Training indoors on a Turbo trainer is one of the staples of my Ironman Training plans. I honestly don’t know if I could fit in the required training time if I didn’t use the Turbo Trainer. In this article I will explain why I use a Turbo trainer for large portions of my cycle training. How best to use a turbo trainer and what to look for when Turbo Trainer shopping. so you can start Turbo Training for Ironman Success.
Why would anyone want to Train indoors?
When you think of cycling you imagine cursing along in the sunshine through some rolling hills or maybe by the coast its all very idyllic and the reason most people cycle. Fresh air and exercise. Bliss. Why would you want to sit in a room staring at a wall pedalling away? Because reality often has other ideas. Especially in Northern climes.
Yes the weather really can conspire to ruin your training. Howling winds, driving rain, snow, ice, fog, Freezing temperatures. Not to mention the nights getting longer and longer. Cyclists are faced with two choices, Brave the elements or Skip the training. In winter its normally the latter that occurs. Only very brave hardy souls venture out. Fortunately for triathletes this gives more time to focus on the running and swimming. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Enter the Turbo Trainer.
With your bike firmly attached to the Trainer you now have the ability to train any time, any weather. The key to good ironman training is consistency. So relying on good weather make this difficult. Yes you could buy all the gear, rain jacket, waterproof trousers, lights etc.. but this adds up, often to nearly the cost of good trainer. In my personal experience Its often no fun either. While admittedly Turbo training can also be on the rather dull side its still beats Riding in the poring rain in the dark. The truth is if you rely on outside riding you will miss a lot of training opportunities. And Turbos can be fun…sort of.
The other plus point of turbo training is the time efficiency. You really can just hop on a turbo, do your session, hop in the shower and you are done. Riding outside especially in inclement weather involves a lot of faff. I find my Turbo fits in with life far better. I regularly train before work and it really only involves getting up an hour or so earlier than I would any way.
You should be, but there is more, and for me this is the real point. Even if I lived somewhere that allowed pleasant outdoor training 365 days a year I would still Turbo Train! Why…Its better.
Turbo training allows you to train at very high intensities. These sort of levels of effort are incredibly effective levels to train at. Outside this would probably be dangerous. You are not really properly in control and all your focus is on pedalling and not stopping, and not the myriad of other things that need your attention outside.
So you don’t ride outside at all?
Of course I still ride outside as well. Mainly as I enjoy it. My long rides are always outside. You need the skills and technique that comes from riding outside on raceday. Its the bulk of my training I do indoors. If I am training 3 times a week my Tuesday and Thursday ride will be 1 hour High intensity turbo sessions with my Long ride done outdoors on the weekend, as an example.
Setting up your very own Torture Chamber
Whenever people start talking about turbo training they begin using scary terms such as pain, suffering, torture, etc.. This is with good reason, as turbo training can be quite uncomfortable. But it is quite misleading. Its not REAL pain. Its more discomfort. The terms are used far more tongue in cheek. So don’t be too put off by them. However the Term Torture Chamber is regular used as term or area where you will set up and use your Turbo Trainer.
You don’t need much. it only needs be a small space just enough room for you to set up your bike and turbo. about 1.5m x 1 m. You will need something to put down on the floor to protect it unless its a hard floor. You WILL sweat and it WILL drop on the floor. I also use a towel to protect my bike from the sweat. You can buy specialist Mats and Sweat protectors from the Trainer manufacturers if you don’t want to improvise. I also have a small table to put on my laptop for entertainment and also drinks. You also want something to raise the front wheel up slightly as other wise your position will be slightly different from riding outside on the flat.
Unless you are doing very light turbo work, which is kind of missing the main advantage or Turbo training. You are going to need a Fan. Because of the lack of movement there is a lack of air flow. You can just use a Basic Pedestal Fan. but when things get very tough they don not always provide enough flow a Larger more powerful fan will then be needed so could be a good idea from the start.
Now your set, Jump on and get riding. Fun huh…
Yeah probably not. After 5-10 mins your are probably already insanely bored. You can’t just ride on a Turbo like you would outside. The only effective way to train on a Turbo is through structured training.
Most of my ironman training uses structured training of some sort. Its the difference between just going for a ride, or just swimming up and down the pool. I will Talk about structured triaging, I really do believe its the best way to train. However on a turbo its pretty much essential. Turbo training is just too boring without it.
Structured training is essential breaking your session down into smaller chunks to make it more manageable. If you were to just jump onto a turbo trainer for 1 hr it would be unbearable. a simple structured session of:
- 6-Minutes fast pedalling warm up
- 2-Minutes rest
- 5-Minutes hard effort
- 5-Minutes Rest
- Repeat 3 and 4 5x
- 2-Minutes Cool down
As you can see it all feels a lot more manageable. There are hundreds or different ways to break down your session for different goals and types of session.
It also helps if you have some entertainment, TV, music, freshly painted wall. Anything to take your mind off the boredom. There is another option though, and that is the world or Training videos, Programs and Apps.
These are videos or computer programs or Smart Apps designed specifically for Turbo Training. They are quite simply brilliant. With very modest outlay they can completely transform your training. Depending on your Turbo you may have a App bundled with it. Other than that have a look at the following products:
All 3 are very different approaches to the same thing and most offer some type of free trial or money back offer. I will do a full run down of each program soon. But from now I would advice Starting with a few Sufferfest Videos, to get used to the idea of Structured training. Then I strongly recommend Trainerroad.com this program seriously changed the way I train, Ride and Race. Zwift is more geared at the Fun market and is a cross between Gaming and Training. Definitely worth a try.
