From building and increasing endurance to helping to deal with bursts of effort required when racing, here professional cycling coach Ric Stern of RST Sport offers five different 60-minutes turbo trainer workouts sessions for your needs.
It’s that time of the year again, the clocks have gone back, the leaves have fallen, dampness is in the air, the nights are drawing in, and it’s time to drag out the turbo trainer again. I know you may hate it, and frankly, there are lots of times I do too! However, you’ve worked hard over the summer, or perhaps you’re just starting your cycling journey, and you either don’t want to lose your hard-earned gains, or you want to push on and start next season in better shape. Trust me, the turbo is your friend.
But, what sessions can you do on the turbo, and how will you get on and use it? Unlike riding the road where it’s quite possible to just get on the bike and start riding without a plan, getting on the turbo is somewhat different. Frankly, it’s not as exciting and therefore it’s much better to start a turbo session with a pre-planned training session.
People seem to be able to cope with the turbo for different lengths of time, my record is three hours and forty-five minutes, while, on the other hand, I work with riders who struggle mentally to get through forty-five minutes.
If you don’t have a so-called ‘smart’ turbo trainer, I’d recommend listening to plenty of (loud) music to help make things more exciting. Or, a TV/laptop/tablet to watch reruns of the Tour de France or whatever your favourite race is. You’ll also need a towel to cover your bike, at least one drinks bottle, an electric fan (or more than one) – you’ll end up sweating buckets on the turbo – and a stopwatch/handlebar computer/smart phone in order to know when the sessions start and stop.
So here, are five, 60-minutes turbo session, designed to help you with your training and targeting different areas of your fitness:
Session 1 – Moderately Intensive Endurance Training
Building endurance, and fatigue resistance should form a core of most people’s endurance training. At RST Sport, we call it ‘MIET’ (Moderately Intensive Endurance Training) and this should be up to 60-minutes of riding in zone 3 (see image below for zones based on power output). You should be able to talk during this session, but not in complete sentences. It’s a moderate effort around your ‘talking threshold’ (if you don’t have a power meter or heart rate monitor) or about 30 to 40 b/min below maximum heart rate. I’d suggest starting with 20-mins of it within a steady ride, and building up to 60-mins (or longer). I generally do a 45-min effort, followed by a minute or two easy and then another 15-mins or longer. Cadence should be about 85 to 95 revs/min and I like to practice eating/drinking while riding at this tempo effort. It’s great for building fitness, and helping with weight (fat) loss, especially if you do this session several times per week.
Session 2 – Power Bursts
By altering session one, we can change this from a basic session to one which will help riders who need to deal with bursts of efforts such as in road racing, criteriums, or MTBing. This changes it from moderate to painful (sorry!), by making a few small changes. Every 5th minute you ride hard at zone 7 for 30-secs, immediately followed by 30-secs really easy (recovery zone) and then straight back to the MIET effort at zone 3. Aim to last for 20-mins to start with, and as you get fitter and more used to the session, add on 5-minutes until you can ride for 60-minutes. If you get past 60-minutes, make the 30-secs efforts harder. This session will help improve many facets of your riding. Cadence during the zone 7 effort should generally be >100 revs/min, while in the recovery phase can be anything.
Session 3 – Increase your Functional Threshold Power
To increase your endurance, you need to ride long, right? Well, yes you do, but there are other ways to do this as well. That’s because your endurance is ‘governed’ by riding at a low to moderate percentages of what you can maximally sustain for about one hour. By increasing what is known as your FTP (Functional Threshold Power, approximately, your one hour max power) more lower intensity work can be done by burning (expending) your body’s fat supply rather than the very limited carbohydrate supply (glycogen). This extends your endurance. In this session you should look at 2 to 3 efforts of 12 to 15-minutes at just below your FTP (around zone 4) with a few minutes easy riding between efforts. It’s a bit of a teeth gnashing exercise, especially if you don’t time trial (TT) or don’t like TTing, but with practice and done regularly this can be built up. Aim to keep your cadence around 85 to 95 revs/min.
Session 4 – Short but Intense
You really hate the turbo and you’re only getting on it because it’s absolutely pouring down, the wind is blowing a gale and you need to work on your fitness. This is a series of short(ish) intervals that most people can mentally cope with (even if physically it will still start to hurt – in terms of VO2 max and MAP). After warming up, you want to aim to complete 3 x 5-minutes at about zone 5, or if you TT just above your 10-mile TT power. Again, some teeth grinding tends to occur with these efforts (please don’t break your teeth!). Take 5-mins easy between efforts. Once you can ‘comfortably’ manage 3 of these ‘fun’ intervals, you could add a fourth or fifth. Keep cadence above 95 revs/min for most people.
Session 5 – Bike Rollers
OK, this isn’t actually a turbo session. But what if you fancy getting a set of rollers, or you have some lurking at the back of the garage. Get on them and practice riding with them. (If you’ve never tried or managed to ride them, check out our advice here.)
In a moderate to large gear depending on fitness you should practice riding at a variety of cadences from 90 revs/min to 130 revs/min while maintaining a zone 2 type effort. Being able to ride the rollers is both challenging and rewarding. It’s definitely nerve wracking at first, but once you master it, it’ll improve your bike handling skills and even keep you safe by being able to ride in small spaces and with enhanced balance — which can also be useful when in a large peloton. You can intersperse sprints into the roller sessions. You’ll learn to keep smooth and not bounce around too much. Because you have to concentrate while riding, a lot of riders also find it less boring compared to the turbo.
If you have a favourite monster turbo or bike roller session or any other advice you’d like to share, please comment below. Happy (indoor) training!