Basic turbo trainer sessions

It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s dark… So what, that’s why they invented the turbo trainer! Many triathletes simply lock themselves indoors all winter and avoid the misery of cleaning the bike altogether — let alone running the risks of being knocked off the bike. In fact, for repeatable and measurable exercise conditions you really can’t beat a turbo — especially now they have fancy systems which let you record and replay entire routes or let you race a friend on the other side of the world via the internet.

Part of the problem that turbo trainers have is that while everyone acknowledges their value some of the training programmes that are published for them are so technical as to be almost unintelligible while sitting on a sofa — let alone while pedalling close to threshold! In an attempt to make life simpler we have put together a few simple programmes that won’t tax your brain more than your legs.

For those seeking alternative sources of programmes, there are entire websites dedicated to turbo training – slightly sad, I know! – where you can get turbo workouts sent to you on a regular basis for a small fee and there are a number of books out there as well plus a whole host of DVDs from the likes of the Carmichael Training System and Coach Troy’s Spinervals to build your strength, stamina and take your boredom thresholds to new heights.


Over the years we have used and abused a huge selection of trainers including a Shelford Rollerturbo, a Cateye Cyclosimulator, a couple of Tacx Cosmos variants and our current Cycle-Ops beast which provides both programmability and can download session data for analysis. While this represents the top-end of turbo trainer design (and price) you will get perfectly decent results from a basic wind or fluid/magnetic resistance unit from any of the major suppliers such as Elite, Minoura, Cycle-Ops, Computrainer, Tacx and others besides.

The basic aim in life of a turbo trainer is to provide resistance so that as you cycle the rear wheel is being prevented from freely rotating. This is achieved by either resting the rear wheel on a roller or having small wheels press on the rear wheel rim and taking the rotation of the wheel and causing it to spin a flywheel or a fan. Resistance is added to the rotation by either friction, magnetism or by rotating a fan in air or fluid. To get variability in your workout the level of resistance needs to be adjustable.

Rollers are an alternative to turbo trainers and are often cited as being far more like riding on the road. This is certainly true if you break your concentration because you’ll crash just like on the road… Most rollers don’t offer variable resistance and although they have the benefit of being cheaper, smaller and more compact/easier to store they cannot give the same level of data feedback.

Unlike the exercise bikes in a gym you are, of course, riding on your own bike so the positioning is correct (do remember to raise the front wheel a bit with a special block or a copy of the Yellow Pages™ so that the bike is level) and you get the comfort of your own saddle rather than something that looks like it came off a penny farthing. Unless you have splashed out on a virtual reality trainer you won’t be getting the full ambient environment but there’s nothing to stop you watching TV or one of Coach Troy’s Spinervals DVDs or even just having some music on to drown the incessent hum of the tyre on the roller.

Oh, it’s also worth investing in at least a turbo trainer tyre or, better, a complete spare rear wheel with such a tyre fitted because they can take quite a hammering over a long winter’s training. Road tyres do get shredded because of the heat build up and the additional friction compared to riding on the road. DO NOT use a turbo trainer tyre on the road — you will crash!

The main advantage of the turbo trainer is that it allows you to train consistently but you should also have the following items to get the best out of it:

  • heart rate monitor
  • cycle computer with cadence monitor that runs off the back wheel
  • fan for cooling you down
  • plenty of water/sports drink

IMPORTANT You will need to drink throughout these sessions. Allow for a litre per hour and this is best taken in large portions every 10 to 15 minutes rather than little sips. A fan is really useful to cool you down or you may see your heart rate rising as the body tries to dump heat. The heart rate rises because the blood is being pumped out into all the small vessels near the surface and this may fool you into thinking you’re working harder. It is common for the heart rate to rise up to 10bpm and then level out again under these circumstances. If you feel unwell, dizzy or your heart rate continues to rise then back off!

Quick sessions

If you want benefits quickly then the turbo is an excellent tool but you do really have to work. The other side of this is that the sessions can become boring. Sorry, that’s B.O.R.I.N.G!!.

We will be adding more sessions during the winter, please feel free to submit your own and we will include the best of them.

30 minutes (A)

Do warm up before this session for at least 10 minutes to get your heart rate up into the training zone. The warm-up time is NOT included in the set time.

This is the simplest session of all, a time trial. Instead of risking life and limb on the road just do a 30-minute all-out session and see how far you get. Make sure that any resistance setting used is recorded so you can repeat the test under the same conditions and see what improvements you are getting. As an added twist you can do this as a brick session after a swim and/or add a run afterwards. If you have access to a running track then you can do this session then a track session as well — excellent training.


30 minutes (B)

If you only have 30 minutes and want a progressing workout then this is probably as good as it gets and you can see and feel improvements quite quickly. For sprint and Standard distance this is probably the shortest session that will get an improvement. This set is extensible in blocks of 10 minutes (interval set plus steady state).

  • Warm-up for 10 minutes at 90-95 rpm bringing the pulse rate up to your training zone
  • Change into the big ring at the front and choose a sprocket (small ring at the back) that you know you can hold at 90 rpm for 1 minute
  • Go for 30 seconds at 95 rpm then back off (make easier) by 1 sprocket for 30 seconds at 90
  • Repeat this for 5 minutes (5 sets of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off)
  • Work for 5 minutes in the ’off’ sprocket at 95 rpm (keep in the training zone)
  • Repeat the 5 sets of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off
  • Cool down for 5 minutes using the same chain ring and sprocket as for the warm-up

45 minutes

Yes, we KNOW that it’s actually 46 minutes! As you improve you can work a progressively harder set of sprockets or add more resistance to the system.

  • Warm-up for 10 minutes at 90-95 rpm bringing the pulse rate up to your training zone
  • Change into the big ring and work up through the sprockets holding 95 rpm on each for 5 minutes with the third one being a sprocket that you know you can just hold for 5 minutes
  • Do the interval set from the earlier session (5 minutes of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off)
  • Go back down the sprockets in 2 minute steps holding 95 rpm on each
  • Cool down for 5 minutes using the same chain ring and sprocket as for the warm-up

Muscular Endurance

A 75 minute session from Dave Stanton – pre-season when you’ve got a good bit of winter base riding behind you. The aim is to progressively build this workout as the race season nears; ie week 1 as shown, week 2 as 6 x 7 mins with 3 mins recovery, week 3 as 6 x 8 mins with 3 mins recovery. Then progress to 3 x 10 mins, 3 x 12, etc, until 3 x 20 mins. At this point you’ll be well prepared for a 40k PB.

Warm up (20mins)

  • 10 mins easy spinning bringing HR up to 60%
  • 10 mins SL (single leg) as 1 min left, 1 min right concentrating on smooth pedal action

Main set (45mins)

  • 6 x 6 mins at or near LTHR (Lactate Tolerance HR) with 3 mins easy spinning recovery. Aim for 85-100 rpm and this is intended to be race pace training; ie any harder you’ll blow up, any easier and 6 mins is not a struggle.

Warm down (7-10mins easy spinning)

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