Real Advice: Training Indoors


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Winter is coming. And this year, just like every year, we’re all going to swear up and down that no matter how bad the weather gets, we’re going to ride outside. And this year, just like every year, that resolution will last just about through mid-December, at which point we will all switch to full-on holiday bacchanalia mode and just kind of stop riding, reasoning that spring isn’t that far away.

For most of my cycling career, this was exactly the pattern I fell into year after year. I would ride my way into excellent form going into the fall, only to feel like I was starting again from scratch every spring. Finally, one year, I decided to buy a trainer. I didn’t work for Performance at the time, but I visited my local store, and the associate helped me pick out a trainer that was right for my needs. I ended up going home with an Elite progressive resistance trainer, and a special tire designed to be used with stationary trainers (more on that in a bit). The results were incredible. While I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t exactly love riding the trainer, I was able to keep relatively in shape through the winter, and entered into the spring in much better shape than previous years.

When it comes to trainers and rollers, there are a lot of options to choose from. Trainers can vary a lot in price and features, so it’s important to consider what your training goals are before buying.

Here are some tricks and tips to get the most out of your winter training:

1. Know Your Trainers: The primary purpose of trainers is to help you build strength and endurance. Basically, a trainer is a treadmill for your rear wheel—you just clamp your rear wheel in and start spinning.  How much resistance your trainer delivers will depend on what type it is. Our Learning Center has an article that dives more in-depth into the different types of trainers, but here’s a quick summary:

Wind Trainers: Use a fan to generate resistance.

Advantages

  • Fewer moving parts
  • Produce progressive resistance, which increases as wheel speed increases
  • Smooth resistance with minimal vibration

Disadvantages

  • Noisy
  • Fan susceptible to damage
  • Increasing wheel speed only way to increase resistance

Magnetic Trainers: Use combination of magnets and metal plates to generate resistance.

Advantages

  • Offer multiple levels of resistance
  • Quieter than wind trainers
  • Produce linear resistance, which stays the same regardless of wheel speed
  • Typically less expensive than other options

Disadvantages

  • Changing resistance level requires dismounting bike unless trainer is equipped with handlebar-mounted remote shift lever

Fluid Trainers: Uses a hydraulic fluid and an impeller to create resistance.

Advantages

  • Produce progressive resistance, which increases as wheel speed increases
  • Very quiet
  • Most moving parts protected by enclosed resistance unit
  • Available in adjustable resistance models

Disadvantages

  • More Expensive

A quick word on tires: trainers tend to be tough on your tires. As mentioned above, some companies like Vittoria now make specially designed tires that are made to withstand the rigors that the trainer will put them through.

The Elite Qubo Fluid+ resistance trainer is a great way to gain strength and work on endurance through the winter

2. Rollers: are different from trainers in that the focus is on developing form instead of strength. While riding the rollers can deliver a hard, pulse-pounding workout, rollers are better used to work on cadence, pedaling efficiency and concentration. Unlike trainers, rollers are a free-form exercise where the bike is not locked down, so they require a smooth pedaling motion, steady cadence and concentration to use. They take some practice to get the hang of, but the rewards are significant. The first few times you use rollers, we highly recommend wearing a helmet, setting them up next to a wall (to make it easier to get on and off), and putting some couch cushions around you on the floor. It’s also recommended that you have someone video your first attempt at using the rollers, since hilarity is almost certainly sure to ensue (don’t worry, we’ve all been there).

Rollers are an excellent way to work on form and cadence through the long winter months

3. Boredom: I’m going to be really honest here: there are few things more boring than riding a trainer/rollers. When you’re sitting on a bike that’s going nowhere, it’s really hard to stay motivated and push yourself. A good way to overcome this is with videos or music. Many companies offer workout DVD’s for use with the trainer that can help you target specific areas you’d like to work on (strength training, endurance, climbing, etc…). Something important to remember, though, is that your time on the trainer is an hour you have to yourself to do whatever you want. With that in mind, here are some other ideas I use to stay focused:

-Catch up on the DVR queue

-Watch cycling movies like Breaking Away, American Flyers, and The Flying Scotsman

-Scour Netflix for movies that your better half doesn’t want to watch (I’ve probably seen Commando on the trainer at least 7 times)

-When I have to use the trainer at work or before a race, I have a special playlist on my phone of songs that help get me motivated

Catching up on TV you may have missed is a great way to keep the trainer from getting stale

4. Ride With A Buddy: Everything is more fun if you have a friend, and riding with someone else helps you stay more accountable. If you have some buddies who are into cycling try setting up some indoor training sessions. If you have a video game system, then you have a recipe for success since you can host “trainer tournaments”. Last year at the office we had some fairly epic Halo multiplayer battles while riding the trainers (one guy even added aerobar extensions to his bike since he could ride hard while still using the controller).

You'd be amazed how much faster the time goes when you can crush your friends in Halo or Madden

You’d be amazed how much faster the time goes when you can crush your friends in Halo or Madden

5. Sweat It Out: When you’re on the trainer, it’s going to get sweaty. You’re not moving, so there’s no air to cool you down. Here are some tips to keep cool and clean:

-Put down a trainer mat under the bike

-Use a sweat net to protect your frame (many trainers come with one of these)

-Use a small fan to keep cool

-Always have a bottle with ice water in it

-Wear a cycling cap to keep sweat out of your eyes

A sweat net will help protect your frame and components from the corrosive effects of sweat

6. Have A Plan: Riding the trainer is an activity that rewards having a focused approach. Making vague promises to ride the trainer every day for an hour may be hard to follow through on as the winter grinds on. Create a training realistic training plan that you can adhere to, and that drives toward very specific goals. This is where using a training DVD can be very helpful.

Using a training DVD can help you create a plan and work toward specific goals during the off-season

6 Responses to Real Advice: Training Indoors

  1. froze says:

    Tire wise you can buy a special tire made just for trainers, but I just use an old tire that I retired from using on the road. If you use an old tire make sure to thoroughly clean the tire’s tread and pick out any debris that may be stuck in the tire, dirt and debris will damage the contact roller over time. Also if the trainer is properly adjusted you shouldn’t get bits of rubber debris.

  2. Pingback: Real Advice: Training Indoors | Bikeboard.me

  3. Pingback: 3 Ways to Improve Your Indoor Training | The Performance Bicycle Blog

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  5. Do these trainers have published power curves that work with RAD+ software?

    • David S says:

      Hey Rubin, we’re not familiar enough with RAD+ software to give you an answer – your best option is to contact the RAD+ developers directly, or reach out to the trainer manufacturer.

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