Making the most of your indoor trainer

Making the most of your indoor trainer

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Knowledge Level: Beginner

Although effective and convenient, indoor training can be incredibly demanding both physically and mentally. The efforts during interval sessions can be lung searing and the mental boredom can make minutes seem like hours. Here we have some tips to help you improve your indoor training experience. 

If you don't already own an indoor trainer, take a look at advice for buying an indoor trainer to find out what will be best for you. We also have a complete list, including full session descriptions, of the indoor trainer workouts included in the British Cycling Training Plans.

If your indoor trainer of choice is the rollers, and you haven't yet mastered the technique, follow these tips on how to ride the rollers.

Remove obstacles to train

Psyching yourself to get on the indoor trainer can be hard and it will only take a couple of minor obstacles to make you lose your resolve and knock the session on the head. Try to find a location that allows you to leave your indoor trainer set-up and ready to go.

If you are using a turbo, think ahead and, if your last session was a ride on the road, set the bike up on the turbo after that session. If you are using a turbo specific rear tyre, rather than going through the palaver of switching tyres every session, buy a cheap rear wheel and cassette specifically setup for the turbo.

If you are squeezing in a workout before or after work, have all your kit laid out and ready to go the night before. Have your shoes ready next to the trainer, have a water bottle cooling in the fridge and have your tyres pumped up. Getting started is the hardest bit so make it as quick and easy as possible.

Location

Think carefully about where you’re going to site your trainer. The shed at the bottom of the garden might seem like a good idea but has it got power and will you fancy traipsing out to it in the pouring rain? Make sure the room is cool, well ventilated and has a hard solid floor.

Garages can be perfect but, in the depths of winter, you may need to wrap up until you get going. A basement or ground floor room is the ideal but modern trainers are far quieter and if you site it on a rubber mat on top of some old carpet underlay, noise from vibration can be significantly reduced.

Intense indoor workouts require large amounts of focus and concentration so a location where you won’t be distracted is preferable. Shut yourself away and make it clear that, if the trainer’s whirring, you’re not to be disturbed.

Protect your bike

If you are using a turbo, it can be tough on your bike and you don’t want to lose valuable training time due to failing equipment. As well as using a turbo specific rear tyre to avoid unnecessary wear to your road tyres, double check that your bike is correctly bolted on, using a specific rear skewer if necessary and that the roller is adjusted to the correct amount of pressure. A “sweat thong” attaches to the handlebars and seatpost and protects your bike’s headset and drivetrain from corrosive sweat.

Best of both worlds

If you are using either a turbo or a stationary bike, consider also investing in a set of rollers. You can use them for warming-up, cooling down and for technique based sessions. The variety will help to break up the monotony of workouts, learning to ride them will improve your balance and bike handling skills and, having to concentrate on riding them, makes time pass far quicker. If you want to just put your head down, ramp up the power and ride hard, switch back to the turbo or stationary bike.

Be kind to your backside

Unlike when you’re riding on the road, where you will regularly be shifting your position, standing out of the saddle to climb and having numerous opportunities to freewheel, on an indoor trainer, you are constantly pedalling and moving relatively little. This can be really tough on your backside. Make sure you invest in a decent pair of padded cycling shorts, use plenty of chamois cream and stand briefly out of the saddle every 5-10 minutes. Find more advice on avoiding saddle soreness.

Fans

Even in the coolest garage, once you start riding hard on an indoor trainer, you will start to overheat. This increases your rate of perceived exertion so, if you don’t attempt to keep cool, you will be compromising the effectiveness of the workout. One, two or even three high powered fans can make a massive difference to your comfort levels and how you perform on the indoor trainer.

Beat the sweat

The fans will help but sweat streaming down your face and into your eyes can make indoor training intolerable. Make sure you have a towel to hand and wearing a sweat band can also make a real difference. Have your trainer on an easy to wipe rubber mat and check your bike for any sweaty residues that the sweat thong failed to catch. Keep well hydrated and always have a bottle of water to hand when you are on the indoor trainer. Expect to get through 500-750 ml of water per hour. Here is some advice on optimal hydration.

Entertainment

On the indoor trainer, seconds can pass like minutes and minutes can pass like hours. Having some audio or visual entertainment can make a real difference. For steadier work, you can watch films or TV programmes but, when you’re trying to put the hammer down, you can’t beat some cycling race footage and some of your favourite tunes.

There are also a number of companies who offer specifically designed indoor trainer films. These give workout cues, such as intensity and cadence, and often put you in the heart of a simulated race. Some top end indoor trainers even offer a full virtual reality cycling experience which will simulate iconic routes, climbs and races and respond to steering inputs.

If you are watching a laptop or screen, especially on rollers, make sure it’s directly in front of you. Keep it out of the way of flying sweat and consider wireless headphones to avoid annoying cables.

Inspiration

Any inspiration to keep you pedalling or to squeeze a few more watts of effort out is great. Remind yourself of why you’re doing the workout. Maybe a picture of a mountain col you’re going to tackle in a foreign sportive, a race number from a win last season or, even better, a picture of you being pipped on the line by your rival.

Pick your sessions

Indoor trainers are best suited to shorter, higher intensity sessions. Interval workouts in particular, that are broken up into manageable chunks, work well. Being indoors lets you concentrate 100% on the work efforts and the pain and boredom are relatively short lived.

In the British Cycling Training Plans, indoor workouts are typically no more than 60 minutes in duration and usually have an interval structure. In really foul weather, you could try to tackle longer steadier paced rides on the indoor trainer but we wouldn’t recommend it. Look at some potential cross training options or try some off-road riding if the roads are snowy or icy.

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