Winter Trainer Workouts
Athletes commonly ask me about how to make their time on the trainer more enjoyable. For most of us “type A” triathletes more effective equals more enjoyable, so here are some ways to hopefully do both.
First of all make sure that you have an INTENT for the workout (for example you may need an endurance training session, or a strength session) . Make sure you have a goal and then you can build a workout from there.
Endurance may seem like the easiest because, for the most part, that would just mean time in the saddle. Although that may be true, there are many ways that you can make your time ion the trainer more effective. Here are a few sets that can be used in an endurance workout- as part of your warm up and cool down, or just to break up the session.
Cadence drills- Start at a cadence of 80-85 rpm and hold that for 5 minutes, then bump the cadence to 90 and hold that for 4 minutes. Next go to 95- keep the resistance easier, so you may need to gear down- and hold 95 for 3 minutes. Now go to 100 for 2 minutes. If you are bouncing, back off slightly and try to smooth it out! In the last minute bump it up to 105-110. (Again, back off if you bounce and gear down to keep it a pretty easy resistance). There, that was a 15 minute set! Repeat that 3 times and finish with a 5 minute spin cool down and you’ve just done a 50 minute trainer ride! – - pretty similar to an hour on the road because there was no coasting.
Spin Ups- This is one of the most common cycling drills and can be done on the trainer, or outside on a flat section of your ride. Start off pedaling at a comfortable cadence and over the next 30-45 seconds, slowly build the cadence until you are bouncing in your saddle. Back off slightly until you are not bouncing, and hold that cadence for 15 seconds. As you get more proficient at this drill, you should be able to get up to 120 rpm. If you’re having trouble getting over 100 rpm, you might check to see if your saddle is at the correct height and your bike fits properly. You will bounce at a lower cadence if your saddle is either too high or too low. With either one of these drills you should keep the resistance at a level where you are in HR zones 1-2, otherwise you are pushing these to speed sessions rather than endurance drills.
Single Leg drills- There are several ways to do single leg drills. To start with, you have to have clipless pedals or pretty tight toe clips. These are VERY tough on an exercise bike at the gym unless you can clip in. Unclip one foot. On most trainers, you can find a place to prop your foot- like I will typically set my toe behind me on the spindle of the trainer where the adjustment for the rear wheel is. If this is not comfortable, simply set a stool or a chair next to the trainer to prop your foot on. Now try to spin at an easy resistance with one leg for 45 seconds to start. . At first just explore the “weak” spots in your cycle. Then spin for 2 minutes with both legs before you switch to the other leg. As you get more proficient, try to work on your cadence and hold a cadence of 90 rpm for 45 seconds. Work your way up to 2 minutes with each leg, interspersing an interval of 2 minutes with both legs.
For some STRENGTH and POWER sets, try some of the ideas below- make sure you’ve done a warm up set first!
Low Cadence power drill- This time you will set a higher resistance on your trainer. Choose a resistance where a cadence of 75 is comfortably hard. Hold that cadence of 75 for 5 minutes, then recover for 1 minute. Next go 4 minutes in one gear HARDER than the 5 minute set, recover for 1 minute. Progress in this manner until your 1 minute interval where you should be REALLY working. You may have to drop your cadence to 65-70, but if you go below that, ease off. That is a 20 minute total set that should REALLY work your legs!
Climbing Drills- There are lots of climbing drills out there, but I like to keep a combination of seated and standing climbing. The previous drill was all done seated, but on this drill we will alternate sets of standing and sitting.
Choose a gear where you can stand and turn over at a comfortably difficult effort. Start with 30 second intervals here. Do 30 seconds standing followed by 1 minute seated recovery then 1 minute standing (in the same gear as the 30 second interval), but now your recovery becomes 30 seconds seated this time. Once you get proficient, increase the intervals to 1 minute each. Do sets of 5 climbs (with 5 recoveries) for a total of 10 minutes. Take a 5 minute easy spin and then repeat. You can work your way up to 2 minute intervals, but you might also want to increase the recovery time.
Single Leg Strength Drill- This drill is similar to the endurance version of the single leg drills, but make sure you are PROFICIENT at those before you get into this drill. With this drill you will start with 30 seconds with a single leg, but you will chose a higher resistance. The key here is to work your STRENGTH around the entire cycle stroke. You want to be able to keep a minimum of 60 rpm for the 30 seconds. The key here is to keep your power SMOOTH through the cycle. If needed you can start with a lower resistance, or shorten the interval to 15 seconds.
SPEED sets can also be lots of fun on the trainer. You can get an intro to some speed sets with the spin ups and the cadence drill covered in the endurance section. For the spin ups, just hold the high cadence for a minute to start with.
High Candence speed drill- This will be similar to the first drill with two exceptions- the first difference is that you will add a one minute recovery between each set. So 5 minutes at 85 rpm, but this time at a slightly easier resistance than the first drill. Then a 1 minute recovery followed by 4 minutes in the SAME GEAR as the 5 minute interval pushing 90 rpm- this should be slightly challenging! After the minute recovery, go into 3 minutes at 95 with the SAME GEAR. By your 1 minute interval, you should be sweating
Speed Intervals- You can really mix these up however you want, but I like to go through a progression where the first week, you will do 1 minute intervals and work your way up to 3 minute intervals over 5 weeks.
After a good warm up do 10×1 minute with 1 minute recoveries at a FAST pace and fast cadence. After the 10th repetition take a good 10 minute easy spin and then repeat if you can.
Tabata intervals- In my opinion, these intervals are some of the BEST bang for your buck. The total set is only 4 minutes and it goes like this : 20 seconds as HARD as you can followed by 10 seconds easy spin recovery- repeat for a total of 8, so you’re done in 4 minutes. If you do these right, they will work you!! Add in a 15 minute warm up and cool down and you’ve just had a pretty effective 40 minute trainer session.
You can see that there are TONS of ways to keep things interesting on the trainer. The key is to focus on the intent of your workout and mix up your intervals. If you want, you can combine sets as well. For instance you can warm up then do a strength set, an easy spin for 5 minutes then a speed set followed by a cool down. That will keep you interested and moving!!
All in all, remember that your time on the trainer should be effective.. While sitting on the trainer spinning for 2 hours watching a movie or reading a magazine is better than just sitting and watching the movie, it’s not NEARLY as effective as a one our focused workout on the trainer.. Don’t let the trainer blues get you down- spring is just around the corner!!
Coach Julia Purrington is a USAT Certified Level I Coach