If you were asked to visualize the perfect ride, you probably wouldn’t describe squirming atop a stationary trainer, trapped indoors and fighting off trainer boredom on a winter day. The perfect ride would take place outside, perhaps under the warm spring sun and out in the fresh air. But it would also involve feeling fit and going fast, which is why many of us put up with the miserable stationary trainer in the first place.
If you’re serious about cycling but are sometimes forced indoors by bad weather or darkness, riding the trainer is a necessary compromise. And, yes, it is a compromise—training to be the best cyclist possible means cultivating skills like bike handling and preserving momentum on varied terrain, not just the strength to pedal hard in a static environment.
Even so, the trainer may have its place, both in your garage and in your training program. Here are few tips to make the most of riding one.
Remove Psychological Barriers
There’s something to be said for discipline and mental toughness, but when it comes to training indoors, our first priority is to get the workout done for fitness’ sake. We’ll shamelessly use every trick in the book to coax ourselves onto that torturous contraption.
Plan ahead so the bike and trainer are set up well before it’s time to train, which means you’ll have one less excuse to back out when it’s time to saddle up. Stock the kitchen with your favorite snacks—usually Oreos or Fig Newtons—but tell yourself that you can enjoy them only as reward for riding the trainer. Maybe even line up a series of treats to be consumed after each segment of a workout. Sure, this Pavlovian approach is pathetic, but it’s effective.
Mimic Real Riding
Some riders watch television, and a stoic few can even read books. But we've found that attention spans are inversely correlated to the intensity of exercise, and even the cheesiest action flick becomes too sophisticated well before our heart rates hit the upper limit.
One of the best sources of motivation is watching handlebar footage from races while listening to loud music. When watching a movie or reading a book, bodies want to rest. But when we see a pack of cyclists jockeying for position in front of us, even on the screen of laptop, conditioning kicks in and our legs simply want to move. Pedaling becomes easy!
Mesmerized, you can ride as if you were actually racing, sitting or standing, and accelerating or easing off the throttle, according to the action on the screen. When completing intervals of a specific duration, time each to end at the same moment the riders on the screen race across the finish line.
Cut Volume, Keep Intensity
Structure indoor workouts around advice from the coaches: Prioritize intervals over volume, and direct as much energy as possible toward turning the pedals. (The latter is achieved by training in a cool room in front of fan; if you sweat profusely, that means your body is devoting energy to cooling itself instead of pedaling.)
Most athletes’ training consists of two objectives: volume and structured work. Volume is the total amount of time a rider spends on the bike, and structured work consists of specific, shorter intervals to be completed somewhere within that timeframe. The relentless and monotonous nature of riding the trainer warrants cutting the volume and completing the intervals as quickly as possible, especially if you can ride outdoors on other days and get your volume then. For example, if a typical winter ride calls for four or five hours on the saddle with two 20-minute intervals thrown in, the corresponding trainer ride would take an hour: hop on, warm up for a few minutes, get the work done, and eat the snack that you’ve stashed in the kitchen.