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Turbo training for a fast and focussed fitness boost

Fed up of mixing it with the traffic to get your dose of fitness-focussed riding intensity? Don't worry, we know how you feel. Fortunately, there is an alternative: indoor cycling.

Don't skip past this article if your motivation for riding is purely for fun. If you're fitter, hills are less arduous, and you have a wider range of options of who you ride with and how far. Riding for fitness requires focus and at least some intensity, and that's best done away from traffic hazards. Along with the rise of connected training apps like TrainerRoad and Zwift, that's why retailers report they're selling indoor trainers year-round and not just in the traditional run up to winter.

If you’re riding for fitness or training for racing or a summer sportive, then indoor training offers numerous benefits. 

1. It’s time efficient

Indoor training can be more time efficient if you don't have the luxury of 25 hours a week to ride your bike. If you only have an hour, say, you can get more out of that time on an indoor trainer as you don't waste any time umming and ahhing about what to wear. You can simply jump straight on the trainer and spend more time actually pedalling, minimising the wasted time either side of a bike ride, ideal if you're a time-crunched cyclist. Even a quick ride after work at this time of year requires a careful planning to ensure you maximise time on the bike. Indoor cycling is also a realistic option for people that have children, and you can't just leave them and cycling 20 miles down the road - you can set up the indoor trainer in the next room and still keep an eye on the kids. 

Kickr Snap TV (Wahoo Fitness).jpg

2. It’s safer

There's a certain grim satisfaction to riding when it's cold, dark and wet; some of our most enjoyable rides have finished in the dark with a face covered with mud. Sometimes though, it can be the safe and sensible choice to hit the indoor trainer rather than brave the elements, especially if there's a storm outside or the roads are covered in snow and ice when the risk factor increases massively - and I write this as someone who has crashed on ice on several occasions, I know much it can hurt. If you don't fancy riding along unlit dark country lanes then riding on an indoor cycle trainer can certainly feel the safer option.

3. It's better quality

Controlled and targeted training is one of the big benefits of indoor training. There are no junk miles. An indoor trainer makes it easier to be very specific about your training compared to riding outside, allowing you to spend more time in key heart rate or power zones, with no time lost to stopping at junctions or freewheeling down the hills. It’s also possible to replicate any sort of road, flat or steep, on an indoor trainer, including roads that you might not have the luxury of living near to. There are all sorts of turbo trainer training sessions you can follow to work on specific areas of your fitness, whether you're training for a season of crit races or ultra distance events.

elite drivo trainer 1.jpg

4. It’s faster

Do you feel slower cycling in the winter? You’re not alone. The colder it gets, the more effort it takes. Cold air is denser and it takes more effort to push yourself through it. Cold muscles won’t help, either. Lower temperatures, rain and windchill can mean your leg muscles aren’t operating at ideal temperatures. That’s why winter rides can be tough, especially if you try and ride familiar roads and climbs at speeds you know you’re capable off during the winter. You’re also likely to be wearing more or thicker layers and that restriction and increase in your frontal surface area can play a part in your decreased speed compared to riding in lightweight jerseys and shorts in the summer. 

5. Get smart

The latest smart trainers with integrated power meters can take your training to the next level, with detailed and targeted workouts that can be incorporated into a structured training plan. They can be controlled from a smartphone, tablet or computer and allow you to easily change the training zones, helping you to get the most out of your training time.

- Buyer's guide to smart trainers + seven of the best

You can get the most out of a smart trainer with an app like Zwift or TrainerRoad. The hugely popular Zwift has gone a long way to transforming indoor training for many cyclists by providing a realistic environment and other real-world cyclists to ride and race against. It provides an experience that is as close to riding outdoors as it’s possible to get without leaving the comfort of your living room. New courses and features are being added all the time; the workouts is a good addition that provides all the structured training you could wish for. Another popular option is TrainerRoad, which offers a larger suite of workouts and live performance data.

- How to get started on Zwift

 6. It’s fun

Yes, really. Indoor training can be a lot of fun, and more appealing than grinding out miserable miles by yourself in the freezing cold, dark and rain. You can chant rule five to yourself all you want, but if there’s no-one to hear you, does it really work? On an indoor trainer, you can do all sorts of interesting things like cadence drills, one legged drills, hill reps, speed intervals and other workouts that can really enhance your cycling fitness, and critically help time fly by. You can inject more engagement with something like Sufferfest, which overlays ride prompts over actual race footage, you’ll be acting out your wannabe pro dreams in no time.

