How to Use Your Turbo Trainer

How to Use
Your Turbo Trainer

by
Malcolm Firth 

ABCC Senior Coach

Introduction 
Midweek quality training needs to be done during the winter months if you want the standard of your racing to improve each year, and the ideal place to do it is on your turbo trainer. Indoors on your trainer you don’t have to worry that it is dark outside, or that the weather may be bad, or that the roads are busy. Instead, you can get on with your essential high quality bike training, without your concentration being constantly interrupted. At this time of year these turbo training sessions will be more productive than trying to get out on the local chain gang, and a good deal warmer too!

Planned properly, turbo training can give your enthusiasm a boost and help you through this vital stage in your preparation. Turbo training is also useful during the summer months when you may want to do interval training. It allows you to do so without the need to find reasonably flat, traffic-free roads. You don’t even have the need to remember the session, you can pin it up on the wall near you as a constant reminder of what comes next.

Setting Up the Turbo Trainer 
An ideal set of equipment for the training area is as follows:

  • turbo trainer
  • turbo training bike
  • cycle computer with pedal rate counter
  • 16″ cooling fan
  • clock or stop-watch
  • training schedule (written out and placed nearby)

Not everyone can afford a 16″ diameter fan, but you should try and get one of at least 12″ diameter. When you are training on the road or track, the heat you generate is dissipated easily because you are passing through the air and creating your own cooling effect. On the turbo trainer in the confines of a garage or shed the heat you generate will linger around you and make you sweat more profusely. The excessive sweat is at best a nuisance (getting in your eyes, etc), but can also make turbo training feel unnecessarily hard as well as actually affecting how hard you can train on warm days.

You should also consider setting up a bike just to use on the turbo trainer. If you do it will mean the rig is always likely to feel the same each time you use it, provided of course you keep a check on the rear tyre pressure. It may not need a front wheel, neither will it need brakes, although brake levers are useful as they provide an extra resting place for your hands. Preferably fit a double chainset with, say, 52t/42t chainwheels and a close ratio block (12t or 13t to 18t). This will provide suitable size training gears, plus warm-up and warm-down gears. If you fit a cycle computer (another worthwhile item and you can now buy them with the speed displayed to within 0.1mph) wrap it and the handlebar clip in cling film to keep sweat off the electrical contacts. Otherwise sweat may occasionally cause a short circuit, and the computer readings will go haywire! You will still be able to operate the switches through the cling film.

You will need an easy-to-read clock or watch. A battery powered kitchen clock is quite useful and could be stood on a bench or even fastened to the wall nearby. There is of course a stop-watch facility on most cycle computers that can be displayed in addition to pedal rate or speed. Using a wrist watch is not a good idea; it is difficult to see and the strap is often corroded by sweat, and clipping it to the handlebars puts it where sweat can still drip onto it. Whatever you decide to use must have a second’s finger, so that you can properly time interval training sessions that use fractions of a minute in the schedule.

If you set up your bike properly on the turbo trainer it can be a fitness testing rig as well as a training device. When you first set up the bike on the turbo trainer you will need to know whether or not you have the tyre pressing correctly onto the roller. You will also need to recheck this occasionally to ensure that the setting is still the same. If it is set too hard it will make it difficult to achieve the desired pedal rates; if it is too easy you will have to use unnecessarily high gears to achieve the proper work load, and may even run out of gears in the high intensity training sessions. This would make your turbo training hard to monitor. The simplest way to set up and maintain the setting is as follows.

 

  • Make sure that the turbo trainer is lying level on the ground, so that the bike will feel right when you come to ride it. This may mean finding a suitable patch of ground in the garage or shed and/or packing one or more of the legs of the turbo trainer. This needs doing though, because riding a training bike that is leaning or rocking about, however slightly, can affect your concentration during the training.

     

  • Check the tyre manufacturer’s recommended tyre pressure and inflate the tyre accordingly.

