Almost exactly 5 years ago in March 2015, I wrote a blog about benefits of training indoors on a turbo trainer. I appreciate it that this type of training is not for everyone, people have their individual preferences, habits, favourite bike routes and generally prefer to ride outside. Let’s be honest, I also prefer to ride outside, but I always needed to juggle what I like with what I could realistically do considering that I was always short of time working long hours.
I never suspected that athletes may ever be in a situation that even if they had all the time and were able to ride outside, they would not be able to do so. Now we face such a reality, a number of countries introduced a ban on outside activities as a measure to contain the virus.
Training on a stationary bike or a turbo trainer may be the only option now. Whether you train or just exercise it is important to continue doing so on a regular basis. Light training will help us to stay healthy both physically and mentally during those difficult times. Light, aerobic training will allow you to retain a good base level of fitness and will help you to resume your usual training load much quicker. It will also help you to feel better knowing you can do something you love and spend some time in a healthy way.
I went back to the original blog and pulled out key messages written then but still relevant now, however, in a slightly different context. I hope I will convince a few people to spend some time on indoor trainers by sharing my own experience. From a training perspective, my view has never changed: if used in the right way, a turbo trainer will help an athlete to become stronger cyclists.
You need to be careful though, you need to ensure your immune system is not negatively affected by the training. We would not suggest that hard, highly anaerobic sessions are included in your training regime during the pandemic, you need to keep your immune system strong.
1. Training indoors is often the most time-efficient way to train
I live and train in London most of the time and a number of my athletes live in big cities where riding outside either may be dangerous due to heavy traffic or impractical and time-consuming. Sometimes riding outside may not be possible due to weather conditions, rains of England, winds of Cape Town, icy roads of Poland in winter or temperatures in excess of 50C in Dubai during summer make riding outside a real challenge.
A turbo trainer helps to save a lot of time. If I wanted to ride on the road just getting dressed and taking the bike outside would take me at least 30-45 minutes while a 60 min interval session should not take longer than 1hr 15min including getting ready for the session.
Even worse if I wanted to go for a longer ride - for me it means packing bikes and driving for up to an hour before I can start riding. This would make a 2-3 hours ride a 4-5 hour time commitment.
2. You don’t need an expensive trainer to enjoy the benefits
My first trainer wasn’t anything expensive, one of the basic models with no power, no internet connection, no other gadgets. It only had speed and cadence readings along with 5 levels of resistance. This purchase was probably my best investment in any training equipment I’ve ever made and has greatly contributed to my subsequent improvements in bike splits.
Over time I have upgraded my trainer to one with interactive functionality, I can select different courses and profiles but for some sessions, I still just press the start button and go.
If you are on a limited budget or only ride indoors occasionally you probably don’t need anything too fancy or complicated, as long as you have sufficient resistance for your strength.
Turbo training in the 'performance centre'.
3. You can do all your bike training indoors (if you want)
You can pretty much do all type of training on a trainer.
A number of our athletes prefer to complete all their training indoors, especially those higher intensity efforts which may require more focus like a 20 or 30-minute time trial which is nor really possible in cities, definitely not in London.
However, we also do a strength and endurance training indoors: we may be doing a set of say 6 x 3 minutes of high resistance and low cadence working simulating hills or 4 x 5 minutes going above the race effort or an endurance set with longer intervals and shorter rest as an example 6x[8min race effort, 2min recovery].
Even long easier rides can be done indoors 90min to 3hours is not even that boring if you watch a movie or your favourite sport on TV. There are even athletes who would prefer to complete a 3-4 hours rides indoors when they train for an Ironman, rather than riding outside especially in winter or spring.
4. Consistency is the king
During my first winter of indoor training, the sessions were not long, most of them 45-90 minutes but designed in a way that they were stimulating different systems. Most importantly I have trained in a very consistent way. Pretty much every week for the whole autumn and winter I would complete 3 turbo sessions. Also, with my athletes, I observe a very high correlation between improvements in bike power and ‘boring’ consistency of training. Those athletes who train regularly have better results than those training less regularly even if the overall volume and intensity over a longer period of time may be the same. As an example, training 3 times a week with a total volume of 3 hours leads to better improvements than one-week training only 1 hour and next week playing catch up and doing 5.
5. Ride on the road before the race
Before the race, especially more technical ones, it is useful to do 3 or 4 sessions, mainly longer rides outside. This gives us the feel of the road which cannot be replicated indoors, riding uphill, descending, battling winds, or other technical aspects. If the race includes a technical descend or turns and corners, I would advise to check it out and ride the tricky sections once or twice before the race. Riding outside may not be necessary for flat and technically less demanding courses like 70.3 Bahrain or 70.3 Dubai. We had very good results there pretty much straight from the turbo.
Over years of coaching, we have developed training routines that enable our athletes to gain strength and endurance in an effective way, often without riding outside. Yes, it takes time, it may sound boring, but the results often exceed initial expectations of what athletes believed they could achieve. As an example (and not an isolated one) I will share with you bike splits of one of my athletes from the same Ironman 70.3 race from last 3 years. He does 80-90% of training indoors, I’m sure 2 years ago he would not have thought he would be able to ride 90k under 2:10:
Stay healthy and enjoy training!