As the weather and riding conditions take a turn for the worst, I won't be tempted to dust down the turbo trainer...

For some cyclists, turbo-training is part and parcel of their winter fitness regime. And for others, it’s part and parcel of their fitness regime throughout the whole year. For me, and many other normal, rational people, it’s something to be avoided at all costs.

While a session on the turbo can give you a really meaningful, focussed workout (it says here) there is no escaping the fact that it is the devil’s own work. Turbo training sucks!

Here’s why…

Disclaimer: This is my personal opinion and not that of Cycling Weekly, Time Inc or any cyclist not wishing to get fat or unfit over the winter

It’s boring

There’s no escaping the fact that sitting on a static bike indoors is excruciatingly, mind-bendingly dull. Just half an hour of this self-induced torture feels like an entire week. I’ve never made it to a whole hour, so can’t comment on what that feels like. You run out of things to think about after around five minutes, and the noise of the turbo will drown out any TV or music you are trying to listen to.

And if you use headphones and can just about hear what’s going on, the upshot will be that your favourite music will be forever linked to the pain and boredom of turbo training, and you’ll end up not liking it anymore by association. It is entirely possible that when a time machine is invented, it will in some way incorporate a turbo trainer to travel back in time.

>>> Eight ways to make your turbo sessions more enjoyable

Why ride indoors when you can ride outside

When you started cycling the chances are that you didn’t say “cool, I’m going to get really fit by riding through this beautiful countryside so that I can be in top shape for those turbo sessions in the garage”.

Turbo training

Turbo training: there’s a perfectly good road in front of you

At least 80 or 90 per cent of cycling enjoyment comes from being outdoors, taking in the scenery and fresh air. A grey concrete wall, spiders’ webs, a collection of not-yet-fixed inner tubes and the whiff of petrol coming from the mower is a very poor substitute. If it’s freezing cold outside and/or pouring with rain I’d still suit up and go out riding over using a turbo.


 

 Video – Buyer’s guide to turbo trainers

You can’t freewheel

Your prize for fighting hard up a monster hill on a bike is the glorious freewheeling descent down the other side after admiring the view at the top. This simply does not exist on a turbo trainer.

Therefore, all of your effort really goes without any sort of compensation, aside from large amounts of sweat and the feeling of elation when you stop pedalling and that it is finally all over. That elation is short-lived as your legs lock up and you stumble sideways into the recycling bins.

>>> Top 10 turbo training mistakes

It’s too hot

It doesn’t matter how cold the room, garage or shed is when you start turbo training, or how little clothing you wear, you will be on the verge of heat stroke by the end of it. There’s no natural breeze to gently cool you down by evaporating your sweat, just inescapable heat.

I’ve seen people with banks of fans, ice cold drinks, even using a turbo outside in the snow, just to stay cool. If you’re going to go outside and use a turbo trainer, you may as well get on a proper bike. One that moves forward.

Turbo training with fan

Yes, you too can stare at a fan for 45 minutes

Not convinced it’s really beneficial

I’m not completely convinced that turbo training is a great substitute for real riding. Unless you have one of those fancy bendy turbo trainers, or have mastered rollers, you can’t get out of the saddle or swing your bike about like you do when on an unshackled machine on the open road.

And, of course, it’s not going to do anything to help with your cornering, descending or pothole avoidance skills. In fact, turbo training is probably great for emulating completely flat, straight time trials but very little else. You’ll end up looking like a Tyranosaurus rex with huge thighs and itty bitty arms.

>>> 15 questions you should never ask a cyclist

It’s really boring

You’ve spotted that I’ve included ‘it’s boring’ twice in this list, mainly because it’s twice as boring as anything else you will encounter in your life. 3D ride videos, computer generated routes, variable resistance, blah blah blah… dress it up how you like, it’s still tedious, sweaty, noisy, dull and boring.

 

  • Andy Palin

    Have you tried Zwift? It is social, competitive and fun. It has transformed my winter regime and really pays dividends when I get out on a real road at the weekend. It is also much safer than the alternative of night riding. Give it a try!

  • Ernest Montague

    Bingo. When I lived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on forty degree below days nobody cycled. I ran sometimes, but it was just too cold.