     

  • Ride the bike in, say, 52t x 16t gear ratio at 90rpm for a few minutes. The work load created by the system should feel about the same as riding that gear at that pedal rate on the road. You may have to adjust the pressure of the turbo roller on the tyre to achieve this and it may take several rides on the bike to get the feel of it just right. Try it in several other gears, too.

     

  • When you are sure that the turbo training bike is set up to your liking, you will need a stop-watch, a pen or pencil and some paper. Ride the bike in, say, 52t x 16t at 90rpm for a minute or so, until you have got the pedal rate constant. Now, stop pedalling and immediately start the watch. Stop the watch as soon as the rear wheel stops revolving. Do at least half a dozen of these checks and note down the time it takes for the wheel to run down to a stop (the run down time). Calculate the average time by adding up all the run down times and dividing by the number of checks you made.

Keep these figures handy because you can use them occasionally to check whether or not the set-up is still the same. When you do it on other occasions, make sure the tyre pressure is the same as the first time and do the check in exactly the same way. The average time that you get should be within 0.5% of your original figure. It can be affected by tyre pressure, of the tyre on the turbo roller, and wear on the tyre and the roller. Run down times can also be affected by atmospheric pressure because this affects the drag created by the fans.

Heart Rate Monitors 
Having bought a heart rate monitor, how should you use it? Generally speaking, you would use it to ensure you were riding at your optimum training intensity during non-stop efforts. There is a simple way you can do this, using your turbo trainer. This method will work even if you don’t have a heart rate monitor, just a cycle computer connected to the rear wheel of your turbo training bike. Fit your heart rate monitor if you have one, or set your cycle computer to read speed and distance, then warm up for 10-15 minutes. Now the test simply requires you to ride for 25 minutes (or ten miles measured on your cycle computer) as fast as you can.

During the ride regularly check the heart rate you are riding at (unless of course you have the Polar Sports Tester which will record it all for later analysis). Better still if someone can note down the heart rate at half minute intervals during the ride. The average value of the figures you note will be your optimum training heart rate for continuous rides of 25 minutes or more, and will be used in the training sessions described later. You can also use this method to find your optimum work level if you don’t have a heart rate monitor but just a cycle computer. In that case, simply take the average speed from your test and that will be your optimum training speed for a 25min ride on your turbo.

You will need to re-assess these figures at 6-8 weekly intervals to ensure you are still using the correct training intensities. It is worth keeping a training diary to note down all these figures from your training sessions, together with your observations as to how the training session felt. This kind of information, specific to you, is very useful. Each person reacts differently to training, so you need to know what kind of effect this training is having on you. What you are trying to find out is the optimum level of effort that produces the best results for you.

One note of caution. Before doing strenuous exercise of any kind, including the training schedules and tests detailed here, make sure that you are healthy enough to withstand the efforts you will be expected to make. A medical check on your heart and lungs should be considered to ensure they are in good shape.

How to Start – And Finish 
Always start your turbo training session with a good warm-up. This will help to get your brain in gear as well as get your muscles ready for action. It is necessary that you approach your turbo training with the right attitude of mind, that you regard it as an important part of your training routine and something that must be done properly. If you dive straight into the turbo training without a warm-up, especially if it is a cold day, you will often find it difficult to get into a rhythm. This can make the training session feel much harder than it should until your body warms up enough.

Once you are warmed up though, make sure that you don’t get overheated, by keeping clothing to a minimum and using a fan. Too much heat can be just as bad as being cold, it will make the turbo training that much harder and can affect your ability to do it properly. Put a towel nearby in case you need to wipe the sweat off your face occasionally. In addition, you may like to have a drink close to hand, especially on warm days, but don’t go drinking lots of cold liquid otherwise you may be sick. Another important point to note is that you should not eat more than a very light snack in the two hours before starting turbo training.