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

24 comments

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CXR94Di2 [2659 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

I love indoor training.  Currently using TrainerRoad and Bkool

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MNgraveur [108 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

#7 : It's a good way to listen to all that music your wife won't let you play in the house (and an excuse to buy good earphones..)

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Yorkshire wallet [2428 posts] 2 years ago
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CXR94Di2 wrote:

I love indoor training.  Currently using TrainerRoad and Bkool

How does the Bkool power reading seem to you? I'm sure mine is under-reading as even when you use the figures from bike power calculation site the figures seem well off. The problem seems to lessen once it starts applying resistance from about 2% gradients onwards. The real problem is when there's no gradient, I can literally be spinning out in top gear just get 200w out of it. I guess it just doesn't increase resistance as speed increase like the real world. I'm not too bothered as I'm mainly using it as a hill climb simulator. 

I've gone from Zwift to Bkool software as at least it has that ERG mode where you can make the trainer hold set resistance and power unlike Zwift where I'd get murdered on downhill sections and the flats because I just could generatte power. 

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Simontuck [206 posts] 2 years ago
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You had me sold at the title. Supplemented by the odd ride outside when its nice to get some Vitamin D

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CXR94Di2 [2659 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I use 2 trainers at the moment. A kickr and Bkool pro. The kickr is superior and I use it on trainer road. I have used the Kickr on Bkool and is speed disadvantaged by 2mph, so not competitive for racing against Bkool pro riders. The Bkool over reads by 20-40 Watts but the latest updates have improved that a little. Resistance above 8% is the same for me on a Bkool pro, but the kickr just keeps getting harder to pedal.

You have a problem if you can only develop 200Watts in top gear on the flat with high cadence. I can generate 400-500 Watts from 50x11 gearing at 100rpm

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Yorkshire wallet [2428 posts] 2 years ago
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CXR94Di2 wrote:

I use 2 trainers at the moment. A kickr and Bkool pro. The kickr is superior and I use it on trainer road. I have used the Kickr on Bkool and is speed disadvantaged by 2mph, so not competitive for racing against Bkool pro riders. The Bkool over reads by 20-40 Watts but the latest updates have improved that a little. Resistance above 8% is the same for me on a Bkool pro, but the kickr just keeps getting harder to pedal. You have a problem if you can only develop 200Watts in top gear on the flat with high cadence. I can generate 400-500 Watts from 50x11 gearing at 100rpm

Cheers for the comparison, something does seem off as I can spin it out when it's supposed to be on flat. I'm getting nowhere near 400-500w readings. I bought it as ex-demo from Evans. I see what they say, "bugger off" probably.

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TotalLoss [6 posts] 2 years ago
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Yorkshire wallet wrote:
CXR94Di2 wrote:

I love indoor training.  Currently using TrainerRoad and Bkool

I've gone from Zwift to Bkool software as at least it has that ERG mode where you can make the trainer hold set resistance and power unlike Zwift where I'd get murdered on downhill sections and the flats because I just could generatte power. 

Zwift now supports ERG mode on a Bkool Pro if you setup your own training plan and tick the use ERG mode box. I now use Zwift for structured training as I've found it easier to set up my own plans and Bkool to visit the climbs and places that I'm unlikely to be able to get to cycle in yes .

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Tim Print [40 posts] 2 years ago
6 likes

Clickbait title but here's the other arguement anyway.

I sit in front of a screen in an office all day. I don't want to do that when I'm not working. Cycling gets me away from screens.

I agree it's a time efficient way to get fitter and faster if that is your only goal. But cycling outdoors gives you so much more than fitter and faster. Being outside in the countryside through the changing seasons with cycling friends provides huge benefits to general health and well being. Plus if you do it right you can still get faster.

 

Also. Point 4. It's faster (the text seems to mean it feels faster). You're not frickin' moving!

