Trainer season is just around the corner for riders in colder climates and so many dread how mind-numbingly boring and unapologetically difficult it can be. If you are able to get down a system to make the trainer more enjoyable and comfortable, it will make you much more likely to stay consistent and make huge off-season gains! Here are some tips to follow to make riding indoors less of a burden and something you could actually enjoy!
Have a Plan
Riding the trainer on a whim without setting some goals or making a plan beforehand is a sure way to get bored, cut your ride short, and prevent you from wanting to continue to ride throughout the winter. Have a purpose for each ride, this will give you not only a set endpoint to the ride to work towards but will also be a little more stimulating and enjoyable.
A plan can be something as simple as telling yourself you want to ride for 20 minutes at a time before getting up for a break, 3 times in total to get an hour of total riding. This will break up the ride and give you smaller and more achievable chunks to work on during the ride. This could also be a goal such as completing an entire course on Zwift. exploring new virtual roads will keep you engaged and having a set endpoint will keep you motivated until the end.
Another way to plan your rides is by following a training plan and having set workouts for the day. Knowing that each ride is a small step in a larger goal is another way to keep you motivated and consistent over longer periods of time. Following a workout will also be more stimulating and exciting, which leads me to the next tip.
Most people who hate the trainer do so because they think it's boring and time drags on. If you are sitting in front of a wall and mindlessly pedaling, that can be the case for sure. For this reason, it is best to find things to keep you mentally engaged and excited to continue. Here are some of my top tips to keep your mind working throughout a ride
The easiest and most accessible tip is simply listening to music. I find anything more enjoyable with music, and keeping a high-paced, upbeat playlist on while on the trainer keeps me going.
Videos and Podcasts
Another great way to keep you mentally stimulated on the trainer is listening to podcasts or watching movies, TV shows, or YouTube. I don't think these are quite as effective as music since it is possible to get so occupied by what is on the screen, that you completely forget about the ride and you gradually slow down your pedaling until you stop. For this reason, I think videos and podcasts are best for easier, endurance-type rides that don't require a higher level of concentration to complete.
Group Rides and Workouts
My favorite way to make the minute tick by quicker is with group rides. On Zwift you can ride with friends, sign up for group events, or invite your own group to a personal meetup. Conversely, you can invite some friends over to your house and you can have a trainer party where you all ride trainers together. Having others to hold you accountable will make you more likely to push through, and simply having company will make the time much more enjoyable.
On a similar note, performing set workouts can make each trainer ride feel more manageable. Instead of thinking of the ride as a whole, daunted by the hours ahead of you, a workout can break that down into significantly smaller and more manageable chunks. It doesn't even need to be a difficult workout, if you are doing a longer, easy endurance type of ride, it would be much more manageable to think of it in smaller 10-minute blocks where each 10-minute block asks you to ride at a different cadence than usual. This gives you something to think about during each block, as well as only thinking about the ride as several smaller chunks.
Have a well-stocked trainer setup
If you live somewhere that makes you much more likely to ride indoors vs outdoors, it would be worth setting up a dedicated space for your trainer and keeping it set up at all times. This will save you the time of needing to set up your bike each time you want to ride it, and will make you much more likely to follow through.
Now that you have your trainer set up, the next step is to make sure you have it organized to make it as easy and quick to get started as possible. Set up some water bottles and snacks the day before, make sure your clothes and shoes are all laid out and ready to go and have your playlist of music, podcasts, or shows already made and ready to go. Every step you are able to save your future self from having to do is one step preventing you from deciding to just not ride.
A part of the reason the trainer feels so much more difficult than riding outside is due to your elevated core body temperature. Riding in the same place will heat up the air surrounding you so even though you may be riding outside where the air could be 40 degrees, the air immediately around you would be nearly the same as your body. This is why having a well thought out cooling strategy is important!
The most effective way to increase your performance and comfort on the trainer is by adding fans. Keeping constant airflow over your skin will allow your body to effectively use sweat to cool yourself off. Without this airflow, you will be sweating buckets, getting hot, and losing performance. performance. I prefer blower fans since you can point them directly at a place you want to cool and nearly all of the air will hit that small spot. I like having two fans, one for my stomach and chest since it is the largest area of exposed skin I can get a fan on, and my face to keep the sweat drips to a minimum.
Once you have a good fan setup, the next way to further increase comfort and performance is by keeping that air blowing over you cool. If you can ride outside under a roof such as a balcony, or patio, or even in an uninsulated or unheated garage, you can easily get some of this cooler air. The next best option would be to open a window in the room you are riding in and get a fan to blow that cool air towards you. Finally, the absolute best option that I highly recommend if you plan on riding the trainer often, is a separate air conditioner. My trainer setup is right next to a window that has an AC in it, that AC pushes dry, cold air to my back and near my fans. Those fans then pick up the cold air blown at them and blow it back at my body. This makes a cold air vortex of sorts where I have cold air blowing over nearly every inch of skin on my body.
Keep up with your hydration and nutrition
There is something about riding the trainer that makes so many people completely forget about drinking and eating. If you don't stay diligent and completely forget, it can lead to decreased performance on the bike, poorer recovery over the following days, or worst of all, you develop a habit of NOT eating or drinking that carries over to outdoor rides when the weather gets nicer. This is a recipe for a very unpleasant bonk.
You should be keeping with your typical hydration and nutrition recommendations on the trainer, about a bottle every hour with some electrolytes, and 30-90 grams of carbs per hour depending on the intensity. Since you have an easy opportunity to bail or use the bathroom, experimenting with new fueling and hydration strategies can be very effective on the trainer. Set an alarm to remind yourself to eat or drink at set intervals to get you in the habit of doing it by the time you get back outside. Try new foods and drink mixes to see what works well with your stomach and tastes good. If you have a table next to your trainer, you can easily try new things as well as have your regular backup items without worrying about carrying too much like you would outside.
Incorporate off-the-bike exercises.
The trainer fixes you in position for the entire ride without requiring any stabilization from you. This can lead to poor posture, weakening of compromised muscles and joints, and can lead to back pain, soreness, or injuries when it comes time to ride back outside. For this reason, I like to bookend some of my trainer rides with off-the-bike strength and mobility exercises.
Before getting on the trainer, it may be a good idea to do some activation exercises to get your muscles warmed up and ready to go, as well as work some of the muscles you need to ride that don't really get any use on the trainer. The most important joints to focus on in my opinion are the knee, hips, and shoulders. a quick 10-minute bodyweight warmup that incorporates a full range of motion in each of these joints will help you tremendously in the long term.
Similarly, when you get off the trainer you may find yourself tight. I like to do a short mobility workout immediately after getting off. This would include stretching the muscles in the back, neck, and legs, as well as some of those activation exercises for the shoulders again. This would be a good time to take in one last bottle of drink mix to top off your glycogen stores while you still have the ability to post-exercise.