Indoor Trainer Survival Guide 101: Fun and Effective Use of the Trainer

You may have heard the indoor trainer not-so-affectionately referred to as “The Drainer,” akin to “The Dread-mill.” While bringing your workouts indoors for the winter may be mentally taxing and can’t even compare to the feeling of freedom flying down a hill at 30+ mph, incorporating indoor trainer workouts into your training plan can produce significant fitness and strength gains and don’t have to be seemingly endless hours of boredom. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your indoor trainer time….and perhaps have a little fun while you’re at it!

Keep it short.

An hour ride on the trainer is the equivalent of approximately 90 to 100 minutes of outdoor riding. Unlike outdoor riding, you are constantly applying pressure to the pedals when riding on the trainer. There isn’t any coasting or stopping for lights on the trainer. Additionally, your position changes very little when riding on the trainer, which means you are constantly working the same muscles for extended periods of time. Due to the static positioning of riding on a trainer, some muscles may become overworked and others underworked. It’s important to keep trainer rides moderately short to help prevent overuse injuries. As a general rule of thumb, trainer rides should run between 30 minutes and two hours.

Mix it up.

Structure your trainer time around a specific purpose or goal. Know why you are riding. This can be as simple as “time in the saddle,” adjusting to riding inside or a higher level objective like increasing your FTP (functional threshold power). Choose an element of cycling to focus on each ride and vary your focus from session to session. Areas of focus include: form and technique; cadence; strength and power; and endurance. Spending time focusing on each of these areas of development will help you become a well-rounded cyclist and keep things interesting as the days, weeks and months of trainer time go by.

Get creative with entertainment.

The most common ways athletes try to entertain themselves while riding on the trainer is through music, movies or television. However, most athletes find a comfortable gear and cadence and put in the time while listening to music, or watching television or a movie. For a more effective workout, use elements of what you are listening to or watching to guide your workout. See below for an example of a music-guided trainer workout:

High Cadence Musical Fartlek

* Warm-up for 3 songs-starting with very light resistance and comfortable cadence, in the second song add a gear to increase resistance and follow suit for the third song. Remove the gear after the third song and begin the main set.

* Main Set: During the chorus of each song, spin at a higher than normal cadence (95+) and return to a normal cadence/recover during the verses the song. Repeat for 8 songs.

* Cool-down for 2 songs-riding with light resistance and comfortable cadence. During the cool-down focus on good form–relaxed upper-body, strong core and nice, even pedal strokes.

Similarly, when watching television on the trainer you can increase intensity or resistance during commercials and recover during the show (or vice versa). Another option applicable to movies or television is to a word or phrase common to the movie or show and every time you hear it you sprint for one minute. Incorporating sprint intervals every time someone cries or says “I’m not here to make friends” during a reality TV show, like The Bachelor, will be sure to up the intensity of your workout and make the time fly by.

Seek outside assistance.

Software options designed to enhance the trainer experience are plentiful. Some of the most popular include Zwift, Trainer Road and the Sufferfest. Zwift is essentially a multiplayer video game for cyclists. Zwfit links your trainer to your computer, iPad or iPhone and allows you to ride with, (and race against), other cyclists in a virtual environment. Trainer Road is a subscription-based service that provides access to hundreds of different workouts, multi-week training plans and fitness tests and provides real-time feedback about how you’re tracking against the workout based on RPE (rate of perceived exertion), power or virtual power, depending on what additional equipment you have available. Finally, the Sufferfest is an application that includes a library of entertaining and challenging video workouts that can incorporate power or virtual power by connecting your speed and cadence sensor, power meter, heart rate monitor or smart trainer, as well as a variety of training plans. In addition to cycling workouts, the Sufferfest also includes run, triathlon and yoga for cyclists video workouts.

Get by with a little help from your friends.

Grab your bike and take a structured trainer class at your local trainer studio, like the Grit Endurance Computrainer Studio. Trainer classes offer the guidance and support of coaches and camaraderie of training with other like-minded athletes. Trainer classes can range from those focused on increasing speed and power to perfecting form and technique to building endurance through virtual course rides. Don’t have a trainer studio nearby? Invite a few friends to bring their bikes and trainers over and set up your own “group ride,” while watching the big game, your group’s favorite weekly TV show, or an entertaining movie.

Don’t spend the winter going nowhere with your cycling training. Incorporate some of the tips above and have a more enjoyable and effective indoor training season. Before you know it spring will have sprung and you’ll be back on the road stronger than ever and ready to conquer the summer racing season.

Coach Kristan Huenink is a USAT-certified coach with Grit Endurance, Live Grit’s athlete- inspired training community. She coaches Computrainer classes on Tuesday mornings and Thursday evenings in the Grit Endurance Computrainer Studio. Check out a Computrainer class with her or one of the other Grit Endurance coaches today.