For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
Riding the trainer can make you a significantly better cyclist—but only if you do it right. Even without the sophistication of today’s smart trainers, the one or two-hour indoor rides that I used to do each week enabled me to make the greatest jump I ever saw during my 15-year racing career. Here are my top five dos and don’ts for maximizing your indoor riding.
Mark Allen’s Dos and Don’ts for Indoor Riding
1. Do use your trainer during extreme weather to bike consistently.
Consistency of training is key—and there are a lot of things that can get in the way of that one goal. The one that challenges us all that is completely out of our control is the weather. This is when the trainer really comes into its own to keep the consistency going. But winter is not the only time of year to use a stationary trainer for consistent, quality training. The same applies in the summer when the heat and/or humidity hit sweltering levels. Ride indoors in a cooler place so that you can actually go hard at reasonable heart rates instead of struggling outdoors in a survival contest.
2. Do use your trainer for very specific sessions.
With the ability to track power, heart rate, and intervals on a trainer, you can do exactly the session your coach wants you to do. There are no stoplights to deal with. You don’t have to worry about traffic. All you have to focus on are the specifics of a workout. And even better, if your workout is uploaded to Zwift, all you have to do is ride each segment without having to remember any of it.
3. Don’t get caught up in racing every workout.
With the options to ride your trainer in “group” settings in public challenges such as virtual races, it can become addictive to have every trainer session become like a race. If a particular day requires that type of intensity, then go for it. But your diet of stationary bike work should follow the plan of what you and your coach have decided on for each day.
This even extends to how you approach riding on your own versus riding on Zwift. You can ride a course, but when you come to the hills, for example, keep the intensity where it’s supposed to be. Stick to your plan and remember why you are on the trainer in the first place. Is it for safety? Great reason. Is it for time efficiency? That, too, is a fantastic reason. Is the trainer allowing you to ride at a time of day when outside would be out of the question (e.g. it’s dark outside)? Super. This is all great, but remember to stick to your planned session.
4. Don’t always ride connected.
One of the precious pieces of gold that an indoor bike trainer can afford you is the ability to get into your aero position and just close your eyes. When you do that you can tune into which muscles you are using to generate the power you need for your pedal stroke. Are you burning out your quads or are you using your glutes? Can you relax your upper body or is your position on the bike too stretched out and are you having trouble even being in the aero position? Is your pedal stroke smooth throughout the whole circle or can you improve on the efficiency and get more out of each stroke with less energy expended?
These are things you will never tune into if you are glued to a monitor or phone as you ride. It’s also very difficult to do any of that when you are on the road, simply because there are so many other things, like traffic, that you have to keep track of. Unplug from the screen and ride with feel. It will play a huge part in helping to make you a better cyclist.
5. Do use bike trainers to help you improve on your weaknesses.
Because the whole workout can be controlled, you can also make the sessions very specific to work on your weaknesses. For example, perhaps you have trouble staying aero? Simple solution: Ride aero but break it up as needed with 15-30 seconds of standing up and then see if there are positions on the saddle you can get into that afford you better power and comfort. Ultimately, you should be able to maintain this position for longer without it stressing or taxing your body.
Ironman legend and six-time Ironman world champ Mark Allen is a coach for Markallencoaching.com.