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Turbo Charged: Indoor cycling for strength, speed, and mental toughness

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

Coach Mateo in the turbo room with UCSB Squad.

I’m at my best in warm weather – the hotter the better. I come to life when I arrive in a place like Kona. Just a few breaths of that tropical, humid, salty air, and I’m a new man.

I did my time with winter as a kid on the Jersey Shore. Winter swim season, running on ice, and trainer rides. I moved to California to make winter a thing of the past. Having lived in Santa Barbara for nearly 15 years, I’ve had the luxury of swimming and cycling outdoors throughout the year without much concern for rain or cold. I put my bike trainer away. Unfortunately, in doing so I put away an incredibly powerful tool for the development of strength, speed, and mental toughness on the bike.

One serious conversation with Brett Sutton this fall changed that. To that point I had simply seen trainer rides as a way to manage during the dead of winter. I’d known the value of the trainer, but because I was in sunny California, I’d always had my athletes riding out on the roads. I had seen the trainer as something that occasionally had to be endured during cold or rain rather than as an indispensable asset to be woven into the year-round program. Humility and a willingness to learn and grow are essential for the coach as well as the athlete.

Brett and I had a discussion about the fundamental principles that he employs when writing trainer sessions. Since that talk, I’ve done virtually all of my sessions on the trainer, structuring sessions to put those principles into action, experimenting on myself, and getting a good feel for the power and value of this tool. After two months of masochistic research I can tell you that there is a particular quality of pain that can only be administered on the trainer.

The trainer provides constant resistance – momentum doesn’t carry you on the trainer. If you soft-pedal on the trainer your wheel slows down and it takes considerably more watts to get it going again. Cycling uphill is the most comparable parallel on the road.

Trainer sessions are time efficient since there’s no stopping for traffic or lights, no slowing for corners, and no coasting. This means that you can crack out a very high quality session in less than two hours. Riding a trainer is also a heck of a lot safer and less stressful than doing battle with cars.

My sessions emphasize muscular intensity by focusing on cadence and effort. These sessions are strength training on the bike. Legs, core, and body are trained for strength with specificity on the bike. Strength training on the bike helps to maximize time management and efficiency for the time-crunched athlete.

These sessions can also help to build and reinforce mental toughness. Trainer sessions eliminate many external stimuli from cycling – no cars, potholes, or scenery. The sessions come down to you and the efforts. Where your head goes, the quality of your focus, self-talk, and attention are up to you and your coach. These are dimensions of your mental game that you can always bring into your training, however, on the trainer you have a unique opportunity to work on mental focus, self-talk, attention, and self-regulation without the typical distractions encountered on the road.

Trainer sessions also build confidence, and mental toughness. The grit that it takes to crush a session, and the inner strength that’s built as a result of nailing workout after workout, contribute to the self-confidence that will take your training and racing to their highest levels.

Bottom line, trainer sessions are tough. By taking them on with passion and purpose you’ll be tougher too. Now go get your headphones, crank up the music, put your head down, and make it hurt!

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