How To Make Riding The Trainer Less Mind-Numbing
If you’re like many of us, ….ok, some of us, the holiday season brings not only festivity, joy and overindulgence, but also a somewhat structured diversion from buckling down and launching into the dreaded indoor trainer season. That’s right, for those of us in colder, darker winter locales it’s time to dust off the stationary and figure out how to get through the next three to four months of indoor riding. We’re here to help with that, and hope to offer some fresh ideas (or remind you of some you know) of how to make indoor trainer season not only less mind-numbing, but dare we say enjoyable? Let’s get rolling! If you’ve already spent some time training indoors for any amount of time, you probably know the basics: start with a good trainer, set up a fan, have a TV or your laptop/tablet accessible, etc. A lot has changed since the early days of static trainers and TMZ reruns, so hopefully you’ve engaged in some of the more recent innovations like interactive training apps and smart trainers. If not, stepping up your tech-training game is a great place to start. A smart trainer like a Wahoo Kickr and its associated app can transform a dull 90 minutes of spinning into a challenging and interesting experience. Training apps (especially the subscription version) like TrainerRoad can also make charting your progress easier, so you’ll know all that time spent “stuck” on the trainer is getting you somewhere.
Start off with your fit
It may sound elementary, but a big part of enjoying trainer time comes down to how comfortable you are on your trainer. If you haven’t had your fit checked or dialed in for a while, early off-season is a great time to do it. The static nature of a bike trainer means you can’t move around as much to mitigate discomfort. So if your fit is off, that time on the trainer will go :::really::: slow. Riding the trainer is a great way to dial in new cockpit components, saddles and general adjustments, as you can usually stop, quickly tweak, test, and change things up and jump back on. Your tools can be close by and you aren’t burning daylight on an outside ride. Investing time during trainer rides to test, adjust and fine tune your bike is a great way to make things feel a little less boring in the trainer room.
Speaking of the trainer room
Having a dedicated space for your workout can help ease the doldrums. If your trainer setup is sharing space in the bedroom, or in the TV room with the couch, it can be a bit distracting (especially the couch… wouldn't you rather be on the couch?). If at all possible, set up space just for the trainer and your screen. Any time you’re in there, you know what you're doing and why you’re there. That way when you’re on the couch, in bed, etc, the trainer isn’t there silently reminding you of what’s coming up at 5am! If shared space is the name of the game for your setup, a quality trainer mat, trainer table/desk and a fan can help "define" the space". Also, if you can set up near a window (or even garage door), being able to see outside, get some natural light and a little change of scenery now and again help stave off the boredom.
As far as why you’re there
It’s easy to slide into the off-season with “I’ll maintain fitness/get strong riding the trainer this winter” in the back of your mind. Not too many of us look forward to it, let alone get stoked for it. But if you have a plan and some goals in mind, it can make the time spent on the trainer much more meaningful and important. Setting up a plan and a schedule is a great place to start, and the aforementioned apps and subscriptions make this easy and take the guesswork out of it. TrainerRoad, Zwift, Rouvy and many other online services can help you set up a plan based on your available time and what you want to accomplish during the off-season. Having longer range goals like an event, races or even some long rides you’d like to be ready for can make the trainer time go by faster and make the improvements you’ll see even more exciting. You can print out event flyers, or pictures of where you’ll be riding and have them visible where you ride the trainer. It sounds simple, but it works surprisingly well!
Try new things
In addition to adjustments to the bike and components, riding the trainer is a great time for many of us to try out new nutrition and drinks without the threat of compromising an all-day ride. Intense trainer workouts can be a good place to test how that new energy bar, drink or Ketone shot you’ve been thinking about will affect your system. But no matter if you’re trying something new, or you have your nutrition all set, it’s important to have your drinks, snacks and energy supply close at hand on the trainer. Nothing will add more perceived time to a workout like being hungry or thirsty. Bonking is world class mind numbing!
What to watch, what to hear
It’s no secret that watching something on your screen can make the time go by faster on the trainer. Logging miles and hours on the trainer is a great time to catch up on TV shows your friends keep bugging you to watch, re-watch something familiar that you love or “group ride” with friends on Zoom! Also, if you haven’t spent a lot of time watching bike racing or don’t have time during the season, trainer time is a great time to catch up. Even if you’re not a huge racing fan, “watching something you’re doing” is a great way to add perspective and maybe even enjoy it more. Re-watching classic events or checking out types of riding you’re not familiar with is fun as well. If you’re not into screen time or just need a break, there is no end of outstanding cycling podcasts (including many episodes on riding the trainer more effectively), non-cycling podcasts and audiobooks out there. It’s also a great time to break your routine and check out new music that you might not otherwise get around to. Who knows what you might discover, and you’ll have “trainer time” to thank for it! (The author suggests checking out the album “What Happened To Television” by The Greyboy Allstars. Sure to get you in a trainer groove)
Acknowledge your effort and reward yourself!
Riding the trainer indoors can be a drag, there’s no doubt about it. So if you put in the effort, take stock in that and pat yourself on the back! Seeing results is a great reward in and of itself, but don’t forget to remind yourself that you're putting in the work to re-emerge outside as a stronger cyclist. If you can remember that, it’ll make the time spent grinding out the workouts easier and more enjoyable. Treat yourself to a new pair of bibs, or update your trainer setup as both a reward for your efforts and as an encouraging investment in getting stronger. Some folks resist spending the money on a smart trainer, or setting up a trainer room as “it’s only for a few months”. But those can be awfully long months and better equipment makes for a better experience. Plus, much of what goes into a high quality trainer set up is a one-time cost, or once every several years at the worst. The better your setup, the more you might actually look forward to getting reacquainted with it at the end of the season!