Before Zwift created Tour of Watopia, before triathletes killed themselves for King of the Mountain status on Strava, and before the world laughed at the Peloton girl, there was Spinervals. The OG bike training series, created by former pro triathlete Troy Jacobson, traces its roots to 1995, before many of today’s elites were even walking. And while Jacobson hasn’t issued a new workout in about four years, the series is experiencing a bit of a resurgence right now in the midst of the pandemic.
All told, Jacobson created 50 different workouts under the Spinervals umbrella, tailoring them for a variety of training needs and energy systems. From long, virtual rides aimed to simulate courses like Ironman Lake Placid, to high-intensity sets with the goal of training power and explosiveness, the sessions delivered what triathletes needed when stuck on the basement trainer.
“In many ways, Spinervals was the social network for triathletes, before Facebook and other platforms existed,” said Jacobson. “People would get together at bike shops or in a friend’s house and do the workout together.”
Part of the genius of Spinervals was the fact that—in addition to featuring pro triathletes like Joanna Zeiger, Greg Watson, and Lee DePietro—Jacobson filled his videos with regular relatable triathletes from around the country. “They’d then tell their friends and word spread,” he said. “A lot of people burned DVDs and shared them.”
Jacobson eventually took the series to streaming, where it remains today. “The fundamentals and methodologies of workouts remain the same,” he said. “We know they work and thousands of cyclists have used them over the years.”
Now an executive coach and consultant based out of Tucson, 50-year old Jacobson spent the bulk of his career in triathlon. As a pro who focused on the Ironman and 70.3 distances, he finished as high as 20th at Kona in 1998, while simultaneously growing a successful coaching business. “When I created Spinervals, it was at the right age and the right time,” he said. “I didn’t have too many commitments back then and could dedicate my efforts to
growing the series along with my coaching. Everything came together.”
The Spinervals concept, in fact, was born out of a regular weekly trainer session Jacobson held for his Baltimore-based training group. Upwards of 30 to 40 triathletes would gather at the local swim club for a Jacobson-led sweat session. This complemented the three weekly swim workouts and once-per-week track practices he held nearby. Several of those original athletes went on to elite- and pro-level success.
After 17 years running his own coaching business, Jacobson joined LifeTime Fitness as its senior national director of endurance sports, where he remained for a decade before returning to entrepreneurship as an executive coach last year.
These days Jacobson spends most of his training time on a mountain bike. “I’ve gotten into 24-hour and other long-distance events,” he says. “But I do have a handful of triathletes who have been with me for years that I still coach.”
If you look carefully, you might spy some of those athletes in those old Spinervals videos. The bikes might be old school and the cycling kits are certainly dated, but the training approach remains timeless.
Try this old school Spinervals workout:
Stuck indoors during the pandemic? Hit both strength and cycling technique with the UltraConditioning 5.0 video. A 90-minute session that combines intervals on the bike and a full-body strength workout off the bike, you’ll be covering all your bases for the day you can get back on the road.