Get the Most Out of Your Bike Trainer

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Here’s how to make the most out of the indoor training season and prepare for your next on-the-bike adventure.

When pedaling outside isn’t an option because of weather, available daylight or time, consider it a training opportunity. Here’s how to make the most of your trainer time—whether you’re using a bike trainer once in a while or all winter long.

Set up your bike trainer space

Stephen Balsey, account manager for Saris Cycling Group (the company that makes CycleOps trainers), suggests approaching the installation of your bike trainer like a home improvement project. “Plan out the riding space with a focus on time and efficiency for getting in rides,” he says. The first thing to think about is whether you’ll be able to leave the space as is, or if you’ll need to store your trainer between sessions. Then, think about how you’ll  entertain yourself with apps, music or television to keep motivation high. Finally, while it might seem self-evident to think about how to arrange the space around your bike, don’t forget about the space under your trainer, too. “A good mat will prevent reverberating noise and prevent sweat from soaking into the carpeting or floors,” Balsey notes.

 Make your trainer work for you

The first time you plan to ride inside, Balsey suggests budgeting 15 to 30 minutes to get everything just right. Once you’ve made sure your bike is level, hop on and pedal for a few minutes, thinking about what gear you want within arm’s reach. Do you need a towel, fan, water bottle, remote control, smartphone or other accessories? Having everything you need to stay comfortable is key to remaining focused, he says.

Set goals

A trainer can help you achieve your goals—whether you want to maintain fitness over the winter or begin next spring in top shape. Your indoor season is the beginning of your outdoor season,” Balsey says. One of the primary benefits of indoor training is that it lets you train efficiently. Since you never coast or wait for traffic on a trainer, a 45- to 60-minute indoor training session can end up being equivalent to a 90-minute outdoor ride.

Develop a plan—and stick with it

“Choose a workout to help you meet your goals and to help you beat trainer boredom,” says Chad Lane, national sales manager for Wahoo Fitness. You may already have a specific training goal in mind. If not, consider one of these suggestions from Balsey:

  • Make a mixed-tempo playlist featuring your favorite music. Warm up to a mid-tempo song, and then alternate between fast and mellow tracks.
  • Instead of riding the couch during a sporting event, ride your trainer. Save your toughest efforts for when the offense gets possession of the ball, and then recover in between plays.
  • Find streaming race footage and do what the pros are doing. Fast-forward through the race so your workout ends with a sprint to the finish as the coverage wraps up.

Already attempted a version of the above? Ross Gandy, director of channel marketing for Wahoo Fitness, suggests using a training app to help you achieve your goals. Whether you’re looking to maintain fitness, build power or sample new terrain, there’s an app to get you there:

  • If you simply want to move your weekly ride indoors, check out Zwift, a platform that lets you maintain mileage when winter weather makes outdoor riding impossible. Its courses weave through London, Innsbruck, Manhattan and beyond alongside thousands of other riders from around the world—all virtually, of course.
  • If you’re eager to build power, consider the interval workouts on platforms like TrainerRoad and The Sufferfest. These apps let you take a functional threshold power (FTP) test to establish how much power you can generate in an hour. Then, they help you structure workouts to increase strength and FTP through interval-training.
  • Refuse to feel like a hamster on a wheel while riding indoors with FulGaz, a training app that provides a first-person perspective of courses from around the world—from the Tour de France to the Australian Outback to the hill climbs of Banff, Canada.

Accessorize

Measure your performance to better understand your progress. Add accessories, like a heart rate monitor or a power meter. A heart rate monitor will let you see your progress. And a watt-meter-based training plan based is the most effective way to improve your riding. What you ate, how you slept and other factors contribute to how you feel on the bike. “A meter is the best way to measure whether you’re working hard or just breathing hard,” Lane says.

Train with friends

Your local bike shop may offer a trainer class, and bring-your-own-bike studios are a fitness trend—you’ll ride your own bike on a trainer (not a spin bike) with a coach leading a workout to condition you for riding on the road. Or, choose an app that lets you ride with other people real-time, virtually. “Ride buddies are one of the best motivations around, and even if you are on opposite sides of the planet, they will help to get you on your bike more often and train even harder,” Balsey says.

Upgrade your trainer

Trainers have come a long way from the original models of the late 1800s, when they were first introduced to allow cyclists to extend their riding season. Today, many trainers offer a smooth, quiet ride, making them an appropriate option for those who live in apartments or condos.

Lane notes that many smartphone-controlled trainers come equipped with built-in workouts and let you collect, display and analyze your personal data while you’re riding. “They also don’t let you cheat and coast like you might riding outside. Every minute is structured,” he says. Want to work on technique? Consider rollers. They’re not recommended for beginners, but they help expert riders improve their bike handling by magnifying errors you’re currently making.

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