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dmack [41 posts] 2 years ago
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I have a Bkool Pro as well.  Really useful at the weekend or the evening when I can't get out of the house but want to top up my rides.  I love the 3D and Video rides.  Helps keep me in the grove.  (Even managed to scare myself with a near miss from a car on one of the rides - so I guess I was immersed!) 

Definitely seen an improvement from using it.

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Team EPO [215 posts] 2 years ago
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I have dabbled with Zwift which I enjoy and the races / group rides  are good fun if you find the right ones but some people do take it far too seriously.

 

Best review of all the trainers is the main man DC Rainmaker.  

https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2016/10/annual-winter-2016-2017-bike-smart-t...

 

I went for TACX £300 job and it works well but the incline is limited compared to some of the other more expensive ones but I saved the cash and just drop into a harder gear if feeling the need to work harder.

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rix [265 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

I love riding my trainer and can't wait to get back my VERY expensive NEO from repairs  2 Tacx is very good... but only when it works.

What I soon found out is that it is very easy to find an excuse not to ride my bike... weather, traffic, etc.

It is very difficult to find excuse not to ride trainer. It takes just 5 min to put your bibs on, boot up PC, get your drink, switch on fan and you are away.

For me 1h on trainer is as effective workout as 2h on road. To get out of the city on to a nice stretch of road takes about 30min, there I can start doing my 1h of intervals,  and then 30min back.

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wknight [66 posts] 2 years ago
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I have the opposite problem with Bkool, the trainer is under reading by 100% the Bkool team have even connected to my trainer and dont understand what the problem is. I have explained that their algorithm is designed for people who can generate High wattage, my average is only just over 100 and maybe 200 going up hills, is Bkool Ian telling me I am doing 50w absolute ride rubbish. My main bike has garmin vector pedals so I know my wattage and how it feels.  I have moved to a tacx trainer and that is much better 

Before there are any sarcastic comments about my low wattage I am recovering from an illness and using cycling to regain my fitness. 

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madcarew [1002 posts] 2 years ago
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I understand why people use them, I understand they can be time efficient; I understand they're a very controllable method of training, but on the whole I'd rather stuff angry wasps up my ass than train on a turbo trainer.

Just sayin'!

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froze [113 posts] 2 years ago
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I HATE indoor training but it's a necessary evil especially where I live where the weather isn't good for riding 5 to 6 months out of the year.

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mattydubster [91 posts] 2 years ago
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For me, the whole point of cycling is to get outdoors, regardless of the weather.

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CXR94Di2 [2659 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes

I absolutely love indoor training, I've migrated to Zwift for my fun riding and racing. I have a dedicated PC, 32" monitor, a huge fan. I use trainer road for specific training and Zwift to try out my performance. I've just got a Wahoo Elemnt which will allow my to load other rides from strava and let it interface with my Kickr. I used indoor training specific to experience the time and effort it take to climb Mt. Teide. When I road up the real thing I didn't feel as intimidated and really enjoyed the climb. I'll be using specific routes for Ventoux this month for my real attempt in autumn.

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davel [2722 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
CXR94Di2 wrote:

I absolutely love indoor training, I've migrated to Zwift for my fun riding and racing. I have a dedicated PC, 32" monitor, a huge fan. I use trainer road for specific training and Zwift to try out my performance. I've just got a Wahoo Elemnt which will allow my to load other rides from strava and let it interface with my Kickr. I used indoor training specific to experience the time and effort it take to climb Mt. Teide. When I road up the real thing I didn't feel as intimidated and really enjoyed the climb. I'll be using specific routes for Ventoux this month for my real attempt in autumn.

What's the best simulator for virtual rides (eg. Teide, Ventoux)? What software do you use that lets you choose them on demand (say, 'right, Sunday I'm doing a virtual Ventoux' ).

I have a Kickr and have based all my indoor training around TrainerRoad and some sufferfest vids, but would like to mix it up a bit, and having a virtual go on some climbs I haven't done would do that...

(haven't tried zwift/bkool yet, partly out of a slight concern that I'd get carried away with the competitive aspects and all the discipline that I have with my TR plans would go out the garage door)

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Thump [15 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

What's the best simulator for virtual rides (eg. Teide, Ventoux)? What software do you use that lets you choose them on demand (say, 'right, Sunday I'm doing a virtual Ventoux' ). 