  • Ernest Montague

    I use small diameter rollers, which are much harder to “master” than large diameter. In the winter I can open a window and let in cold air if needed. I also watch races on an screen set up on my desk in front of me while riding. It’s not super fun, but it’s winter.

  • Jarne De Prins

    you forgot to say that you are more likely to get injuries for training on a turbo trainer, then when riding outside, because your bike can’t move from the left to the right like it does on the road, you get injuries faster, last winter I trained a lot on the turbo trainer, and then I got a knee injury, and now I have to avoid it for all costs, so I don’t get the injury back… And also it isn’t good for your nice and expensive carbon frame, but we all knew that already…

  • tony365

    Its an OP-ED Guys and Gals. I think the trainer is awefull and I recycled mine recently. I do live in Los Angeles though. Saying that I only used it about a dozen times over a long time in Portland, Or. I would rather do a p90x vid, or some pilates and go for a jog thank you very much. plus I really liked riding in the drizzly PNW woods. Thats what fenders are for.

  • nitestick

    I’ve been successfully baited. I’d never substitute trainer riding for an enjoyable or endurance targeted session outdoors. However, 30-90 minute high intensity interval sessions on a trainer are far more effective than on the road. It’s not easy to find somewhere you could do 3×15 minute threshold intervals with a perfect 5-8 minute break between them and appropriate warm up and cool down. At this level of exertion, you couldn’t pay attention to any media anyway. I just have a HUD on my laptop with the interval criteria, current/average power, HR and running graphs. For cooling, use an industrial fan (preferably with aircon to moderate the indoor temp as well).

  • Seabeast

    Clearly the author doesn’t live in a very cold snowy climate. When it’s -20 degrees centigrade or even colder, it’s pretty hard to ride outdoors. Sure, it can be done with a fat bike and layers and layers of clothing, but then you have to wash all those layers and layers of sweaty clothing when you get home. The glasses/goggles/ski mask fogs up solid whenever you have to stop. The fingertips feel frozen even under the warmest gloves+mittens on top.
    Oh, and you can keep cool by buying a large fan and putting it in front of you when you ride.

  • MAD666

    hmmmm…not convened its beneficial? Perhaps some proper research to back up the decision on this? (My personal results have shown as a training aid it is, but then I’m I not particularly good amateur…)

  • Andrei

    Dear author, this is how indoor training looks like these days.

  • Ruby Payne

    I think this is missing the point. I didn’t buy my trainer for anything else than helping to stay fit and “get the miles in” when its too cold or icy outside. Any exercise is beneficial, but pedalling at different effort levels is much more beneficial than not exercising because its too slippy outside. I have my trainer upstairs looking out of a large Velux window. I play music either through headphones or via my hi-fi. It helps to keep me going and is more beneficial than not. Yes you drip sweat, but with a fan you can minimise that. You also drip sweat playing badminton indoors, I don’t hear that as an excuse not to play it! I don’t find it at all difficult to motivate myself to get on the trainer. Last winter I was on it every two days for at least 1.5 hours each session. Sometimes I tried the different bursts of speed/energy over so many minutes, sometimes I pedalled at a fairly hard setting and just kept going. I can place the front wheel at a raised angle and stand up for more effort. Its not as good as a real ride, neither for getting out in the fresh air or for keeping your riding skills going, but its still 100 times better than not exercising. One other point. Its dangerous enough for cyclists on the road in the UK, because of so many braindeads driving cars and vans. Its twice as dangerous in the winter because you have less control in slippy conditions, but drivers don’t alter their attitude to you in the winter!

  • Jon Campagnolo Carver

    Me too. I pedal like a bastard on descents not happy unless I’ve spun out. Definitely pedal all the way on Zwift…and it hurts when the computer controls the smart trainer. A very realistic feel.

  • Jon Campagnolo Carver

    Actually. Since the advent of Zwift. Indoor training is quite enjoyable compared to the admittedly dull sessions of previous years. Zwift gives you an enjoyable set of targets and although you’re not out on the road with them you are riding in that virtual landscape in real time with others. A modern smart trainer makes it even more fun.