The basic principle of turbo training is to provide a physical training load whilst using pedalling rates commonly found in cycle racing. The common denominator amongst the various sections of cycle sport is a pedal rate range of 90-100rpm. This is the range in which you should do much of your turbo training, certainly the continuous rides that form your first series of training sessions. Later you can use higher pedalling rates and vary them within a training session – when you use high intensity training routines.

When you have finished the training session, you should begin the recovery process immediately by spending several minutes warming down. This will help to get rid of the waste products out of your muscles from all the energy you have been using. A complete training session includes both a period of work, during which you tax the body’s systems to slightly a higher level than they are accustomed to (sometimes called “overload training”), and a period of recovery to allow your body to adapt to a new level of fitness. Failure to attend properly to this recovery process will considerably reduce the effectiveness of your training. When your warm down is complete, the next stage in the recovery is to towel down (or take a quick bath or shower) and put on some dry clothing.

It is important to remember that after a period of hard prolonged work during which your body temperature was raised sufficiently to cause sweating, it will be some time before your internal body temperature returns to normal. Therefore, if you have to leave the house shortly after doing your turbo training, make sure you put on sufficient warm clothing (including a hat) to ensure that you do not cool down too rapidly. When your body is recovering from hard physical work (or any other severe stress) it is at its most vulnerable to infections. It is probably true to say that people in regular hard training are more likely to catch colds than sedentary people. This is because their bodies are constantly under stress (from training and competition) and they consequently have a lowered capacity to resist other stresses, including fighting off such things as viral infections. Cooling down too rapidly after a hard turbo training session can increase your chances of catching a cold, or worse.

Turbo Training Schedules 
Probably the best time to do your turbo training would be on, say, Tuesdays and Thursdays, so that you can continue your long steady rides at weekend, have a rest on Monday and Friday, and perhaps a road ride or a gym session on Wednesday.

What follows is a series of training programmes in the order that I generally use them, though you can interchange them if you wish. If you are a beginner or starting training after a layoff, then I suggest you begin here.

Continuous Ride 
This is exactly what it says, a non-stop ride at about 90 pedal revs per minute on a suitable gear to make the intensity of the ride equal to that shown below. The ride should be preceded by a 5-10min warm-up and finished with a 5min warm-down on a low gear. This training will accustom you to the kind of sustained high quality performance you would encounter in any time trial-like effort during races. Over a 12 week period you can gradually increase the length of the session from 20 minutes to 45 minutes as follows. The training intensities are calculated from the average heart rate or average speed you produced in your turbo test.

  • Week 1: 20min at 92% average test heart rate or 96% average test speed. For example, if your test heart rate averaged 180bpm, 92% would be 165bpm. If your average test speed was 25mph, 96% would be 24mph.

     

  • Week 2: 25min at 92% average test heart rate or 96% average test speed.

     

  • Week 3: 30min at 92% average test heart rate or 96% average test speed.

     

  • Week 4: 25min at 95% average test heart rate or 97% average test speed. For example, if your test heart rate averaged 180bpm, 95% would be 171bpm. If your average test speed was 25mph, 97% would be 24.25mph.

     

  • Week: 5 30min at 95% average test heart rate or 97% average test speed.

     

  • Week 6: 35min at 95% average test heart rate or 97% average test speed.

     

  • Week 7: 30min at 95% average test heart rate or 97% average test heart rate.

     

  • Week 8: 35min at 95% average test heart rate or 97% average test speed.

     

  • Week 9: 40min at 95% average test heart rate or 97% average test speed.

     

  • Week 10: 35min at 95% average test heart rate or 97% average test speed.

     

  • Week 11: 40min at 95% average test heart rate or 97% average test speed.

     

  • Week 12: 45min at 95% average test heart rate or 97% average test speed.

The weeks where the length of training is decreased are there to give you a little extra recovery and allow you to adapt to a higher degree of fitness.

