How To: Choose, Set Up and Use a Turbo Trainer (Video)


Polar vortex put an end to your outdoor training? Then it may be time to spend some time training indoors. Indeed, it’s often a necessary evil this time of year. But indoor trainer time doesn’t have to be a mind-numbing, soul-crushing experience. Instead riding the trainer can actually be a great way to get some serious on-bike work done in a relatively short amount of time. And hey, you can catch up on your favorite reality TV shows. Duck Dynasty, anyone?

To help make your time on a trainer the best it can be, pulled together a pair of videos from the Global Cycling Network outlining how to chose the best trainer for you and your needs, and then coach you through initial set-up.

Pro racer Tom Zirbel uses his time on the trainer to perfect his top-flight time trialing skills.

Finally we called on pro cyclist Tom Zirbel. The Optum Pro Cycling Team rider is one of the best time trialists on the U.S. racing circuit, and in his down time he’s even taught a few indoor cycling classes in his hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Here are some of Zirbel’s top tips for training indoors.

Basic Set-Up:
 Everybody is different when it comes to listening to music or watching TV, but one thing you need to have is a fan. You generate a lot of heat and if you get too hot your performance will go down. So make sure your set-up includes a fan.

Change Your Shorts:
 This is a little personal, but Zirbel changes his shorts after about an hour because no one likes swamp ass. Just being able to get off bike and change clothes makes him feel better and allows him to push on for another hour or so.

Take Care Of Busy Work: 
One of the good things about indoor workouts is it’s a great place to do the little busy work that often doesn’t get done out on the road. Zirbel does pedaling drills, one leg, high cadence, low cadence, little things that are annoying outside when you just want to ride your bike. Pedaling and efficiency drills are actually really important. If you are doing one foot for example, just really focus on pedaling circles. Usually he can make it 2-3 minutes, but even one minute is good. You realize very quickly how uneven your stroke is and how weak that hamstring is when pulling up on pedal because we tend to just push down. It’s a good way to bring to light your weaknesses.

Ramp Up Your Cadence:
 High cadence is also a good drill to work on. For example do 5 minutes at 120rpm. This will get you out of your comfort zone, because outside you likely have your sweet spot of 85 or 90 rpm, and you probably don’t vary much. So drills like this force you out of that comfort zone to work on different things to hopefully improve your pedal stroke.

Don’t Go Too Long:
 Generally Zirbel tries to avoid those long, 3-hour indoor sessions. He’s found that they are just bad for the head. Instead he tries to condense workouts, doing 75-90 minutes and go a little harder than he would have outdoors. It’s important take a long term approach to the sport, and know that if you miss a day or two of long rides, it’s not end of the world. It’s important to keep things sustainable.

Use A Power Meter: 
If you have access to a power meter, use it. Having power is key for indoor workouts. It’s an absolute gauge of the quality of your workout, and it gives you something to focus on and work off during your workout. Heart rate is an okay second choice, but you will find that heart rate varies a lot with cadence so power is much better for indoor riding.

Try This Workout:
 One of Zirbel’s favorite basic workouts is one where he plays with cadence. Do a tempo workout that starts in the 53×11 for 5 minutes, then shift to the 53×12 and do five minutes at the same power, and just keep shifting up every 5 minutes, always trying to maintain the same power output. This way you are getting a wide range of torques at essentially the same power. It’s a good way to mix it up and it’s easy to do.

Take A Class: Another great way to make training indoors more tolerable is to take a class. It can be really motivating to be around other people, and a good instructor will be able to provide structure and help you set and work toward achieving goals.

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the / staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.

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