WHEN YOU CAN’T RIDE OUTSIDE
©1999 Joe Friel
In some places, riding inside on a trainer is
the only riding there is in the winter. Athletes who
live in these cold, snowy regions soon learn that
the trainer is their best friend when it comes to
developing the fitness necessary for spring races.
Skiing, snowshoeing, and other cross-training
activities done outside are great for developing
cardiovascular fitness, but they are not the same as
cycling. In order to prepare the muscular and
nervous systems to race on a bike, at least some
time must be spent riding.
Efficient and Effective
Even for those who don’t live in the frozen
northland the trainer can be a great way to train.
Bike trainers can make your tight daily schedule
somewhat easier. When there is little time to ride,
you can get a quick workout on a trainer in far less
time than on the road with its stoplights, traffic,
flats, and dogs. This is especially beneficial in
the winter when days are short.
For far less money than joining a health
club, a trainer allows you to get in a great
workout. There is also no waiting for equipment and
the bike will always fit you just right.
Trainers also make for precise workouts. On
the road there are always confounding circumstances
such as a hill that isn’t quite long enough, a
“flat” course that has rolling hills in it, or an
intersection to slow down for when doing intervals.
None of this is a concern on the trainer. You can do
the workout just as it was intended. For this reason
alone, there are riders who even do some of their
summer training indoors.
There is considerable difference in how much
indoor trainer work individual athletes can handle.
Some ride inside day after day in the winter and
even include weekly three- and four-hour rides on a
trainer with no problems. Others dread getting on a
trainer and have a hard time making it through an
hour. It’s best to pay attention to these signs of
your tolerance for monotony and train accordingly.
To be on the safe side, I generally advise
riders to train inside no more than three workouts
in a row. If kept from riding outside on the fourth
day, select an outdoor alternative. Also, I limit
indoor workouts to 90 minutes regardless of what the
on-road schedule called for. I make slight
exceptions to these rules for riders who have a
great tolerance for training, but this is rare.
There are four general types of indoor
trainers to choose from. The one that has been
around the longest, and still is one of the most
effective, has small fans that produce the
resistance. These “wind” trainers are good in that
the resistance increases exponentially as speed
increases linearly just as it does on the road.
These are not as sophisticated as the other options,
but are also among the least expensive trainers
available. One disadvantage, however, is noise. If
you live in an apartment, a wind trainer will
definitely disturb your neighbors. But if you can
use it in a garage or basement, the noise will
bother no one but you—and maybe your spouse and dog.
Magnetic trainers are quiet, compared with
wind trainers, but the resistance increase with a
linear rise in speed is also linear. On the road the
load goes up at a higher rate of change than does
the speed. This means the workouts don’t have as
realistic a feeling on a “mag” trainer as on a wind
Another option is “rollers.” These are
excellent for developing a fluid pedal stroke, but
are not as good as wind or mag trainers when it
comes to developing other fitness abilities such as
muscular endurance or force. If you use rollers also
purchase a wind or mag trainer.
The top end of indoor training devices is
clearly the CompuTrainerâ.
If you find indoor trainers boring, this will help.
You may even find yourself looking forward to riding
indoors. Besides making training into an interactive
experience, the CompuTrainerâ
also allows you to complete self-tests, determine
lactate threshold heart rates, and train indoors
with power. The cost of a CompuTrainerâ
is about the same as for a good bike frame.
But if indoor riding is a big part of your winter,
or you simply want more accurate training data, this
is the way to go.
If you like the idea of training with power,
a power meter, such as the Power-TapÒ,
can be used whether you train indoors on a wind or
mag trainer or outside on the road.
Some riders leave an old bike set-up on an
indoor trainer all winter. That way, if forced
inside by bad weather or working late, they can
start the workout quickly—before they get out of the
mood. That’s easy to do when it’s cold, snow is
falling, and you’ve had a long day at work or it’s
early in the morning.
When setting up a near-permanent
indoor workout spot, include one or more fans.
