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Ask a Gear Guru: What Are Some Indoor Training Essentials?

There’s a difference between simply working out inside to burn calories and actually training inside to get better. These indoor training essentials will help.

Indoor training may seem simple: You’ve got your bike, you’ve got a trainer; you’ve got your shoes, you’ve got a treadmill. What else do you need? Well, if you don’t want to suffer (needlessly, anyway), there are a bunch of things that you’ll probably want to make the training productive, somewhat comfortable, and (maybe even) fun. Here, we’ll look at the gear you might not think of when you’re heading out to the garage or the gym, but once you start using, you won’t be able to live without. It’s more than just making the hours fly by, training indoors effectively takes a deliberate setup if you want to make the most out of that indoor ride or run. Don’t forget—indoor training isn’t just about torturing yourself (though it may feel that way sometimes), it’s about getting the best workout you can in the time you have. After a good indoor training season, you should emerge from your pain cocoon as a beautiful butterfly of strength and grit—not just exhausted beyond belief. 

Make Space

Uninterrupted riding or running indoors is important because you not only get a better workout, but you’ll be more likely to do it again if you’re not constantly unclipping or coming off the treadmill due to distractions. Set up your indoor training area—even if it’s just at the gym temporarily—with purpose so you can finish your workout without stopping. This is precisely why you see pros with dedicated (and often detached) pain caves to help isolate them from the rest of their homes. It’s also not uncommon for us to “forget” to do things before the workout because we’re either rushed or we subconsciously want to stop midway through the session. Getting into the training zone is especially important indoors, and aside from just planning ahead, there are some simple pieces of gear that will help you out.

Keep Cool

We’ve devoted an entire column to rounding up indoor training fans, and keeping cool is more than just about being comfortable. If you’re constantly overheating, you’re not only torturing yourself for no reason (unless, of course your goal is to acclimatize to heat), but you may also be limiting yourself. Bear in mind, that even if you are acclimating to heat, when cycling and running, air will almost always be moving over you, even if it’s hot air. That evaporative effect still helps your body cool so you can actually push yourself harder in workouts. If you’re only hitting a certain limit because you’re overheating halfway though your session, you still only did half of your session regardless of the reason. Remember, much of off-season training isn’t about getting to a high heart rate as quickly as you can (like when you overheat), it’s often about working on strength and more. 

Stay Hydrated

While this may seem like the same thing as keeping cool, it’s not. Many people wouldn’t ever head out the door without enough water on a road ride or run, but it’s super common to forget to bring enough water into the pain cave or gym because it’s simply not a part of our routine. We can actually lose as much, if not more, fluids during an indoor ride or run, depending on the temperature and the amount of air moving over you. We’ll talk about some hydration solutions for training inside, but none of those mean anything unless you have enough fluid within reach.

Train With Purpose

At first glance, this might seem to fall outside the scope of simple gear advice, but there’s a huge difference between doing focused workouts at different paces and simply riding or running at the same speed indoors while bingeing on Friends all winter. That’s called hitting a plateau, and it can happen even in the base-building phase. While long rides and runs are important, be sure to mix up the pacing—and there are some great tools to help with that.

(Try To) Have Fun

This may seem like an extreme—and nearly impossible—piece of advice when it comes to indoor training, but it really does make a difference. If you’ve nailed the other four big tips, making indoor training fun is the best way to make sure you’ll want to do it, even when you have better options (like doing nothing). The great thing about running or riding inside in the last five years is that there’s a multitude of indoor training options that will help motivate you to put in those hard—but incredibly productive—hours away from the sun.

Now that you know a little more about how to best train inside, we take a look at a few indoor training essentials that can help:

Indoor Training Essentials: The Trainer Itself

Saris M2 Smart Trainer

$500, Amazon.com

Indoor Training Essentials

Alongside a bike, a decent smart trainer is nearly essential today to take advantage of the huge advances in indoor training. While there are a whole range of smart trainers available (read our extensive column here for more), this is the least expensive and most reliable smart trainer we’ve found. While a wheel-off trainer will be better if you’re planning on spending all winter indoors, the M2 is great for triathletes just looking to dip their toes or those who split their time indoors and out. 

Indoor Training Essentials: Stay Organized

JEGS Rolling Tool Tray

$100, Jegs.com

A rolling tool tray is by far the best way to keep your computer, remotes, phone, water, and anything else you need close at hand when you’re at home. This tool tray supports 200lbs., so you can load it up with everything including a kitchen sink. The tray is on wheels to help move it closer and farther away as you go, and it’s height adjustable from 33 to 48 inches. A rubber mat keeps everything from sliding around, and two compartments help keep everything organized and easy to grab—even when you’re going cross eyed during your workout.

Indoor Training Essentials: Stay Cool

Rowenta VU5670 Turbo Silence Extreme

$120, Amazon.com

While there are a whole slew of options for indoor training fans—ranging from deluxe hot/cool air purifiers and fans that adjust to your riding speed to budget options that don’t cost an arm and a leg (check out our column here for more), the Rowenta hits the sweet spot for sweat between full power and quiet operation on a pedestal fan that’ll hit your right where you need it. Definitely don’t get something either underpowered or so intense that your heart rate is going through the roof just by turning it on. 

Indoor Training Essentials: Drink Up

Hydrapak Shape-Shift 2 L

$36, Amazon.com

This may seem unusual at first, but a bladder is actually the best way to stay hydrated when you train inside. The key here is making it easy to drink while on the bike or while running, keeping probably more fluid than you need on hand, and having something that’s easy to fill, transport, and clean. The Hydrapak is by far the easiest to clean and fill, with its almost zip-lock-like opening, and two liters is enough for all but the absolutely longest rides or runs. You won’t need to get a backpack for indoor training, as you can just lay it on a stand or pedestal and grab the hose as you see fit.

Indoor Training Essentials: Train, Don’t Just Work Out

The Sufferfest Online Training Platform

$130/year or $15/mo., Thesufferfest.com

As virtual training environments become more popular, platforms like The Sufferfest are expanding their offerings. The Sufferfest has a huge library of online or offline video workouts for cycling, strength training, and even yoga. Unfortunately, you’ll have to look elsewhere for running workouts, but the depth of these carefully curated cycling-related workouts are certainly worth it—especially if you’re training without the guidance of a coach. 

Indoor Training Essentials: Make It Fun(ish)

Zwift

$15/mo., Zwift.com

Indoor Training Essentials

While The Sufferfest may have the market nearly cornered on cycling-related workout libraries, Zwift has done the same thing in virtual training environments with its massive community of Zwfiters and detailed (and super fun) gamified worlds to ride and run in. Connect your smart trainer or footpod to this online platform via your computer, a smartphone, or a tablet, and you’ll be magically “Zwisked” away to an expansive world with goals, KOMs, online avatars, and more. Interact with other riders and runners via chatting or various other online “movements,” and watch the indoor hours melt away as you actually get some training in.

Chris Foster is a former member of the U.S. National Elite Triathlon Team and spent a decade traveling the world as an ITU and short-course pro. He’s made more mistakes in ten years of being a young and reckless triathlete than most people make in a lifetime, so he knows a thing or two about what works and (more importantly) what doesn’t. He is also the author of The Triathlete Guide to Sprint and Olympic Triathlon Racing.