Road Race Simulations 
This programme adds an interesting variation to the continuous ride once you have progressed to 45 minutes. It can also be used to get you accustomed to some of the demands of road and track racing. That is, the sudden increases of pace needed to initiate or chase down breaks, superimposed on an already high overall race speed.

  • 5min warm-up. 
  • 45 minutes continuous ride at about 95 pedal rpm and 95% of average test heart rate or 97% average test speed. Initially, during the last 20 minutes do three 30sec flat out “attacks” about 5min apart and finish off with a 30sec sprint. After each “attack” try not to let the pace drop below what you were doing before it. When you have done two or three of these sessions, gradually increase the number and length of the “attacks” as well as varying where they come during the 45min ride. For example, four, increasing to 6 “attacks”, 30sec to 3min long, with 3-6min between them, plus a 30sec sprint at the end. Concentrate hard on keeping up the speed between “attacks”.

Three Stage Interval Training

  • 5min warm-up.

     

  • 15-20 minutes fast riding at 90-95 pedal rpm and 95% average test heart rate or 97% average test speed.

     

  • 5 minutes easy riding at easy pace on a low gear.

     

  • 10-15 minutes fast riding at 95-100 pedal rpm and 97% average test heart rate or 99% average test speed.

     

  • 5 minutes easy riding as before.

     

  • 5-10 minutes fast riding at 100-105 pedal rpm (just a little faster than the previous section).

     

  • 5min warm down on a low gear.

You may want to do a slightly different programme occasionally, so you could try the following one:

15-5-3 Interval Training

  • 5min warm-up.

     

  • 15 minutes fast riding at 90-95 pedal rpm and 95% average test heart rate or 97% average test speed.

     

  • 5min easy riding at easy pace on a low gear.

     

  • 3x5min slightly faster riding at 100 pedal rpm and 97% average test heart rate or 99% average test speed, with 1min rest after each.

     

  • 5 minutes easy riding as before.

     

  • 5x3min slightly faster riding at 105 pedal rpm and 97% average test heart rate or 99.5% average test speed, with 1min rest after each.

     

  • 5min warm down in a low gear.

By now you are probably into your competition period, so you should take care that the extra workload of harder training sessions plus competitions does not become too great. Regular assessments of what you have done so far, and how you are adapting, is an important part of your training programme.

Multi-Stage Interval Training

  • 5min warm-up.

     

  • 7 minutes fast riding at 100 pedal rpm and 97% average test heart rate or 99% average test speed

     

  • 2 minutes easy riding on low gear.

     

  • 6 minutes slightly faster riding at 100 pedal rpm and 99% average test heart rate or 99.5% average test speed.

     

  • 2 minutes easy riding as before.

     

  • 5 minutes slightly faster riding at 105 pedal rpm.

     

  • 2 minutes easy riding as before

     

  • 4 minutes fast riding at 105 pedal rpm (a bit more effort).

     

  • 2 minutes easy riding as before.

     

  • 3 minutes fast riding at 105-110 pedal rpm (a little bit harder, still).

     

  • 2 minutes easy riding as before.

     

  • 2 minutes fast riding at 110 pedal rpm (squeeze a bit more effort out).

     

  • 2 minutes easy riding as before.

     

  • 1 minute fast riding at 110+ pedal rpm (get that last big effort out).

     

  • 5min warm down on a low gear.

This session can be increased to 45min total work by beginning with a 9min work period and decreasing to 1min as before.

Three Set Interval Training

  • 5min warm-up.

     

  • 5 minutes fast riding at 100+ pedal rpm and 97% average test heart rate or 99% average test speed.

     

  • 2 minutes easy riding on a low gear.

     

  • 3 x 2 minutes faster riding at 105+ pedal rpm with 30sec rest between each.

     

  • 2 minutes easy riding on a low gear.

     

  • 6 x 1 minute faster riding at 110+ pedal rpm with 30sec rest between each.