 

Take a look at CycleOps VirtualTrainer - great fun. I used it through the winter with my Kickr.

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davel [2722 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Thump wrote:

What's the best simulator for virtual rides (eg. Teide, Ventoux)? What software do you use that lets you choose them on demand (say, 'right, Sunday I'm doing a virtual Ventoux' ). 

 

Take a look at CycleOps VirtualTrainer - great fun. I used it through the winter with my Kickr.

Thanks for that: looks exactly what I'm after.

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CXR94Di2 [2659 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

BigRingVR has become quite popular if you want to ride the famous climbs from around the world.  It has HD quality video of the route recorded by a vehicle at cycling speeds, so no wobbly video.  You can also upload your own video/gpx,Fit files to rerun your rides

Ive moved away from Bkool, and now use Zwift for racing, leisure riding.  I combine TrainerRoad and Zwift for multi hour training sessions-I have the structured TR workout in ERG mode and the visual of riding with others to pass the time on Zwift.  Its dead easy to setup.

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jaysa [126 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes
davel wrote:

... What's the best simulator for virtual rides (eg. Teide, Ventoux)? What software do you use that lets you choose them on demand (say, 'right, Sunday I'm doing a virtual Ventoux' ).  ...

If you're into climbing, try https://veloreality.com/

Lovely actual footage of climbs and some other routes in Full HD and 4K, syncs to the speed of your smart trainer, and adjusts the trainer resistance to reflect the gradient. Videoas are downloaded so don't stutter due to slow broadband.

If you don't have the fitness for Ventoux / Mortirolo / Gavia etc, you can limit the gradient.

Turn the fans and the music up, and turn down the lights - and enjoy; I find it ace  1

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brianlescargot [15 posts] 9 months ago
3 likes

I used to hate turbo with a passion but after some changes and perseverence I now in a strange sort of way actually enjoy it. But, for me there are certain key elements to make it that way:-

1. Environment - Make it as pleasant as possible. Personally I couldn't and wouldn't train in the garage. I ride in a garden room with loads of windows (that I can open!) and in front of a large screen tv. So see how far you can push or persuade your other half and don't be stuck in a dungeon somewehere  3

2. Get a Direct Drive trainer - I have done both and the difference between using direct drive and one that uses the rear wheel is night and day! It is quieter, more responsive, doesn't slip and is more road like in it's feel. Better still if you can afford a controllable interactive trainer.

3. Get online and use a training platform. There are plenty out there and they offer trial periods to let you try them out before committing. Personally I use Zwift as do a whole host of pro riders.

4. Get some decent sound and a punchy playlist - louder the better.

5. Don't forget the industrial fan and the large towels. If you are doing it right you will need them.

6. Embrace it. Do it with the right attitude and set your self a training target or long term goal.

7. Last but not least DO get out on the road whenever you can to keep the variety and avoid being drawn into a monotonous training plan. It is good to get the fresh air but more often than not depending on where you stay it is just pretty dam unpleasant or unsafe to venture out. If you are addicted to your daily cycling hit then the turbo is your saviour!

I have set P.B.'s in all of my TT distances in the last few of years despite being well into my 50's and it's all thanks to my now newly found enthusiasm for the turbo trainer. No longer do I come out of the winter trying to find my fitness in April and May, they are now my fittest months of the year. In fact, even during the summer I now have to occasionaly do the odd intense turbo session as I find road riding, particularly solo training, tends to let my levels drop.

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MNgraveur [108 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

FulGaz is an excellent virtual ride app. Tons of videos of great rides on several continents, adjusts resistance of trainer to gradient, works brilliantly on an Ipad or Apple TV. I did Ventoux the other day- I suspect it was easier than the real thing, but it was no walk in the park.

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steve67 [4 posts] 8 months ago
0 likes

Having had surgey  on my foot i've been off my bike since september, i now plan to use indoor training to set me up for spring, i'm only a sportive rider but a 12 week traning plan on swift is going to help me... i can ride as far as i feel comfortable and stop if in pain, if i was out on the road and found myself miles away in discomfort.... the only problem is i'm starting to justfy to my self that i need to spend £££ on a smart trainer... seeing the neo has dropped to £850   LOL