The Dreaded Indoor Bike Trainer

How to survive a cold, harsh winter indoors while building fitness and not losing your mind

by Jared Fayer, Triathlete, Father and HoneyMaxx Ambassador

This past winter in the North East, it was virtually impossible to get the bike on the roads with all the snow, ice, and salt covering virtually every part of the streets.  As a result, I spent countless hours on the bike trainer.  As anyone who has been on a trainer for longer than 30 minutes knows, it is dreadful to sit there. Multiply that out for 4 days a week averaging an hour each time and about 2 hours on the weekends and I had to figure out how to survive six hours a week indoors.  Clearly, I needed some ways to get my mind through that.  Here are the ways I got through the winter on my trainer.

The first thing to note is that riding on a trainer is actually more effective than riding on the roads.  You are riding constantly with very little, if any, down or stop time that you get on the roads from stop lights, traffic, etc.  So you don’t need to spend countless hours on the trainer to build a good base of fitness.  I've heard several versions of the rule but it’s something like for every hour you are on the trainer, it’s equivalent to about an hour and fifteen to an hour and a half on the road.  As a result, you can really get a good base in through trainer workouts in less time.

Riding on the indoor trainer has some major benefits.  For example, you can customize your training to get the most out of it. For example, I do a lot, and I mean A LOT, of interval training when on the trainer.  I am lucky to have an amazing trainer that controls my resistance and all I have to do is plug in my workout and the trainer will communicate with my computer and I don’t have to do anything except ride.  To break up the long minutes on the trainer, intervals are amazing.  I will do 1 minute sprint intervals, 5 minute 120% above FTP intervals, 10 minute FTP intervals, and so on.  What this does is break up the time on the trainer to smaller segments that I can deal with mentally.  Instead of wanting the hour to be over, I just want the next segment to be over.  This makes the workouts go by so much quicker.  You go through multiple intervals and all of a sudden you have an hour worth of high intensity training that is more effective than when you are out on the roads.

Another thing to do is challenge yourself mentally.  This really helps if you ride with power, have a trainer than can work for you, or know your FTP.  Luckily, I train with all of them. Even if I didn’t, I still would want to push the limits. I want to see how long I can challenge myself and how long I can push my FTP.  Can I have a workout that my Normalized Power is a personalized best based on the workout I did?  It’s sort of like racing another person, but this way, you are racing yourself from previous workouts.  If you can beat your previous best, then you know you are making progress. Even better is if the program you use has medal achievements or badges that pop up if you do achieve a personal best.

Even with all the internal and mental ways to push yourself on the trainer, let’s be honest, you still need some entertainment.  This is crucial for getting through ANY workout.  I have yet to complete a trainer workout where I have not had some sort of entertainment to get me through it.  At least when you’re on the roads, you have scenery and other people around.

Some forms of entertainment that get me through are:

  1. TV- The obvious one, but I don’t really listen to the TV when I have it on.  What I do is mute the TV, throw on my iPod, or radio and put the closed caption on the TV.  This way I can listen to music while riding, but still get the visual cues from the TV.  Where this really helps is when watching a sports event.  I can watch a football game on mute and blast the music, and it will feel like the game goes by quickly.
  2. A nice mental game to play with yourself if you are watching a game is look at the game clock.  Do some intervals based on the game clock.  Why this works is that no interval would ever be the same.  Sometimes they work in your favor where there is a quick timeout, and sometimes the game is constant and you picked that interval to push yourself.  

Another thing I like to do on the trainer is read a magazine.  Magazines are better than books because if they get wet, so what.  You were going to throw them out anyway.  Plus they lay flat, so it’s nice to lay them on your aero bars for easy reading.  Most magazines are for entertainment and not knowledge, so it’s a way to let your mind think about something other than riding.  I’ve also been known to play a little Candy Crush while on the trainer as well, but I’m not too sure I want to admit that.  It has definitely helped though.

There are many ways to get through a trainer workout.  But the bottom line is, it’s still a workout.  You need to be able to push yourself just like when on the roads.  If you do the trainer workouts the right way, you will see a noticeable difference when you unleash yourself on the roads.