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Top Tips for Turbo Training

Words by Tony

on 30/11/2016 13:56:17

Neo Flux image

You’re keen to keep your fitness up over the winter, yet the weather and lack of daylight make training on the road impractical during the week. So, how can you get the most benefit from your time on the turbo trainer, and how can you make it less boring?  Here are our top tips.


Have a Plan:  What are you trying to achieve?point-a-to-b

    1. Increase endurance

    2. Lose weight

    3. Improve your sprinting

    4. Etc...

“Fail to plan, plan to fail” is a concise way of stating the obvious, but how do you start your planning?  One way is to ask “What are the factors that are limiting my performance?”  For example, if you want to be better on hills, you need to improve your power to weight ratio.  You can tackle both parts of that equation - by increasing the power you can sustain for the duration of a typical climb and by losing weight.  If you’re going to improve your power, then you need to do training sessions that take you above your “comfort zone”.  If you just do long, slow distance, you won’t get stronger, so you’ll need to do interval sessions, which is covered in the next section.


Give each turbo session a focusNo pain - no gain

    1. High intensity interval Training (HiiT)

    2. Recovery

    3. On-the-bike strength work

    4. Etc…

Once you know your overall goals, then you determine what you want to achieve with each individual session. Continuing our example of getting better at hill climbing, research on interval training to improve your sustainable power shows 2 1/2 minute intervals at effort levels of 7.5 or 8 out of 10 work best.  In order to work at that level, you’ll need to allow 3 – 5 minutes of low intensity recovery in between the intervals.  If you warm up for 10 minutes, do 6-10 intervals with recovery in between, and cool down for 10 minutes, you’ve spent around an hour in a structured high intensity interval session.  If you can get two interval workouts in plus a low intensity skills session, such as a cadence pyramid, during the week and a longer lower intensity endurance ride on the weekend, you’ve got the start of an effective training plan.  The point is to think through what you want to achieve and then design training sessions that will help you achieve your goals.


Keep it short (40 - 70 minutes)keep it short

    1. Warm-up, Structured session, Cool-down

    2. HiiT sessions improve endurance!

Long sessions on a turbo trainer spinning easily and watching a video are a good way to get a numb bum and a bad way to gain fitness.  Keep it short and focused.  Another big benefit of high intensity interval training is an hour long session will do more to build your endurance than 2 hours of spinning at moderate intensity while watching a film. For more information on that bold assertion see  The point is you can get a lot of benefit in an hour on the turbo and keep your longer endurance sessions for the weekend when you can get outdoors and ride in varied conditions.


Change it upPrint

    1. Fitness = adaptation to training stress

    2. Change the stress = Improve fitness

    3. Keep it interesting

Change is good when it comes to developing fitness.  If you do the same workout time after time, your body will adapt to that and stop improving.  So, if you want to keep getting fitter, you have to keep challenging your body in new and better ways to continue forcing positive adaptations. As Greg LeMond famously said, “It doesn’t get easier, you just get faster.”  You don’t have to go hard every time. It may be an easy “active recovery” spin between two very hard workouts, or a skill session, such as isolated leg drills (one leg at a time to recruit more muscle fibres into your pedal stroke).  Keep mixing it up and work on different aspects of what it is needed to make you a better cyclist.


Make it a gameZwift image

    1. Zwift virtual racing

    2. Ride a famous climb

    3. Mind games (Graeme Obree’s 3 options)

It doesn’t feel like such hard work when you’re having fun, and, while you may find this hard to believe, technology has made it possible to have fun on a turbo trainer!  For example a TACX Santori (a £225 semi-smart trainer) is all you need to use Zwift, a virtual racing app that lets you race other users in realistic conditions.  You can even draft another rider using less power than them to recover before blasting by them and chasing down another competitor.  There are other apps, such as Kinomap and the TACX app, which enable you to ride up famous climbs, such as Alpe d’Huez.  And with a slightly smarter turbo trainer, such as the £360 TACX Vortex, the app will change the speed of the video and the resistance of your trainer to match the slope you are riding.  If you don’t want to bother with technology, then Graeme Obree, a two time world champion pursuit rider and former hour world record holder, used to play mind games when he was training.  He would make each session harder than the one before, and he would give himself only three options for the outcome of the workout.  He could pass out, die, or complete the session as designed.  I don’t subscribe to that method myself!


Don’t get cookedTurbo-training-with-fan

    1. Better in the garage than indoors

    2. Invest in a fan

We create our own wind when we ride outside, and that goes a long way toward dealing with the excess heat our muscles generate when they’re working hard.  Sitting on a turbo trainer doesn’t generate any wind, so you’ll cook in your own juices if you’re training in a warm room.  So, move your trainer outside if you can to benefit from the cooler temperature this time of year. If that’s not possible, then invest is a good fan to help stay a bit cooler on the turbo.