Turbo Training at Home

It’s getting into winter. It’s cold & not particularly pleasant to go out for long rides, so it’s time to get the turbo trainer out at home.

Backtracking a bit …  Last year at about this time I decided to do the Marmotte cycling event in the French Alps. This is far and away the hardest cycling challenge I’ve ever attempted, so I thought I’d better get some more training in, so I dug out the turbo and put the bike on it.

God it’s boring.

Just in case I haven’t been clear,

God it’s boring.

As I never done any serious turbo training before, I of had the idea that the way to go about it was to put in a about an hour with the heart rate staying high, which would be roughly the amount of cycling I was doing on my commute. I also had the vague notion that I could be doing some interval-type training. Needless to say I didn’t really enjoy it. Looking back on it, I think I can also be be critical of the actual results it delivered. The sessions didn’t really have a focus and not knowing how to structure the sessions meant the whole thing was a bit of a bore.  A Christmas/New Year away from home (& the turbo) meant I started using a local council leisure facility to try and pre-emptively combat the end of year spread.

The exercycles were nowhere as comfortable as my own bike, but after about 2 weeks of these sessions (not every day I hasten to add – it was the Christmas period, so I had plenty to eat and drink), I could feel that the interval sessions had done more than the rather un-directed training at home.

So, New Year, New Plan.

As I said, I had a trainer already. This is an entry-level TACX magnetic trainer which allows you to vary the resistance. I had a GPS with a heart rate monitor (HRM), with a cadence sensor. I didn’t want to spend £100s on a virtual reality trainer (it’d be nice, but there was no way I could justify spending this sort of money). And this is what worked for me.

  1. Moving the bike to a spare room so it could say up the whole time
  2. Buying some rubber tiles and exercise mats from the local Decathlon (sports super-store) – about £30
  3. Getting the summer fan out of storage
  4. Setting up a laptop on a table in front of the bike and connecting it up to some louder speakers
  5. Buying and fitting a combined Speed/Cadence sensor for the GPS(about £35)
  6. Investing in some decent training videos

The actual cost of all this wasn’t great.  I only had a cadence sensor on the bike, so I just needed a speed sensor so I could turn the GPS sensor off. I already had the HRM.  (At the very least you will need a HRM and a cadence sensor in order to get the most of off a turbo.)

The tiles were just something to protect the (carpeted) floor and the roll-up exercise mat gave me something to warm down on and protect the floor as well. After the sessions at the gym, I did some more serious research into what sorts of training maximise the effectiveness of a turbo session.  At a basic level three things that seem to be key are the

  • getting into the correct heart rate zone depending on the type of training
  • A clock/timer
  • The Cadence measurement
  • The resistance (either through gears or via the resistance on the turbo)

Initially I typed out the sessions with the timings and the target HR zones and suggested cadences.  This lasted a few sessions. Did I forget to mention how much sweat is generated when doing a turbo workout? It’s a lot. Buckets.  So, by the end, the paper was disintegrating, but more annoyingly, keeping track of the all the metrics whilst working out was frustrating.

On the plus side. it was a lot less boring than my first attempts.

So the final part of the plan was Videos!


As I knew I’d be going a lot of climbing in the Marmotte event (about 5000m of climbing over 174km), I thought the smart thing was to get a video that targeted climbing.

The first I found was the wonderfully named Sufferfest series. The Angels (Climbing) video looked the one to get. This really kicked the training up a notch. The first session it was a revelation (though a tiring/painful one).  Simply having a the timings and training levels in front of me freed me to concentrate on the training itself (the music was good also). The video has licensed footage from various pro races with the instructions overlaid when necessary. The use of sound cues also alerts you as to when you need to get ready to give some extra. I discovered that using this made an hour go very quickly.

To add into the mix I also bought one of the 3LC Climbing sessions. These take a different approach. The session is a video of a coached turbo session with Peter Kennaugh and twice British Champion Steve Joughin on the bikes. No music but a bit of banter throughout the session. This is probably as close I’ll get to ever getting professional level coaching!

After the first session, I though it might get a bit tedious with the same session repeatedly, but this was not the case. The 3LC video also has the best on-screen display showing what you need to do.

The final session I put into this was an interval training one. The production of this felt a little more amateur, but the footage was taken from the handlebars of someone out on training rides and also what looked to be like some amateur or club events.

Total cost of all three videos was about £25-£30.

Did all this work?

About 2 months later I went to Spain for a family holiday, so I took the bike over to get some more pleasant riding.  I’ve been here before, so I know what the climbs are like. This time, despite being several years older, I found the climbs easier and my recovery times noticeably shorter

Paradoxically this made getting back onto the turbo easier when I got back.  The results were so marked, that facing the prospect of more turbo sessions was strangely  inviting.

Once the weather improved, I went out more for road sessions, so the number of turbo sessions went down, and were strategically staggered to give a mixture of interval training and some final climbing sessions.

On the day of the Marmotte, I paced myself – rather too slowly in hindsight – but I made it up every col and enjoyed the whole day.

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