Training & Nutrition

Indoor Training for Cyclists: Turbo Training, Rollers and Exercise Bikes

Want to get some indoor training under your belt this winter? Here are some options...

As the daylight hours begin to dwindle and the rainy spells become more frequent, indoor training seems more and more tempting.

Sure – you could decide to solider on and ride through the cold and rain, and with the right kit these rides can feel pretty epic. However, if you want a short, hard mid-week workout, indoor training is often an ideal option.

Training indoors removes the inconvenience of traffic – so you can really put your head down and ride high intensity intervals which you simply couldn’t complete to your maximum effort on the road. These sorts of efforts – where you’re really pushing yourself to your limits – are perfect if you’re aiming to improve your power and speed on the bike.

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Since most indoor training methods don’t allow coasting or freewheeling, you can generally squeeze a better workout in over a shorter period of time indoors.

There are several different options when it comes to indoor training. Here’s a look at some of the most popular… 

Turbo Trainers for Indoor Training

A smart turbo like a Kickr unit will give you the best experience, but any turbo will do. Image: Léon Van Bon

Turbo trainers are probably the easiest and most convenient option. Put simply, a turbo trainer clamps on to your rear wheel, proving resistance and allowing you to pedal it out indoors.

Simplicity isn’t for everyone – and more expensive units can hook up to computers to mimic outdoor terrain, and more. These ‘smart trainers’ can run in excess of £1,000 though, whilst you can get a perfectly good ‘non-smart trainer’ for around £100. 

Generally, the more you pay for your turbo trainer, the quieter and more lifelike pedalling on it will feel. However, turbo training is never going to feel ‘just like riding on the road’. It generally feels harder because you never coast.

Most trainers fold up easily when not in use, so you can store them under the stairs, under your bed – or somewhere else convenient.

Pros of using a turbo trainer for indoor training:

  • There are loads of different styles to pick from – they can do as much or as little as you like
  • You ride on your own bike – so it’s all set up for you and there’s no need to faff around adjusting the saddle height and reach
  • You can store one easily at home, and pack it away when you’re done
  • You’re all bolted in, and you can usually adjust the resistance to go pretty high. Turbo trainers are great for tough intervals because you can go really, really hard

Cons of using a turbo trainer for indoor training:

  • Constant resistance can wear out your rear tyre. You can have a wheel set up with a ‘turbo tyre’ if  you like, but that means swapping the wheel for each ride. Some smart trainers come with a cassette that you load your bike onto (taking out the rear wheel) – but these are pretty expensive.
  • They can be a bit noisy. Put it this way: in another room, with the door shut and you’re fine, but you can’t turbo train whilst your partner watches TV and expect them not to get annoyed
  • More a tip than a con – the rear wheel will be raised up by the turbo trainer, so you need a riser block (or copy of the yellow pages) to sit under the front wheel

Rollers for Indoor Training

Rollers, like turbo trainers, are a convenient option for training on your own bike. Most fold up and are fairly easy to store (though larger than a turbo trainer). The difference is that you’re not bolted in – the rollers move underneath you, and you need to look after the balance element.

Beginners Tips: How to Ride the Rollers

Rollers are really popular with riders who get bored on the turbo trainer, and want something more lifelike. They encourage you to use smooth, fast cadence and improve your balance and even core strength.

Though there are expensive options available with variable resistance (as well as ‘channels’ to make it easier), you can get a good solid pair of rollers for £150-£200. 

Pros of using rollers for indoor training:

  • You can use your own bike, and you don’t need to faff around connecting the rear wheel
  • Riding rollers can improve your pedal stroke and balance
  • It’s not boring!
  • Rollers are great for racers looking to warm up/cool down as you just hop straight on

Cons of using rollers for indoor training:

  • Most people can’t get straight on and roll. You have to learn to ride them. But it’s not too hard, just follow our guide and start between two doorframes or next to a surface you can grab hold of!
  • Resistance isn’t so easy to adjust – some pairs have a few slight adjustments, otherwise you just use your gears (unless you’re on a track bike, in which case learn to spin!)
  • They’re not too noisy at a steady state, but can be pretty loud during intervals or efforts

Static Bikes for Indoor Training

A static bike – or exercise bike – is a great piece of kit to have at home if you’ve got space to store one, and at the gym they’re usually the only option.

There are many different styles. You’ll find bikes used for spin classes are more likely to have a fixed gear – which means the pedals and flywheel are attached, so as long as the flywheel turns, so do the pedals. This means you can’t just ‘stop’ and the workout is much smoother.

Home exercise bikes start from just over £60, but of course they can go well in excess of £1,000. A more expensive exercise bike will be quieter, smoother, more adjustable and have more options for displaying and saving data as well as better resistance fine tuning.

Pros of exercise bikes for indoor training:

  • No messing around with your own bike, set it up and go
  • Pretty much the only option in most gyms!

