart turbo trainers – 

“Even better, you can do this on your summer bike with only a training wheel. That takes away the need to buy a dedicated winter bike, and the need to clean your summer bike while it’s indoors. It all adds up to saving you money in the process.”

More time, more money, greater efficiency – nobody will say no to that, surely?

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