Getting More Out of Your Home Trainer Rides
Toolbox: For many of us, cycling is going to be done at home for the next few weeks. Even though riding on a trainer seems about as simple a task as is possible, there are still important basics to master in order to get the most out of your indoor riding.
Vincenzo Nibali rode the virtual Milan-Sanremo on Saturday
Yeah, you probably read the title of this post and figured you’d skip over it…or that I’m writing a product pitch (I’m not). The longer I’ve been coaching in the world of sports performance, the more often I find myself helping an athlete or client go BACK TO BASICS to master them, refine them, or (more often than I’d like to see) to TEACH them.
How you set up your trainer, is one of them. Basics aren’t sexy, they don’t sell $1,000’s of dollars, and they don’t get views.
But they matter…A LOT.
While I’ll be writing later this winter about practicing the basics of riding your bike, today we’re going to focus on your indoor trainer rides. Most riders hate them, but if you learn HOW to execute them well, they can be a huge boon to your on-bike fitness not only in the winter, but year-round.
Believe it or not, there is an art and a science to setting up your trainer, as well as making sure that YOU are prepared to get the most out of your trainer ride.
Yet most of us just pull the trainer out of the closet, set it up wherever there is space in front of the TV, or for those sadistic enough- facing a wall in your basement, and start riding away.
But there’s more to it, much more.
Protect the floor with a non-slip mat
Slip and Slide?
This is basic, but many a rider neglect it: Don’t put your trainer on a smooth surface such as parquet, marble, or tile without some kind of slip-resistant mat. Not only will the mat keep you in place, but it will also keep your sweat from getting all over and destroying your floor (mostly).
Are you on the level?
If you don’t have your front wheel up and supported on something, ANYTHING, you’re probably sliding forward on your saddle. This not only changes your pedaling mechanics, but can lead to bad changes in posture, tightness in your shoulders, hands, upper back, and even some lower back pain. Some trainers claim to not require any front wheel blocks due to their design keeping the bike level. Even if you have such a trainer, it still pays to use a level to ensure that your bike is actually riding as it would on flat outdoor terrain.
There’s no need to spend a fortune on a commercial front wheel block. Phone books have gone the way of the dodo bird. However, if you’re a nerd like me and still have your college Physics textbook laying around because “I want to have the equations offhand” (Apparently I still haven’t made the connection to using this thing called Google), you can use it under your front wheel.
Having your front wheel up 1-2 inches is far better than down, as it will replicate a slight uphill, and help you recruit more GLUTES. Don’t worry, this winter we’ll have a piece on glutes as well.
You can check out this oldie but goodie Youtube video from HVTraining on how to set up your trainer, which shows you exactly how to do the above:
You’re my Biggest Fan!
This is perhaps one of my “secrets” to helping the riders I work with who have long, cold, icy/snowy winters to come into the spring races with phenomenal fitness. Use not one, but TWO fans, offset at 45 degree angles to your body, to help move the hot, humid air away from your body, and allow you to keep your core temperature down, and thus able to put out more power for longer periods of time, and to have a higher quality training session.
Far too many of us use the trainer with just a window open and/or a tiny 12 inch fan. This is not good enough, and you’re literally sapping your power, and decreasing your ability to stress the body as it needs to get the adaptations we are after!
Think about it: Team Sky spent upwards of 100,000’s of Pounds to help their team get every edge possible, including the use of cooling vests. Why would you kill your own progress by allowing yourself to not only overheat, but over-sweat, thus dropping your blood volume during exercise?
If you have a garage or enclosed porch setup for your trainer, check out a few changes I made in my setup last year, as there are slight, but very impactful changes to my trainer setup:
Danger Will Robinson, Danger!
Lastly, fluids. Remember that, even with two fans as suggested, it’s still a far cry from the normal airflow that you’d be experiencing riding outdoors at 25-35 km/h. So even if your pain cave is a cold garage, you will still not release as much heat as if you were riding at that temperature outdoors. That means more sweating and fluid loss.
Many riders make the mistake of thinking “it’s only the trainer” and only drink water. This is a HUGE mistake, especially if you’re doing a longer ride. So don’t be afraid to break out the CHO/electrolyte drinks as needed.
Women need to be even more vigilant with their indoor hydration, as their performance suffers far more than men on the trainer. Women’s physiological needs are very different than men’s for roughly half the time – specifically in the second half of their menstrual cycle, called the luteal phase. If we were to take the average time for a menstrual cycle, between 35-42 days (we’ll use 40 as our number), these are days 21-40.
During this time period, a woman’s hormonal balance changes, as progesterone and estrogen (along with other) hormone levels spike up, which changes the ability of the body to regulate water throughout the body.
Women, and men, with a drop in blood plasma levels as little as 2%, will see a decrease in performance by 5-8%… Women in the luteal phase can see their blood plasma volumes drop ON AVERAGE by 3-5%.
Can you say “my legs feel like lead and I feel like I’m pedaling in thick mud?
Guys, this applies to you as well!
This is a deep topic that requires a bit more depth to it’s discussion, so here are 2 videos for you to learn more about it:
The Science of Electrolytes and Hydration:
Women’s Specific Hydration needs based on your cycle:
As you can see, riding the trainer, and riding the trainer to get into top shape, require a completely different mentality and approach. Use the trainer not just to survive and maintain, but to get into BETTER shape, in which case using these tips can help see better gains, and a stronger you come next spring.
If you’d like to raise your level of knowledge and skills in strength training to help you or your athletes improve your performance, posture, and overall function, I’ll be opening enrollment for the world’s first ever Certification in Strength Training for Cyclists this January. I’ve spent the last 2 years developing the course, making it into one of the best certifications available in the strength training field, let alone cycling.
Sign up for the waiting list here, as the course will only be open to new students for a few days and won’t open again until Fall 2020.
The course is in review for CEU’s by USA Cycling, USA Triathlon, NSCA, NASM, and AFAA.
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Menachem Brodie is the author of two authoritative online courses: