Over the last decade, the realms of indoor cycling have drastically evolved, for the better I may add. Gone are the days of the magnetic turbo trainers often leaving the smell of burning rubber, overwhelming noises, and excessive vibrations, which, if you lived in a flat, made your neighbors think you had the washing machine on every evening.
Arguably, these were simple and required no hardware, unlike the range of the best smart indoor trainers that we have available today. I think we can all agree though, that these magnetic trainers never felt like the outdoors. They felt more like riding through treacle; this was down to the flywheel weight and the inertia it created.
Now we have a range of indoor training solutions that offer a much greater ride feel, accompanied by various online indoor training apps for cycling; either in a digital world such as Zwift, or a more simplistic approach with the training session power targets displayed such as TrainerRoad. But we strove for more and more realism and now we have indoor cycling rocker plates. Should you use them? And could they impart any tangible fitness benefits? Cycling coach Alex Welburn explains his take.
Performance cycling coach Alex Welburn is one of the experts who will be answering your questions in Cycling Weekly's Ask a Cycling Coach series, online every Wednesday. He's currently completing a PhD on Critical power and W' at Loughborough University whilst also managing the Performance Project, in which he coaches athletes and provides consultation.
What does a rocker plate do?
There are multiple options out there, but they are essentially platforms which you place your indoor trainer on top of, and which allow you and your bike to rock and move as you pedal - more closely mimicking the natural movement of a bike on the road than a completely stationary trainer. Whilst it might seem a minor change, some people find these devices significantly enhance their indoor cycling experience.
Are there any fitness benefits to using indoor cycling rocker plates?
Well, if you are looking for that silver bullet in terms of performance enhancements, the reality is that indoor cycling rocker plates won’t give you that extra percent increase in your Critical Power / Functional Threshold Power. But, in some ways, there may be some fitness benefits to the tech.
So, hear me out. With anything that I consider a performance tool, i.e. power meters, heart rate monitors, wearable technology such as smartwatches, etc, I like to take a step back and look at the overall impact that device could have. With indoor cycling rocker plates, I’d want to know whether this tech can help to improve consistency - which is one of the biggest ways you will improve your fitness.
Indoor training can often be regarded as dull and uninspiring for some. However, for me and probably some others, I was quite happy riding with my headphones in, which drowned out the sound of the indoor trainer. I would stare at my brick wall and get it done. However, 90 minutes was the maximum amount of time I could spend cycling indoors until boredom and discomfort would set in.
The development of the smart trainers certainly made for a more immersive experience, which meant boredom was reduced. And now, indoor cycling rocker plates provide side-to-side sway - which noticeably differs from the rigidity of an indoor trainer.
The benefits of indoor cycling rocker plates
These are the benefits of using indoor cycling rocker plates:
Comfort: Rocker plates may allow you to be more comfortable during your intense and longer rides, as you are not in a fixed position and you can sway to a certain extent. This may help reduce pressure and even saddle sores. Standing up out of the saddle may also feel more ‘normal’ than being on a bike that is fixed. The reduced likelihood of saddle sores will mean more consistent training and greater fitness progression.
Boredom: We often avoid things that we don’t enjoy or find boring. If a set of rocker plates reduces this boredom and indoor training becomes a more enjoyable experience, then you are far more likely to continue doing it - which (you can see where this is going) will likely mean more hours on the bike, and therefore more consistency.
Realism: The aim of the rocker plate is to make indoor cycling feel more natural. Even the pedalling action may feel smoother and feel as though you are stabilizing yourself a little bit more, as opposed to just sitting straight upright with no movement. This, collectively, will make for a more enjoyable experience for some.
So will indoor cycling rocker plates make me faster?
Overall, indoor cycling rocker plates may help reduce boredom, improve comfort, and allow for a more realistic riding experience. Will it give you those 20 extra watts on your threshold? Unlikely. But, if some of the areas I mentioned are barriers (e.g. that indoor cycling makes you bored / isn’t comfortable / doesn’t feel like riding on the road), then using rocker plates may help you to spend more time on the bike and therefore stick to your cycling training plan, which should lead to greater fitness gains.
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