How to get the most out of your Turbo Sessions

With temperatures up and down the UK set to plummet over the coming few weeks and the incessant rain refusing to lift, cycling on the great British roads is not looking like a safe or sensible training option. We all know how wonderful it feels to have the wind in our hair and the sun on our backs, pedalling along through twisting country lanes but that's just not the reality of winter cycling in the UK. To make sure that you keep the quality of your cycle training consistent the most obvious and logical choice is to take to the garage and set your bike up on that dreaded torture device: the turbo trainer.

Let's take it back a step - in reality we are actually faced with a choice of three options for our training at this time of year: 1) wrap up, put on your lights, and head out. 2) Plan a session for outside with the knowledge that it may be cancelled at the last minute (due to a dive in weather conditions). 3) Face the music and put out the turbo/rollers and start sweating!!

Regardless of where you are at with your training plans, there are some key aspects of a turbo sessions that you need to be aware of:

1) A turbo session will give you around 25% extra benefits compared to what you were experiencing on the road. (Purely because there is no coasting and you have to keep pedalling!)

2) Turbo sessions are different to spin sessions in one fundamental way: if you free wheel, your speed will slow down. (During spin sessions, if you free wheel, your legs will be taken for a ride.)

3) Turbo sessions are one of the two greatest ways to become stronger on the bike, and really push yourself. (The other is hill sets)

4) Turbo sessions do not necessarily need to be the ‘beasting’ sessions that many people are accustomed to. (But when you do ‘beast’ yourself, there is nothing better!)

Once you understand these points about turbo sessions, the turbo session becomes an opportunity for great physical and mental development.

Let’s be frank for a couple of seconds: turbo sessions are not easy. They require a huge amount of mental strength just to get on the turbo and start pedalling. To sit on a turbo, usually stuffed in a corner of a cold, dimly lit garage, for a couple hours is a prospect that very few people will find appealing!

Given that any time on a turbo trainer is never going to be the most enjoyable, you want to make sure that what you are doing is effective and efficient. In terms of getting the most from your time on the turbo, the best thing to do is have a plan and know the purpose of your session. 

In my opinion, there are three types of turbo sessions and it is important to know what type of session you are doing before you even contemplate the idea of stepping on your turbo trainer:

1)   Base turbos

2)   Hill turbos

3)   Interval turbos

Base Turbos

Base turbos are great fun. These are the sessions that initially you don’t want to do, but once you get in to them, they can actually be relatively enjoyable. These are the sessions you turn to when the weather is just too bad outside: snow, ice etc . yet you still have a long base ride in your training plan. Some of my favourite turbo sessions have been sat watching David Attenborough and tapping along at a comfortable pace. The aim of these sessions is to spend time in the saddle, just sitting there pedalling watching a film, or having a chat with some friends. Enjoy yourself, and spend the time spinning an easy gear. To mix things up, you can drop into an easier gear, and spin at a very high cadence (working pedal efficiency at all areas of the pedal stroke), or drop your cadence and increase the resistance. By increasing the resistance, you have to reduce your cadence to keep a constant level of power. Focus on making your pedal stroke as efficient as possible. You can feel how each foot is applying power. These sessions are a great team building exercise and are great fun to do with others. Heck, why not put on the TV, invite some friends over and do a movie night…the triathlete way!

Hill Turbos

Interval turbos and hill turbos differ on one critical point: the position of your front wheel. When you go up a hill, apart from the added pain of lugging yourself and the bike up it, the main difference while climbing is how gravity changes through the pedal stroke. This can be trained for by putting the front wheel higher than the rear wheel while doing a turbo session. These types of session can be really effective for races where you have a gently changing gradient. Follow the same sort of intervals as you would for the types of races you are doing. Mix things up by putting the resistance right up or getting out the saddle to recreate ‘downhills’ by doing some easy spinning. You can build up the muscles to better absorb any gradual climbs. It doesn’t replace any proper hill repeats, but it still does help prepare for hills better than a steady state Base Turbo.

Interval Turbos

Most people know all about turbo sessions due to intervals: images of indoor sessions and pools of sweat spring immediately to mind. Many coaches have some pretty amazing interval workouts in their library (I know we sure have a few!).  With so many exciting and varied session plans, if you're attempting these on your own then it's often difficult to know what to do.

Fundamentally, you need to remember one thing: turbo as you would race. If you are racing Ironman, aim to put in 3, 4, or even 5, hours in replace of your longer sessions. Put in intervals that would gradually wear you down. 12 x 6 mins dropping into a harder gear every minute, with a one minute recovery is a great way to wear you down. Put your harder more intense intervals towards the end of your session when you're already fatigued. If you're looking at doing some more intense Sprint Distance racing, look into Chris Boardman’s Session: 20 seconds flat out with 40 seconds recovery: repeat x 60. You want to aim to spend your time just below, or very high above your lactate level, not sat just above it.  This will get your body used to racing at your lactate level, jumping above it and being able to drop back down into a fast ‘race’ pace.

In my opinion, having some kind of order to the turbo sessions, even if they are mundane or repetitive, is the easiest way to do a session. If you take the sessions from above, you know without a warm up, or cool down, the session will take 84 minutes or 60 minutes. The great thing about turbos is that you can organise the sessions around your time, and still get some great benefits. (Remember the 25% rule!)

In my opinion, turbos are not just a winter pleasure, but in fact a training necessity. For you to get the most out of your training season towards the race season, you need to put together a training plan that includes at least one (and maybe even more) pure, all-out, sweat-richened, pain-fuelled turbo session.

Remember, consistency is key and don't do too many turbo sessions all at once and leave yourself never wanting to even look at the device for the rest of the season!

And remember - the bad weather won't last forever!

For more information on training sessions, give us an email, and we will be happy to answer any questions!