Seven ways to make turbo trainer sessions more interesting
Turbo training can be tedious, boring and repetitive, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow these seven tips to re-energise your indoor training
During the winter, when the weather is seriously grotty and you either can’t get out or simply don’t want to, the only option if you’re determined to ‘ride’ can be sitting on the turbo trainer.
Of course, this can get quite tedious when you’re just sitting there spinning away with no sense of speed or reward for climbing over the next crest or beating your club mates to the town sprint sign. Seconds can seem like minutes, minutes like hours.
Here are seven ways to stave off the boredom and keep you turning your cranks.
Go virtual racing
Zwift has burst onto the scene in recent months with their interactive platform, which allows users to hook up their ANT+ sensors to their computers, and ride with other users from around the globe on the Zwift network.
Originally set on the fictional island of ‘Watopia’ (see what they did there?), new locations are in the pipeline, with the Richmond course used for the World Championships in 2015 a recent addition.
The great thing about Zwift is the automatic resistance changes (if you’re using a compatible turbo trainer) when the course inclination changes, and even easing off the resistance when you ride up behind another competitor, simulating drafting and group riding. It’ll engage you in a way turbo training never has before.
Watch a training video
If you haven’t got the latest and greatest interactive turbo trainer set-up, you can still liven up your indoor training by following training videos using your laptop, tablet or phone.
Sufferfest create training sessions around videos of archive footage from the pro tour, ranging in focus from climbing to endurance and speed. Each video is delivered as a downloadable video file (costing between $5.99 - $14.99 each), which means you can play it back whenever you like.
Strava also offer a similar service via their Premium subscription with a limited range of training videos in partnership with Carmichael Training Systems, while if you want to go truly free you can always give the Global Cycling Network’s streamable online training playlist a try.
Let’s face it, if you’re contemplating sitting indoors to get vital training done, the chances are that you’re wanting to improve. However, you can’t measure your improvement if you don’t know where you’re starting from, so why not perform a focused Functional Threshold Power (FTP) fitness test? Call this one a painful way of making turbo training more ‘interesting’.
Your FTP is a measure of the power you can sustain over a 60-minute period, and is a key figure in determining your fitness and, if you want to improve the efficiency of your training, your training zones – however, you can test yourself in just 20 minutes.
That means the test is intensive as you drain your reserves in a short space of time – providing a great workout if you’re either pushed for time, or simply can’t face sitting on the turbo for longer. Interested? Here’s how to test your FTP.
Watch TV/catch-up on a box set
Not all videos you watch while turbo training have to be training specific, so if what you want is to spin for a set amount of time, why not break the seal on one those box-sets you’ve been meaning to catch up on or surf through Netflix?
Watching a box-set while turbo training is a top way to while away the time spent in the saddle, and if you’re really into the programme you’re watching can see 90 minutes to two hours pass in no time at all.
This is best done at a comfortable aerobic pace so you can maintain at least some of your focus on the box-set – so consider this for recovery spins or those times when the weather just won’t allow you to get the miles in you’ve been hoping for.
Reverse your thinking
Quite often, just jumping on a static bike and pedaling away is unsustainable because, as largely goal-oriented cyclists, we need a target in front of us. We get this out on the road with the top of climbs, road signs, sprints and Strava segments, but indoors just seeing your distance ticking up quite often just isn’t enough.
Instead of simply hopping on and riding, take the time to set the bike up with a distance target in mind. It’ll help as the distance target ticks down to zero, because all you have to worry about how fast you get there. Don’t want to be on the bike for as long? Pedal harder!
Turbo club/train with other people
One of the best and most motivating aspects of road cycling is riding with your mates. Masochistic or not as you enjoy your collective suffering, it makes it easier to deal with the pain and monotony if you’re doing it together.
In the crucible of an intense turbo session, it also makes giving up or bailing on that last high intensity interval harder – and if you see your club mate (read: ‘club rival’) notching up the resistance higher, you’ll be all the more willing to do the same in order to hang onto their virtual coattails.
Avoid the turbo altogether... ride outside
Of course, for some there’ll be no substitute for actually getting outside and riding on the road. If this sounds like you, we recommend investing in good quality winter cycling kit (a waterproof jacket, Roubaix-lined bib tights and thick gloves and overshoes for starts) that will a) keep you warm and b) keep you dry.
It’s normally the weather which makes winter cycling such a challenge, so having the right kit can go a long way to kicking down that physiological barrier. Also, you’ll probably want to justify the initial outlay by getting use out of the kit too. Remember, good quality kit will last you for multiple winters if it’s well looked after – so see these items as a long-term investment.
Additionally, think about attaching simple clip-on mudguards to protect your bike and clothing. These will fit in the majority of road bikes - you don't need mudguard eyelets - and keep the majority of road spray and dirt at bay. You’ll be surprised how much water and muck gets kicked up from the road when riding, so fitting mudguards will go a long way to making winter riding more enjoyable.