The final positive is the High-intensity interval training or HIIT. This methodology of training is basically working VERY hard for short periods of time. The Turbo is the perfect place for this type of training. Riding outside these sort of efforts can be dangerous. At times you are pushing yourself to pass out point. Its just not sensible to be doing this on busy roads with impatient drivers.
The benefit is you can get almost the same training benefit from short training sessions (typically 1 hour) than you would from hours of more traditional training. Its a great way to train and brilliant for time crunched busy triathletes trying to juggle 3 disciplines, family, friends, job, and sleep.
As mentioned before, Training on a turbo trainer doesn’t develop the skills needed to ride safely outdoors. There is also an inherent difference between Turbo training and outdoor cycling. The Resistance of a trainer is very static and the real world with bump, hills, wind, and road surfaces isn’t. It isn’t completely different and some Time Trial Riders do almost ALL their training on the trainer and just race outside. But I find after a winter tucked away on the turbo I need a couple of rides to get used to the outside again. Also for Ironman its very hard to do the LONG sessions on a Turbo, so it takes time outside to stretch your distance out.
The only other major downside is Noise. Turbo’s can be noisy. This is not really a concern to the rider, they are not that noisy. But anyone else in the house or neighbours might not appreciate the noise at antisocial hours. Manufacturers Do their best to limit the noise but the very concept of spinning a bike wheel at high speed against a roller is going to make noise, Its unavoidable.
There are 3 main types of Turbo on the Market:
These are your most basic kind of trainer. It is nothing more than a stand with a resistance roller. They sometimes have adjustable resistance, I recommend that you get at least that. They can however with a couple of inexpensive bits and pieces be integrated with all the smart apps above quite easily to essentially make then a Smart Turbo, which then integrate into the apps. This uses what we call Virtual Power. You don’t however need Smart functionality for sufferfest videos. the use Perceived Exertion…how hard you think you are working. Of course should you have a Power meter all you require is a “dumb” trainer to make full use of the apps
There are two sub types here:
These are Turbo trainers that measure your power speed and other metrics and transmit that data to a head unit or via Bluetooth or Ant+ I mentioned above that “dumb” turbos can be used as smart turbos but they can only perform the functions of the smart broadcast type. By broadcasting power you can now train to power. This is of HUGE advantage. The App or Program you are following gives you a target power output and you pedal harder / faster to meet it. Its kind of fun…in a terrible kind of way.
Smart Control Turbo trainers allow Apps and programs to actively control the resistance of the turbo trainer making it harder or easier as and when required by the program or app. This can be used to simulate Actual outside rides or match the profile of the session you are doing. Its all very clever and nifty stuff. Like in zwift when you ride up a hill the turbo resistance will increase so you need to pedal harder to make the hill. Just like in the real world.
Smart Direct Drive:
Next is the Direct Drive. These Trainers are the new breed and the high-end market. Rather than using a roller to apply resistance they attach directly to the bike frame where the rear wheel usually resides. The resistance is applied internally. This is a more stable, accurate, and Quiet arrangement. They Work like the Smart control Trainers only better. In fact there is nothing not to like, Apart from the price. they Start around the £899 mark! But you get a lot of bang for your buck.
Turbo trainers are pretty basic devices, and there is not too much to consider when buying. Apart from the above features, a few basic considerations are all you need concern yourself with.
Sturdy: A trainer goes through quite a bit of rough and tumble. It has to take your whole weight, (and your Bikes) while you move in and out the saddle, pump the pedals and take the friction of a bike wheel spinning at quite high speed. Its quite a job really. Certainly any thing I will recommend or anything from the big manufacturers will be perfectly up top to the job. But I do worry about some of the bargain basement trainers and how they will stack up to the abuse.
Noise: Noise is a big consideration for anyone who doesn’t live on their own in a detached house, which I would surmise is most people. Even the quietest turbo trainers will make noise and its often a low frequency noise that resonates horribly round a house. Even a silent Trainer which is not an option right now (although there is a start-up attempting that feat) will make noise simply from the bikes drive train. So if you plan on training early in the morning or late at night look for as quiet a turbo as you can. alternatively if your training will be more sociable or your sound proofing excellent don’t worry too much about noise.
Stable: Most quality Turbo trainers are very stable platforms. And they need to be as a tip over is not going to be fun thing, and could be very costly. Again this is a major concern on the cheap turbo end. Reaching for a drink when a bit shaky from a hard interval and it could easily end in disaster. I came very close to putting my self through an outside window on a budget trainer when I was starting out !
Fitment: Finally the way the turbo mounts to your rear wheel is important. Most turbo trainers mount with a specific type of quick release skewer (normally included with the Trainer). But this needs to be a good secure fit. Its also very handy to have a quick release feature (See right), so you can quickly and easily remove your bike to ride outside. Without this feature its quite a faff. With Direct drive Trainers this is not an issue.
Turbo Trainer Buying Guide
If you are wanting to buy a Turbo Trainer but are unsure which one to go for still Have a look at my detailed buyers guide to help Select the best turbo for your particular needs.
If you are considering training on a turbo I really can’t think of any reason not to. Some people really just hate it but with the array of videos and tools at your disposal it really isn’t that bad. The positives far out weight the negatives. People who put time in on the turbo really do have a huge advantage come spring. And the efficient High intensity interval training really is a great way to get Much more training benefit from your limited time.
I honestly don’t think I could do Ironman without it!
I would love to hear from any of you who are using Turbo Training for your Ironman training or any other training for that matter. Please Drop me a comment or if you need any more information or have any questions.