Without some way to cool off, heat build-up will
increase the perceived effort of any workout and
heart rate will be higher than normal.
Since sweat production is
prodigious with indoor training, fluids and a towel
are also necessary. Be sure to protect your bike
from sweat damage, especially the headset.
Indoor training sessions should
be organized just as on the road. This means a
warm-up, the workout, and a cool down. The warm-up
should be at least 10 minutes of slowly increasing
effort. Don’t leave this out in an attempt to get
the session over with quickly.
More than likely, your indoor
training sessions will seem harder than they do when
outside. Almost everyone reports this. That may
result from heat build-up or the greater
psychological stress of going no where fast. Because
of this I’d recommend doing more intervals and less
steady state workouts when indoors.
Nearly any workout you do on the
road can be done on an indoor trainer. Sometimes
it’s just a matter of applying a little ingenuity.
For example, raising the front wheel five to six
inches will simulate hill-climbing position. While
watching a videotape of the Tour de France, you can
cruise along when the peloton is on the screen and
work hard when the breakaway group is shown. The
accompanying sidebar lists a few basic trainer
Indoor trainers are also
effective for recovery workouts any time of year.
Easy, spinning sessions done on a trainer are
especially important if you live in a hilly or
mountainous area where flat courses are not
Indoor trainers are available
through bike shops or catalogs. The prices range
from about $100 for a basic wind trainer or rollers
and up to about $1500 for a top-of-the-line
Joe Friel is the author of
The Triathlete’s Training
free monthly newsletter and answers to frequently
asked questions on the topic of this article and
others are available on his web site at
Indoor Trainer Workouts
To develop or maintain aerobic endurance, ride at a
low effort. Shift through the gears or change
resistance to simulate rolling hills. Stay seated on
Every five minutes gradually increase cadence
to maximum over a 30-second period. Maximum is the
cadence you can maintain without bouncing. As the
cadence increases allow your lower legs and feet to
relax—especially the toes. Hold your maximum for as
long as possible. Repeat several times.
Leg. Place one foot on a chair or stool and
pedal only with the other leg. Maintain a cadence of
80-100 rpm and concentrate on smoothing out the
“dead” spot at the top of the stroke by “throwing
the knee over the handlebars” and by pushing the
toes forward in the shoes as the foot approaches the
top position. Change legs when fatigue begins to set
in. Repeat several times.
Climbs. Raise the front wheel five to six
inches. Increase the resistance of the trainer and
select gears that put you in the 50-60 rpm range
while working hard. Stay seated on this “hill” for
about two minutes. Work up to about lactate
threshold effort (start of heavy breathing).
Concentrate on position on the bike and smooth
pedaling. Recover for three to five minutes after
each climb. Get in six to 30 minutes of climbing
within a workout. Do not do this workout if it
causes knee discomfort.
intervals. Complete three to five intervals
that are each four to six minutes long. Intensity is
about lactate threshold. Cadence is what you would
use for a race. Recover for one to two minutes after
each work interval. Get in a total of 12 to 20
minutes of work intervals (for example, 3 x 4
minutes). Stay relaxed, aerodynamic, and closely
monitor your breathing.
Hill cruise intervals. This is the same as
cruise intervals except done with the front wheel
raised and greater resistance on the trainer.
Do three to five intervals of three to four minutes
duration each. The cadence is high—higher than what
is typical for the hardest portions of a multisport
race. Intensity of each interval is above lactate
threshold. Recover by spinning easily for the same
duration as the preceding work interval.
intervals. These are done the same as the
above intervals except the they are 1-, 2-, 3-, 3-,
2-, 1-minutes long. The recovery after each is equal
in duration to the preceding interval. Recover by
Do three to five sets of five jumps each for a total
of 15 to 25 jumps. Concentrate on producing
explosive power from the very first pedal stroke.
Each jump is 10 to 12 revolutions of the cranks
(each leg) while standing on the pedals. Cadence is
very high. Recover by spinning easily for at least
one minute between jumps and five minutes between
sets. Maintain good form on each jump.