    It will never beat getting out on the road, but if the weather is horrible I’d rather have a ride on Zwift, than sit on my Arse in my riding gear looking for a break in the weather

  • SusanS

    Great piece Nigel! Shame some people didn’t appreciate what was obviously tongue-in-cheek. I thoroughly enjoyed it 🙂

  • Nic Lowe

    I fully endorse the sentiments of this article – it’s windy, wet and cold out right now but I’m heading onto the roads as there is no way I can take more than 5 minutes turbo training.

  • Mr Moose

    What a waste of pixels and column inches, if indeed this rubbish got printed. Products and services such as TrainerRoad, Sufferfest, Zwift and others have not only taken away the boredom with engaging visuals and structured training plans, but can also make you push yourself.

    I too would much prefer to ride outdoors but a quick turbo session is perfect if pushed for time or road conditions are dangerous. I’ve had a couple of painful falls on icy days and a friend broke his hipbone in slippery conditions. Is the author seriously encouraging people to risk their health by riding in any weather conditions?

    CW published an article “Turbo training sessions: Get the most out of your indoor training” earlier in the year. So CW, how about, as Jon Collins (above) suggests, a balanced article with the pros and cons of indoor training rather than this lazy piece of tittle-tattle?

  • J1

    All true!

  • Cesar Ribeiro

    Ecxactly works to sweat a lots, with a very good music.

  • SeanMcCuen

    rat on a treadmill.

  • Jim

    Do you go faster if you put the fan behind you ?

  • Joanne Palazzetti

    Indoor training is not beneficial? Tell that to the hundreds of pro teams that incorporate it into their regime. Junk miles exist on the trainer just as they do outdoors. It’s what you do with your time during both that counts so I imagine you haven’t nailed interval work or understand what is possible on a trainer without having the stress of trying to stay alive on the road.

    I guess it all comes down to what your goals are. If you are weekender that has no real racing or training goals then enjoying the scenery while having a chat with your mates is wonderful. Improving your FTP is best done on the trainer. Even with the understanding of power, out on the road you have life threatening elements that interfere with the work.

  • Rich ard

    Must say I agree, turbo training is incredibly boring. I get distracted and fund myself getting off the bike and doing stuff around the garage, not good. It is also very hot, I think my bike frame went rusty because of the sweat coming off of my head, and its aluminium! Can’t beat the real thing, it’s like the blow up doll of cycling lol

  • Bob

    When weather is such that I can’t or won’t go out, turbo is the thing. 1 it is easier to keep to training plan 2 wouldn’t ride otherwise 3 you can get into virtual such as Zwift

    Admittedly it’s not as good as road riding

  • reece46

    You’d be very ‘alarmed’ at my new fancy smart trainer being back in the box the same evening as unboxing. However you dress up turbos they bear more relation to the gym than cycling.

  • Hamish

    Aye, this is a “we’ve got 2 pages to fill, go and write a 1000 words of anything, include some pictures, oh, and you’ve got half an hour to do it in” type article.

  • EB

    If you are finding it boring you are doing it wrong. You need to push harder and,instead of noting boredom, your brain will be occupied on the clock counting down.

    Before I had realized they were best for intervals of 20 min each or less I made the mistake of doing 5 hrs 30 min at 75%FTP as training for an Ironman. I gradually built up to that time and can promise that was boring. It is also too hard to listen to music. Don’t do that. Intervals in zone 4-7 only.

    Also as regards free wheeling, some trainers eg. Tacx Genius have motors and most software can simulate it easily.

    Heat wise, the fan in your photo is ridiculously puny. Sweaty yes, but if you feel you are getting too hot then your fan needs upgrading. I’ve installed a radio control onto a floor standing industrial one. Even if there is so much airborne sweat that the room has an internal cloud I defy you to feel hot with this thing pointing at you.

  • JBranch

    I appreciate this for the humor but also take it seriously. During winter months I sometimes go to a gym and ride a stationary bicycle, which (at my gym) is outfitted with a TV, so I can watch news or music videos. Basically, it’s boring—like the author of this post, I’ve never made it to an hour—and I don’t see why it would be any better with my bike on a trainer at home. The only reason I might buy a trainer and do it anyway is that it’d save me the monthly expense at the gym. But that would mean abandoning everything else at the gym…

  • Jorge Lopes

    Three years ago I bought an old schwinn stationary bike from a dismantled gymnasium for only 250 euros and I couldn’t be happier. I placed it in a storeroom and when it’s raining or arrive late from work I workout for an hour and kill tedium by watching some videoclips, movies or sometimes just listening to music in a laptop, smartphone or tablet. After some months I noticed a significant development in my performance in my Sunday group rides. This was money well spent.

