With many states across the U.S. dealing with winter conditions, we thought we’d review the basics of using a stationary bike trainer to get in cycling workouts when riding outside is not possible.

Written by: Ian Murray

Resistance-only trainers are the most affordable.
Trainers can help you get in your bike mileage during the winter months.

Cold, snowy winters don’t have to interrupt your training; just turn to the indoor trainer. Indoor trainers don’t limit your bike training. In fact, even athletes in the sunny climes should log some time on a trainer during these pre-season months. A trainer is more specific than a spin bike, a stationary bike, a recumbent stationary bike and on down the list of pedaling actions that move further and further away from the training principle of specificity.


Choose the Right Trainer

A bike trainer is a device that clamps onto your rear axle and presses a resistance roller against the rear tire so that you can ride in place. They come in three basic categories:

Wind trainer: Less popular today and thank goodness, as the resistance generated from its small fan isn’t as loud as a 747 at takeoff, but it’s far from silent.

Mag trainer: A bit more expensive and quieter.

Fluid trainer: More expensive and quieter than its Mag brethren.

Most trainers are durable. It’s a worthwhile investment and a device that will serve you well for years to come. Buy a steel skewer for your rear wheel so that the bike sits more securely in the trainer’s clamp, but most new trainers come with this. Also buy a wheel block that raises the front wheel, leveling off the bicycle, but this can be faked with something like a phone book.

The great thing about indoor trainers is that…

There are no interruptions on a trainer like there are on the road—no stop lights, no delays. Just get on and go! This adds value to the ride, so a 50-minute ride on the trainer is equal to an hour outside.


Structure Your Workouts

The same basics apply here as in any workout. Start with a warm-up of 10-12 minutes. Put in some technical focus for three to five minutes. Perform the main body of your workout, and then follow with seven to 10 minutes of cool-down.


Three rides a week in the winter will keep you in shape and improve your bike ability.

– Drill ride. The main body consists of four sets of 30-second one-footers, with two minutes of recovery. To perform a one-footer, remove one cleat from the pedal and rest that foot safely on the frame of the trainer. Concentrate on 30 seconds of smooth, fluid circles using just one foot. Switch feet and take two minutes of easy spin with both feet as recovery. The next drill is four 30-second spin-ups with two minutes’ recovery. To perform a spin-up, start at 90 rpm in a moderate gear. Gradually increase your cadence to 95, 100, 105 rpm and so on while still in that same gear. After 15 seconds of increasing cadence, get to your fastest spin which is still very smooth (no hopping around in the saddle) and hold that for 15 seconds. Take a full two minutes of easy circles between each for recovery.

– Interval ride. After a solid warm-up, shift into a higher gear and commit to going very strong for two minutes. You can determine how intense that effort should be with a heart rate monitor, by rate of perceived effort or by breath rate. Then, spin easy for three minutes. Start with three rounds, and as fitness develops, go to four or five rounds. After that, increase the duration of the effort. Eventually, reduce the recovery time.

– Steady state. After a solid warm-up, settle into a pace that will last 15-30 minutes. Make this a challenge, but not nearly as intense as the effort in the interval ride. Again, use either heart rate, perceived effort or breath rate to decide on the intensity. Hold this effort steady and strong for the full duration, and concentrate on good pedaling mechanics. Be sure to leave plenty of time for a quality cool-down.



Ian Murray is an elite-level USAT coach and the writer and host of the DVD box set TriathlonTrainingSeries.com.