Updated: Mar 15
While "smart trainers" come packed with many features to get the most out of your training, the so-called "regular trainers" are more than adequate for most of us.
As the racing season picks up and the monsoon sets in, there is a lot of noise about turbo-training. When we google “best indoor trainer”, quite a few names and some jargon jumps off the screen, with prohibitive pricing! But do we really need all the features that the "best" trainers bring?
Your "regular" indoor trainer can do a lot:
'Regular/Non smart' here means that the resistance (difficulty of the ride) is controlled by the drag against the bike wheel. So the only way you can make it harder or easier to pedal is by changing your gears. Some units do allow you to manually change the resistance of the trainer through a cable-operated lever.
Regular also does NOT mean "dumb". Most of these trainers can be "smart", using sensors and other accessories, wherein they measure speed, cadence and power data, and provide powerful ride analysis through apps. However, they cannot receive resistance changes. These trainers are also compatible with apps like Zwift, Sufferfest, etc. for the analytics (e.g. Elite Qubo Power Mag B+).
Abhishek Avhad (Cyclist and Coach) says, “If you don’t have a smart trainer, it does not mean the end of the world. You can execute intervals as well as threshold workouts using additional sensors. A speed, cadence and heart rate monitor are crucial to execute a workout well in the absence of a smart trainer.”
Viv Menon (Coach and Triathlete) elaborates, “More than a speed sensor, a cadence sensor is valuable. You can structure your workouts using cadence and big gears. Also, a cadence sensor ensures that you are pedalling efficiently in the desired RPM range.”
What is a Smart Trainer?
‘Smart’ here means two-way communication about speed, power and cadence with apps on your phone, tablet or computer. In return, the apps can control the trainer’s resistance. So, when you come to a virtual hill or the start of a work interval, the trainer automatically makes it harder to pedal. Similarly, when riding in virtual groups, it adjusts for a draft: ride behind a big group and it’s easier, go to the front and it gets harder.These trainers can be both, "Wheel-on" trainers where you ride with your existing/training wheel and cassette (e.g Tacx Vortex or CycleOps Magnus), or "Direct Drive" trainers, which means that you need to take off the back wheel to mount it on the trainer and its own cassette (like Elite Direto or Tacx Flux S). So every time you need to ride on the road you will need to fix the rear wheel back. During and after the workout, the app gives you detailed metrics and analysis of your ride.
To use a smart trainer, you need a bike, a computer (or smartphone/tablet/Smart TV), and WiFi.
Smart trainers allow third-party apps such as Zwift, TrainerRoad and The Sufferfest to take control of the resistance to replicate hills, headwinds and drafts inside groups, and also guide you through power-based interval workouts.
So which one is right for me?
Veteran 70.3 triathlete Kapil Sanghi opines, “I use a BTwin InRide 500 trainer, along with the ‘connection kit’ to make it “smart”. It is a no-nonsense trainer which does the job for me, at a price which doesn’t burn a hole in my pocket. I come home from work, spin on it for an hour or longer. It shows me cadence, speed and calculates the power and gives me data, which, I feel, is enough for my level of amateur half ironman training. I have done some 2/3 hour rides as well, where I watch TV and monitor the cadence.”
Nigel Smith, (British Cycling Level 3 Accredited Coach) explains, “As you get fitter, for the same heart rate you will be able to spin a bigger gear at the same cadence, or, the same gear even quicker.”
5 tips for training on your regular trainer
Concentrate on maintaining good form. Don’t fidget, you’ll just expend energy needlessly. Be disciplined about maintaining cadence / speed / heart rate.
Don’t just “ride” have a plan; a structured workout for maximum benefit. A lot of workouts are available for free on online/youtube. So just stream and ride along! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMV5D2lmLaE
Do remember- riding on a trainer is more intense than on the road. Says Abhishek Alhad, “ 60 mins on the trainer is almost equal to 90 mins on the road. The main reason for this being the absence of freewheeling (wheels turning without pedaling). An indoor training session requires you to churn the pedals every second you are on it! “
Do warm up and cooldown properly. Yes, riding is a pain in the butt- but a 10 minute cooldown is a MUST! It helps you recover.
Most importantly, Turbo-training provides a golden opportunity to develop mental discipline which is often overlooked by triathletes/cyclists. So next time the going gets tough, don’t look for distractions. Instead face up to the way your body is feeling, then develop strategies to keep going. You may discover reserves of mental strength you never knew you had simply because you’d never really tested yourself.
Tell us your mantras for making the most out of indoor training sessions.