10 Things You Should Know About Turbo Training

The onset of winter cycling, combined with the current pandemic is boosting indoor cycling via turbo trainers. Whether you’ve invested or still thinking about it here are 10 things you should know about turbo training:

It can be a bit more uncomfortable/ require more effort than cycling on the road: Turbo training is great for emulating road cycling, but you’ll find you pay more visits to the pain cave, both in terms of effort and saddle related discomfort. On the road you vary your position and speed more than on the turbo, whether that is stopping at a junction, slowing down for an obstruction, cruising down a hill or coming out of the saddle on a climb. On the turbo it is easier to go at a constant pace and as a result we tend to find ourselves fixed in one position, this can make it a little more uncomfortable for our body (especially our seat/sit bones) but also can result in greater power output (and higher heart rate) on the turbo than on a real road. For example, when climbing on the road you would most likely do some cruising on the descent to give your legs a little time to recover, whereas on the turbo you would still be pedalling after the climb. How many real life situations have you pedalled continuously for an hour without doing any cruising or stopping to navigate other road users. Furthermore, indoor cycling or even using the turbo outside doesn’t create the cooling headwind you experience on the open road. This means you heat up quicker and your heart rate can spike more. The subsequent puddle of sweat on the floor after a tough session is an indicator of just how challenging turbo training can be. 

There’s more to Zwift than just pedalling: Zwift is fantastic for winter training. You can connect your turbo trainer and pedal to your heart’s content around a range of simulated locations including London, Yorkshire and New York, or head over to Watopia and whizz round  a more virtual world. But Zwift also offers a wider functionality, including specific sessions (FTP, workouts and training plans) and Zwift companion where you can join friends and cruise around as a virtual group ride. An FTP test is also a great way to monitor your progress whilst using the turbo trainer. No excuses to be bored on the turbo trainer now! 

You still need to pump your tyres up: Many people opt for wheel on trainers and specific tyres for turbo training, these can withstand the high temperatures generated by friction when using the turbo and therefore wear much more slowly and don’t need as much maintenance. You can also use an old tyre on the turbo to save additional cost, but either way these will still deflate on the turbo trainer and it is possible to puncture without even leaving your home! Periodically check the air in the tyres on your turbo and pump them up if they feel soft- especially if you are thinking of doing an FTP test. Check the front too as I’ve found a softer tyre can make me feel unbalanced. 

There are loads of different types of turbo trainer some you don’t even need to plug in: From wheel on magnetic and smart trainers, to direct drive- there are so many varieties of turbo trainers and the language around these can get really confusing. Ideally I would recommend a smart trainer. These can be a little more expensive than a magnetic trainer but interact with third party programmes such as Zwift to automatically change your resistance. This is useful if you are planning to use the Zwift workouts. My first trainer was a magnetic trainer and it was fab for getting used to turbo training (it was MUCH cheaper than a smart trainer so was ideal to ease myself in before making a larger financial commitment) but changing the resistance was tricky and difficult to reconcile with zwift. However, didn’t require a plug which meant it I had a lot of flexibility with regards to where I could use the trainer- including out on my balcony! We’ve since upgraded to a direct drive and that has been a whole new adventure! When looking for your first turbo, shop around, try to get your head around come of the jargon and assess all your options. If you were to ask my opinion, I’d recommend a wheel on smart trainer.

You still need to fuel your ride even if you’re going nowhere: Just because you might not be leaving your bedroom/garage/conservatory doesn’t mean you don’t need to fuel. As mentioned above, turbo training can be harder than cycling on the road, and often hotter and sweatier as you’re most likely indoors so make sure you’re still fuelling and staying hydrated. Turbo training is a great chance to practice your fuelling as you can always go raid the cupboards if you need to! 

The same for padded shorts they’re still a must: Yes you’ll certainly be grateful for your padded shorts as sitting in one position endlessly pedalling can get pretty uncomfortable. I find bib shorts and a sports bra is a comfy combination for turbo workouts, but there is no hard and fast rule about what you should or shouldn’t wear. Being in the comfort of your own home also gives you a chance to test out a variety of kit to find what you want to use for longer rides on the road. Check out my top picks for ladies cycling shorts here.

Zwift is compatible with lots of trainers you don’t necessarily need a smart one: a non-smart turbo trainer can be converted for Zwift or other training apps much easier than you think. If you’re using a training app on an iPad all you’ll need is a speed sensor (approximately £35 on wiggle) which you connect to the rear hub in the centre of your rear wheel. If you’re connecting a laptop you’ll need a speed sensor and an ANT+ USB- again can be purchased from Wiggle. A lot of websites recommend cadence sensors for use with non-smart trainers but I haven’t found this was something I needed. If using a training app you’ll need to keep an eye on the gradients and adjust these yourself. If you don’t wish to use Zwift or similar, but do have a Garmin speed sensor- you can connect this to you Garmin Watch or app and record the ‘distance’ you’ve cycled that way.

You’ll suddenly realise how hot or poorly ventilated your home is! You’ll find you heat up very quickly when indoor cycling. If you have a dedicated turbo room then make sure you keep the heating in here off prior to your session. Make use of windows and doors and get them opened, or look into purchasing a fan to help keep you cool. Also make sure you stay hyrdrated.

You can still ride with your cycling group: Turbo training doesn’t have to be a lonely experience. Through Zwift Companion you can set up group rides and tackle the virtual roads with friends. It is a great way to motivate yourself and enjoy some team fun.

You might need various tools and adaptors to set up your turbo: for wheel on turbos I found that I simply needed a multitool and some tyre levers for changing my back tyre. But when we upgraded to a direct drive (the ones with the wheel off) I needed to up the tool kit I had including extra levers of certain sizes, a chain whip and an adaptor. I’d recommend checking everything you need before you start otherwise you’ll end up with a lengthy set up process whilst you wait for tools to arrive.

It’s great for just getting the miles in but nothing beats the open road! Turbo training is definitely safer during winter, especially during cold, icy days and dark evenings. Its a great way to push your bike fitness, but nothing quite beats that feeling of the open road!

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