Top tips for those thinking of hitting the turbo trainer

Training on a bicycle indoors is not everybody’s idea of a good use of time – and I know that some readers out there use their wheels to commute, and so pounding away on a static trainer isn’t going to do the job for them.

However, if you’re using your bike for sport, or thinking of having a go at entering some events in 2014, turbo training is a great way to pack in some high intensity workouts in a short space of time.

A turbo trainer attaches to your bike so you can turn it into a perfectly fitting (and much cheaper than membership!) gym bike, and most provide variable resistance so you can crank it up and make it as hard as your legs can handle.

As December progresses, the temperature crawls down the dial, and the likelihood of snow and ice creeps up, so getting some “miles” in indoors is a good way to keep momentum.

On top of that, if you want to improve your strength and speed, you’re going to need to push the boundaries of what your body can do. To do that, occasionally you need to put your head down and grit your teeth – and that is sometimes better done away from traffic and distraction.

A turbo trainer allows you to ride indoors

A turbo trainer allows you to ride indoors

1) Have a session plan

Start with an idea what you’re going to do. Don’t expect to swap your “2 hour ride outdoors” with a “two hour ride indoors” – you are likely to get bored. Instead, plan a structured interval session – something like:

10min warm up

5 x 3mins working as hard as you can, with 3min “recoveries”

10min cool down


10min warm up,

20min as hard as you can!

5min recovery

20min as hard as you can!

10min cool down

Short sharp intervals will help you develop your ability to ride hard and fast, and you’ll feel the difference when you get on the road. Tailor your sessions to your goals, so if you’re planning to enter a hilly sportive, try high gear intervals, if you want to road race and dominate in the final sprint, do short 30second bursts of eye balls out efforts, if you want to time trial, try holding a steady pace for 20minutes.

2) Get a fan. Or two.

Get your fans ready and up-close

Get your fans ready and up-close

Your legs are pounding the pedals, you’re sucking the air in, heart is thud-thudding in your chest – but you’re not actually going… anywhere. The lack of moving air around you and the fact you are indoors will mean you will undoubtedly get hot. Sometimes this heat can actually lead you to feel more fatigued than you actually are, and it can even make your heart rate shoot up. Get a fan, and get the air moving – you’ll thank yourself.

3) Prepare your bike

If you’re working hard, and not moving, you’re going to also get sweaty. Get yourself a “sweat net” or use a towel to protect your headset from corrosion. It’s also a good idea to use a tough “turbo tyre” so that you don’t wear down the tread on your rear wheel.

Finally – the turbo trainer will lift your back wheel up a little, so make sure to raise the front of your bike with a purpose made raiser block, or, more cost effectively, a copy of the yellow pages. If you don’t do this, you’ll actually be pointing downwards a bit, and that won’t be particularly comfortable.

4) Get distracted to get focused

Pedalling away can get a little boring, and that will lead your mind to start drifting, and your legs to slow down. Personally, I’ve always been a big fan of a bit of Linkin Park, System of a Down, or Rise Against to get me through a tough turbo hour – but a very popular method is also to watch specific training videos.

The Sufferfest sell downloadable training DVDs for $13 – these provide a full training session with instructions and countdowns, awesome music, and race footage to feast your eyes on, all rolled into one humorously sub-titled package. If you need something to keep your attention on the session, The Sufferfest are for you.

5) Get spinning

Some people like to train alone, others are more sociable creatures. If that’s you, there are plenty of spin classes around, where groups of people all get together to sweat it out in one room, guided by an instructor. Most gyms provide this service, and cycling clubs also tend to club together over the winter months for sessions. A quick google of “spinning + your town” should get you the result you’re looking for.

Those are our top tips – do you have any indoor riding advice, or will you be sticking it out in the chill all winter?

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5 Responses to Top tips for those thinking of hitting the turbo trainer

  1. PoPpy @ Persistence Over Perfection 13/12/2013 at 3:48 pm #

    This is my first winter since taking up road cycling, and I’ve got a turbo already – so far my over riding impression has been that turbo training is dull dull dull!. Thanks for the tips, they’re really useful, especially the one about the sufferfest downloads!

    • Michelle 14/12/2013 at 9:44 pm #

      Glad to be of service! You definitely need a plan and a session – it won’t be boring if you know what you’re doing and what the goal is. Good luck!

  2. Kieran O'Shea 13/12/2013 at 4:42 pm #

    Any advice on an entry-level TT?

    • Ashley 14/12/2013 at 9:05 am #

      Tacx are a good brand, have a look on eBay. I got mine for around £70 and it works great!

    • Latimer 19/03/2017 at 9:00 am #

      I’d have to recommend the Tacx Vortex. It might be a little above entry level but if you can stretch to it, it gives you the ability to use apps like Zwift & TrainerRoad, making indoor training a lot more interesting. There’re a few good turbo training resource sites worth looking at for reviews, recommendations etc such as, should find answers to most things turbo trainer related.

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