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Make Peace With Your Bike Trainer

Your bike trainer isn't a buzzkill - it's an opportunity.

Stop thinking of your indoor trainer as a buzzkill and start thinking of it as what it is: an opportunity. “The biggest advantages are efficiency, safety and the ability to sustain the effort, cadence, and wattage you want without interruption,” says Robert Pennino, founder of Terrier Tri in New York City. “The specificity with which you can work on the trainer can’t be replicated outside.” Not to mention the fact that pros including Tyler Stewart and Andy Potts are tearing up their share of bike courses while reportedly doing most of their training indoors.

So how do you make gains on the bike trainer without losing your mind? A few secrets from the experts:

Know your purpose. Is your goal for that workout to smooth out your pedal stroke? Do threshold work? Arrange your workout accordingly. Not knowing what you’re working on that day is like aimlessly pedaling around your neighborhood—it doesn’t do anything for your mind or your skills.

Stay busy. Distracting yourself with movies or TV works for some people. But a better way to make time fly is to get really engaged with your workout. If you do short and interesting interval sets—say three minutes at 100 RPM, one minute at 110, one minute of recovery, etc.—you’ll be so busy watching the clock, your cadence, your wattage and even your heart rate that you won’t have time to be bored.

Build your technique. That’s what the trainer is for, says Pennino. “I like to have athletes do two or three workouts on the trainer focusing on technique,” he says. Do some of the same drill sets every workout and watch yourself improve over time.

Change your gearing. “People don’t realize they can change their gearing in the winter,” Pennino says. “If you need to develop leg strength, change out your chainring and put a 55 on it. If you need to work on leg speed, put a compact on the front so you’re doing more spinning.”

Don’t stay on there forever. Studies with power meters indicate that a 60-minute workload on the trainer can take 75 minutes to produce on the road, points out Jim Rutberg, co-author of The Time-Crunched Cyclist. Since you’re constantly pedaling and there’s no stopping for traffic lights or dog walkers, “you can take about 20 percent of the total time off your workout when you ride on the trainer,” he says.

Consider that the trainer’s not the problem. If you find the trainer excruciatingly mind-numbing, ask yourself why it’s so difficult to spend just 60 minutes in your own head. Think of it as building mental toughness.

Plan what to do with your extra time. “I remind athletes that by the time you get dressed and get to the park, that’s already 20 to 30 minutes,” says Pennino. “If you get on the trainer, you’re already halfway through your workout by the time you’d have reached the park.”

Keep it set up. If possible, leave your bike on the trainer, and keep a fan ready in the area. The easier it is to get on the trainer, the more likely you are to use it.