Cons of exercise bikes for indoor training:

  • It’s often pretty difficult to mimic the set up of your bike exactly, though some bikes are very adjustable these days
  • Take up quite a lit of room at home
  • Unlike turbo trainers, where you can get a pretty good workout on one that costs £100 (with your bike), you probably need to spend closer to £250 to get one that meets your needs

Wattbike for Indoor Cycle Training

Wattbike are a brand that make exercise bikes. However, they’re not just ‘normal’ exercise bikes – they show you a lot of data. The Wattbike’s screen shows you an image of your pedal stroke, so you can work on creating smooth circles, plus data about your power output and heart rate.

Lizzie Armitstead Explains the Benefits of Wattbike Training 

Wattbike also have their own training software, so you can download workouts to your bike, and upload your efforts afterwards.

Actually buying a Wattbike will set you back over £2000. However, gyms, performance centres and even some bike shops running training sessions have them available and a weekly session will allow you easy access to power data, so you can track your progress.

Pros of Wattbikes for indoor training: 

  •  Provides an incredible amount of data which can be used to fine-tune your training and performance
  • Software allows you to download a workout set by a coach, then upload your efforts afterwards
  • Adjustable saddle height, handlebar height, reach, and more mean you can get a comfortable fit for long sessions

Cons of Wattbike for indoor training:

  •  Very expensive! (But you can find them in gyms)

Spinning Bikes for Indoor Training

Spin classes can be pretty sociable

Spinning classes are communal  indoor cycling workout sessions. They’re usually carried out on static bikes, though the bike style (amount of data available, adjustability etc) will vary.

Spin classes vary dramatically depending upon the style of class and the instructor. Some are very focused on specific training for cycling – with intervals out the saddle designed to replicate hills or ‘power bursts’ where you’re encouraged to pretend you’re breaking away in a race (or sprinting to the town sign against your mates). This sort of session is probably ideal for someone after structured training for racing.

Other spin classes are all about thumping music, and involve lots of jiving around in the saddle and even weights. In these sessions you may find you spend a lot more time out the saddle than normal – this offers a genuinely fabulous all over body workout that you wouldn’t usually get on a bike ride and will strengthen your legs for cycling.

Pros of spin classes for indoor training 

  • Regardless of the style of class, you’ll be training in a room with lots of other people which means you absolutely cannot stop or slow down! You might find you push yourself harder than you would on your own
  • … also, it’s more sociable
  • The instructor will provide the ‘session plan’ so there’s lots of variety – fantastic for keeping up winter motivation
  • Usually pretty hard work – 30 minutes is enough – so you can squeeze a session into a lunch break

Cons of spinning for indoor training

  • You need to make sure the bike is set up for your body each time, it’s a high energy workout and you don’t want to walk away with sore knees
  • The instructor will provide the ‘session plan’ – if you’re following your own structured training plan it’s unlikely you’ll stick to it here (but you know you’ll do something ‘short and hard’ so that could be enough)
  • You need to actually get to the class
  • Unlike training on your own at home, you can’t shove a fan straight into your face to cool you down – and some studios are better air conditioned than others

Tips for Indoor Training Workouts

Want to finish with a smile? Start with a fan… Image:

Aside from spinning classes, all of the above methods are largely designed for at home use, on your own. Solo indoor training means you can plan your sessions and get a really good workout in, but it can be hard to stay motivated.

Here are a few tips:

Always have a session plan

For a session from 30 to 90 minutes, you need some sort of plan. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself listlessly pedalling and paying more attention to an episode of Eastenders than the actual cycling.

How to Track your Cycling Training and Use it to Progress

For example:

  • Warm up (10 minutes)
  • 3 x 3 minute effort with 3 minute recovery (18 minutes)
  • Warm down (10 minutes = total 38 minutes)

You can either copy one of our workouts (see 3 Great Turbo Sessions you can do in Under Thirty Minutes and 6 Pro Worthy Turbo Sessions for Winter Fitness) or check out Sufferfest or Zwift for follow-and-ride plans.

The only exception to this rule is if you’re trying to replicate a ‘long ride’ you would otherwise have done outside. Then you can just whack on a film and pedal for three hours. But really unless you’re training for a monster endurance event you’re best off keeping indoor sessions to less than 90 minutes.

Fan, water, towel

If you’re training indoors you are going to get very hot. You’re working hard, but there’s no rushing wind to cool you down.

Having a fan pointed at your face makes a huge difference. I know from scientifically collected power data (comparing my outputs when hogging the fan to myself, vs sharing it with my husband) that I produce fewer watts when overheating – and most people are the same.

You will sweat, so water and a towel on the handlebars are a must.

Get mates involved

Training indoors on your own can get a little bit boring. If you have a few friends that also want to get some good strong winter intervals under their belts, arrange to train together in someone’s garage or living room once a week.

Recovery veno and chocolate cake after, right?

Have the bike ready

Sometimes it’s so tempting to stay in bed in the morning, or slouch in front of the TV in the evening. If the bike is set up (on the turbo/next to the rollers) with your shoes next to it and your water and towel ready to go, it somehow feels easier to get on and start pedalling. So set everything up before bed or before leaving for work so you’ve got no excuse when motivation is lower!

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