Top tips for using a turbo trainer

Top tips for using a turbo trainer

If the wet, winter weather makes you want to stay indoors you can still keep cycling. Stationary cycling has seen a rise due to the pandemic restrictions, cycling coach and Cycle magazine contributor Joe Beer has some suggestions to make turbo training useful and bearable.

Whether it’s coronavirus, a broken collarbone, or childcare, indoor cycling can come to the rescue. Off the road and indoors means you need have a device to use you bike on, such as old-school rollers, a conventional turbo trainer, or swanky direct-drive ergometer.

Rollers require skill and concentration to master, plus careful positioning to make sure you are safe should you waver – in a corridor is the most popular. Rollers do help you ride smoother and not get bored riding indoors, which for some is a great challenge to master before you can go outdoors.

Most will use a turbo trainer. Despite the huge difference in complexity and cost, the ground rules for using them are much the same: location, location, location. You want to be uninterrupted and also safe from small hands or pets or, maybe worse, constant interruption. Perhaps you’ll take refuge in the garage? Perhaps you could surround yourself and your turbo with a child’s play pen? Every scenario has a different solution. It’s worth testing a few to find the balance between solitude, view, comfort, and ease of use.

Ready, steady...

As you are going nowhere, there won’t be any hills or headwinds to contend with so you can control your effort precisely. This allows you to do the most vital part of exercise: warm up gradually. Take around 10-15 minutes. This gives times for joints and muscles to warm up, the brain to adjust to exercise, your cycling muscles to get coordinated, and you to get comfortable.      

When you’re training indoors simply for exercise, to de-stress or help you feel good, the effort should only be moderately taxing. You’re not chasing medals so eyeballs-out high-intensity interval training is not required. A simple gauge to check that you’re riding steadily is to periodically close your mouth and breathe just through your nose.

Pedalling on turbo trainer is simple enough physically. But how do you keep yourself entertained and motivated to do it again in a day or so? Without the rolling panorama of the changing landscape, the traffic you need to be aware of, and the potholes you need to dodge, it’s hard to stay engaged. You need distraction or entertainment. What kind? We’re all different, but here are some suggestions.

  • Use background music to vary the tempo and effort. Headphones are a must if you want to really immerse yourself and not be distracted.
  • Chat to a friend – ideally one who is also riding on a turbo – by phone or video chat. Time flies as you’re talking. It’s similar to when you’re chatting on road on a club ride, but safer.
  • Set up a rear wheel speedometer and challenge yourself to complete a certain distance. (Remember: relaxed nose-breathing only.) As you get fitter you will get faster at this.
  • Change the gears and the turbo’s resistance level to vary your cadence and effort. Use specific time increments, such as three minutes, or just when your music or TV show changes in some way.
  • Set up YouTube to stream a ride that someone has done somewhere on the planet. Try this amazing ride in California
  • If you’ve got a compatible indoor training setup, sign up to one of the virtual cycling communities, such as BKool or Zwift; see page 58 for more.

The caveats

This is riding to keep you fit at times when outdoor riding is not possible. So if you are at home ill with a heavy cold or worse, it’s not wise to exercise even moderately strenuously. Exercising will make an unwell person feel better as endorphins surge through the body during the ride. It will catch up with you and hour or two later: you’ll feel even worse because you’ve over-exerted yourself while unwell.

There’s a trend nowadays for high-intensity training; you’ll see sessions promoted by gyms, sports centres, and online sign-ups. Avoid this in your indoor riding plans when you’re riding indoors in the middle of pandemic. It is not essential to health, produces negative mood-state changes later, and is fraught with potential for injury and the suppression of your immune system. You’re not chasing medals, so don’t hammer your body – nurture it. That's not to say you shouldn’t do the odd short hard effort to blow off some steam or test yourself – for example, a three-mile time trial – but don’t do it multiple times per week (or at all if you don’t want to). 

You will sweat a lot on a turbo trainer. So carefully consider what bike to use on it. Check it periodically and keep it clean. In some cases you could invalidate your warranty or, worse, cause dangerous stress points or corrosion. For example, sweat drenched handlebar tape may result in the sweat corroding the handlebar.

Bikes aren’t designed to be ridden aggressively when fixed in place; out-of-the-saddle sprints could bend or break something.

Joe Beer

Bikes aren’t designed to be ridden aggressively when fixed in place; out-of-the-saddle sprints could bend or break something. Take the bike off the turbo when it doesn’t need to be on there to limit stress on the frame or components, and again, keep it clean. Set everything out ready for your next session when you finish. Then there’s nothing to stop you riding again tomorrow.

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Home training tips

Location, location, location

Think about noise and vibration. You’ll get very unpopular very quickly if the house vibrates to every pedal stroke. Any good weather, get outside.

Set fans to stun

In an ideal world you’ll have a fan – moving air cools you best. Put a towel or mat on the floor to catch sweat and one on the bike to stop rust.

Don't run on fumes

There’s no need for carb-laden drinks for short rides but it still makes scientific sense to drink water with some electrolytes added – for example, a pinch of salt and cordial.

Keep it brief

The focus is health not heroics. Thirty to sixty minutes will suffice. Mix turbo training with an essential errand. For example, an hour indoors, then half an hour outdoors.

The art of distraction

Use something to help the time go by: music, YouTube scenery videos, chatting on Skype, or audio books.

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