     

  • 2 minutes easy riding on a low gear.

     

  • 8 x 30sec faster riding at 115+ pedal rpm with 30sec rest between each.

     

  • 5min warm down on a low gear.

After using this session a couple of times it is important that you be strict with yourself regarding the 30sec rest periods; they should not be allowed to slide towards 35-40-45sec. Keep your legs turning though, it will help to get rid of the waste products from the efforts. This training session requires hard efforts from you during the work periods and strict 30sec rest periods for it to be most effective. Slacken off during the work periods and let the 30sec rests degenerate into much longer and you may as well not do it at all. Do it properly though, and it will produce good results.

If you wish you can increase the length of this session as follows:

 

  • 5min warm-up.

     

  • 5 minutes fast riding at 100+ pedal rpm and 97% average test heart rate or 99% average test speed.

     

  • 2 minutes easy riding on a low gear.

     

  • 5 x 2 minutes faster riding at 105+ pedal rpm with 30sec rest between each.

     

  • 2 minutes easy riding on a low gear.

     

  • 10 x 1 minute faster riding at 110+ pedal rpm with 30sec rest between each.

     

  • 2 minutes easy riding on a low gear.

     

  • 12 x 30sec faster riding at 115+ pedal rpm with 30sec rest between each.

     

  • 5min warm down on a low gear.

Tips to Keep You Going 
Some riders complain that turbo training is boring. Any training can become boring if your attitude towards it is wrong. So here are a few tips to keep you on the right track.

 

  • The first thing you have to do, before you start any training, is to be clear what it is you are trying to do. It should fit into your overall plan that is intended to get you fit for the races that are important to you, and that plan should take account of your particular life style and your other commitments. So, take a little time to sit down and plan out your training for, say, the next six weeks and decide in advance where your turbo training fits into that plan.

     

  • Keep a training diary and put into it the training you intend to do for about two weeks in advance. Then record the training you actually do. If the intended and the actual training done are put side by side on the same page you will be able to keep a regular check on how things are progressing. In a very short space of time you will gather a lot of information on training and how it affects you specifically, and this will help you plan your future preparation.

     

  • When you are training on the road time appears to pass quickly because the scenery constantly changes. On your turbo trainer you can make the time pass quickly by using your imagination. Imagining you are in a race (such as a time trial or in a break in a road race) can help improve your concentration.

     

  • You can also use the time spent on your turbo trainer to improve your riding style. With the aid of a large mirror, or better still a video camera, you can view the way you ride under pressure and so check out your racing position.

     

  • Some riders find that listening to music tapes helps them through their turbo training sessions. Put a selection of recordings of strong, rhythmic music onto a long playing tape (try to find music whose rhythm is similar to your pedalling speed). But don’t forget that this is a training, not a music appreciation session!

     

  • Doing your turbo training with a group of people gives you a greater sense of commitment to do it regularly. Two turbo trainers side by side gives each rider some company whilst allowing them to get on with their own individual schedules.

     

  • Vary the turbo training programme regularly so that you don’t get fed up with the same old session. If you keep in mind what you are trying to get from the session, the way you achieve it can vary considerably, limited only by your imagination.

It is an important part of your overall training plan to keep a sharp eye on how you are reacting to and recovering from all this hard work. A regular check on your morning resting heart rate and weight, together with a note in your training diary of how you feel when doing the training (and possibly a note on how much sleep you are getting) will help you spot any tendency towards overtraining. A couple of days rest at that point would bring things back to normal and also help maintain your enthusiasm.

And Finally 
Well, I hope I’ve given you food for thought. What you have read here is not all there is to say and know about turbo training, it is just one person’s way of doing it. You may now want to evolve your own way of doing things and devise your own turbo training sessions. For any form of training to be effective, you first have to decide whether or not it fits into your training programme and then it is a case of adopting a common sense approach to its regular use.

 

Copyright © Association of British Cycling Coaches 2012