As winter ramps up, now is maybe the time to invest in a turbo if you don't already have one - it's one of the most effective ways to get fit on the bike fast.
>> See my blog on what to think about if you're considering buying a turbo.
>> If you're new to turbo training then consider my Light Touch turbo plan for structured training focussed on your goals and level of fitness
>> And here's how to set up training zones etc
Whilst I’m a massive fan of riding outdoors - it’s invaluable for developing skills and bike handling, as well as the mental health benefits and sheer joy of riding outside – in most cases the turbo is far more effective and time efficient at building up fitness.
- You can be onto the turbo and working hard within a few minutes, whereas a bike usually involves an element of faff finding all your gear, getting the bike ready to ride, and for most people, getting past the traffic to somewhere you can train effectively.
- When training effectively you’re pushing your body hard enough (but not too hard!) that it's forced to adapt to the challenge of the training session so that it’s more able to deal with that demand the next time. And so you want to be specific about what you’re asking your body to adapt to (which energy systems you’re using) and, over time, increase the amount of time you’re spending in that zone (so that you’re always asking your body to do a little more than the time before). On the turbo you can do structured intervals where you to hold a specified power for a certain amount of time, rest, repeat, building up the time you can hold at that intensity for increasing amounts of time, whereas (for most people in the UK at least) it’s very difficult to hold constant power, given the constantly changing terrain, wind and traffic, plus the fact it’s a lot harder to follow a structured workout when you’re busy looking at the road.
- Many people have more access to data when training indoors, and this allows you to get used to what a certain effort should feel like, or for example check what your heart rate is at a certain power (if you don’t have access to power outdoors) to then apply to racing or outdoor riding.
- You can really hold yourself to account - especially if training with power you know what power you need to hold for that interval and you fight to hold it (or on an easy session, to not get tempted to go to hard), its great for building the mental toughness to complete the session on target
- It’s a great equalizer – on an outdoor ride people worry about getting dropped, having an accident and mechanicals. On a turbo there’s far less barriers to entry and because a set is based on your level of fitness, Bradley Wiggins and my gran could both be doing the same session, and if I say work at 9/10 level of effort, whilst they’ll be putting out very different power, they’re both working as hard as each other, relative to their level of fitness.
- You don't need to worry about the weather!
And answering some of the arguments against a turbo
But I prefer riding outside - fine but how often do you actually ride outside? If your goals are just about enjoying riding the bike then 100% stick to what you love. But if you have performance based goals then how often are you actually riding outside during the winter/ in the week when work gets busy? And how long for? You need to do a pretty long outdoor ride to get the same training benefit that you can achieve with structured intervals inside. I'd definitely encourage you to keep some outdoor riding through the winter, e.g. commit to twice a month, otherwise it gets really hard to restart, but its icy, it's just not worth the risk.
But I'm doing structured intervals outside - brilliant if you can do that, but in my experience, at least for UK clients, the roads are too busy and full of potholes and traffic lights to really commit to holding sustained intervals.
I can't afford it - definitely don't spent money you can't afford. But if it's a choice between new wheels, travelling abroad for a race etc then I'd go turbo every time. Plus if you around ask you'll probably be able to get a dumb trainer for free (and can train by heart rate or use estimated power through an app such as Zwift). Then if you can afford a power meter (Stages or 4iii or Favero all do decent fairly cheap options) fit that to your bike, it's invaluable for racing longer distances (see this great Joe Friel article) and then you can do power based training on your turbo, as well as use the power meter outside, far more useful than a much more expensive Smart turbo in my opinion. More on these options here.
But it's boring - yep, it definitely is if you just sit there an pedal, but if you are following a structured training plan then it might hurt, but its certainly not boring. And you can add watch films, listen to music or podcasts etc to pass the time, as well as add in focus drills to work on technique.
But it wont build skills - Nothing builds skills like being out on the road, but if you can't (or dont want to) ride outside in winter then at least build your fitness, and work on skills like cadence, holding an aero position etc, to reap the rewards when you get back outside.
If you're interested in getting started on turbo training, or taking it up to the next level, my Light Touch turbo plan includes structured training focussed on your goals and level of fitness, as well as monthly coaching calls to discuss things such as bike set up, nutrition, skills to improve your cycling, how to adapt your training based around your menstrual cycle, psychological skills to get the most out of your training, as well strength and conditioning options.