  • raver2046

    Go for zwift

  • Brilliant!

  • Chris

    One word…Zwift!

  • themightylemon

    You sir, deserve a massive Chapeau! for that.

  • Roger

    The best thing about this article is the fact that author has debunked the myth that turbo training is “really beneficial”. I wish I had had access to this kind of invaluable information when I started cycling. I dread to think how many hundreds of thousands of hours have been wasted by cyclists around the world doing something that has now been proven to be not really beneficial after all.

  • Steve Price

    I would say that a bit of both is good… turbo allows focused training, makes structure simple.. outside is where we want to be most of the time and we enjoy it.. …
    As far as just doing your training on turbo is concerned and the effect on the rest of your body is concerned,,, well really you should be doing core strength work as well as weights if you take your training seriously …
    The article is right about getting out improving your bike handling skills .. but I can’t imagine anyone is only going to use turbo and not get out at all over the winter…
    If you are time crunched then turbo is such a valuable tool..
    Winter riding is about wrapping up warm and doing Z2, looking over hedges and cake stops.. or riding your mountain bike having fun and getting plastered in mud….. unless you are doing cross that is 🙂

  • John Stachlewicz

    Lies, lies, and more lies! Obviously the author has never visited the wonderful land of Sufferlandria! Let me address some of these misconceptions!

    Life in Sufferlandria is anything but boring! SufferFest training videos keep you engaged and draw you into a storyline that will make you push yourself so that you simply don’t have time to be bored!

    Sometimes weather conditions make it impossible to ride outside. Sometime you simply can’t get outside. I ride outside in the winter but there were times when it simply would be unsafe outside.

    Freewheeling. Overrated! I do have a fixed gear bike in my stable so no freewheeling there either! Also when I’m outside I tend pedal on the descents as well.

    Hot? Yes, please! In the words of Robert Palmer, some like it HOT! I actually don’t mind the heat and generating copious amounts of Sufferlandrian Holy Water!

    The benefits of doing the SufferFest videos is well documented. Using these training videos I’ve gone from a world class Couchlandrian who couldn’t go up a flight of stairs to doing a number of bike races! All within a matter of months. I could not achived this without The SufferFest! It literally transformed my life!

    Sincerely,
    John Stachlewicz, KoS

  • Mike Prytherch

    Oh come on fella’s this is a tongue in cheek article, lighten up and have a laugh.

  • dannybuoy

    Maybe it’s just me but I totally read this for the tongue in cheek appeal I think it’s going for. Nothing wrong with reading a lighthearted opinion piece now and again. Cycling is about fun and not just serious journalism all the time. amirite amirite? (Plus I agree with everything said above)

  • Anthony Jackson

    I always fall this click bait nonsense. Why does everything we do on/off the bike have to be most interesting “thing” of that second. Yes turbos arent the most interesting thing, but neither is a spin class (to me). And I cant say that pilates class I do has me facebookin’ the evening’s event to everyone… Sometimes to be a bit fitter, or happier with yourself you have to endure a little bit of “sitting in your garage on a turbo”, its just part of living in the Northern hemisphere…… not being able to endure even 60mins of turbo is alarming for an avid cycling journalist and depicts your possible lack of engagement with something you love doing.

  • Jon Collins

    What a fantastic, well balanced, well researched piece of journalism. Really upping the ante in cycling magazines whilst providing both sides of the argument. I clearly see the reporter (is that what they’re called? Or is it blogger? Or person with words?) has researched the latest trends in turbo-sessions, explored the online services that are making it more interesting, looked at how turbo sessions can be used to develop particular areas of fitness whilst balancing that against the cons of not being on the road…

  • Shaun The Penguin

    When it’s freezing/wet in the winter I find it quite enjoyable to stick some music on and go on the rollers – I also avoid getting too hot because my rollers are in the garage where it gets pretty damn cold, it then becomes pleasant to be sweating buckets.