Fitness basics: Turbo training

Boost your training with some rollers

Turbo-trainers are ideal for winter bike training because of the speed at which you can get on the bike, have a good session and get off again.

Your warm-up doesn’t need to be as long as it is out on the road, you don’t have to contend with traffic or stop pedalling on descents, you can refuel with minimal interference to your session, there’s no such thing as punctures, and no fussing with the layers of clothing winter demands.

All this means you can concentrate solely on doing your training, and get more effort in on the turbo in a shorter amount of time than you can out on the road.

If you want to spend the money on an advanced indoor trainer that offers lots of feedback on your performance it can be a great tool, but you don’t have to. You can just use a heart rate monitor to determine your effort.

It's a good idea to do a bit of top-end speed work all year round, and the turbo is ideal for it. It makes getting into the new race season easier, and keeps you a lot fitter without having to put in the hours.

Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong’s former coach, discovered that his athletes were able to gain and hold onto much more fitness by doing short, fast and intense intervals over the winter compared to those who spent long hours just doing base miles.

The athletes doing the short stuff had a higher VO2 max – the measurement of the body’s ability to take in and use oxygen during exercise – and greater power output overall.

So you don’t need to do three-hour rides to get into shape; if 30 minutes is all the time you have in the morning or before dinner, get on the turbo.

Turbo work can also help you work the weak parts of your pedal stroke and improve your efficiency. Cycling technique isn’t simply a matter of how hard you can push down on the pedals; there is also an up-stroke, and one-legged drills on the turbo can help you develop that.

They’ll probably also show you that one of your legs is weaker than the other. Starting and/or finishing a session with a one-legged drill can help equalise your leg strength.

The five sessions listed are great for those new to the turbo and experienced riders as they all provide a great workout in less than an hour. If you're thinking of buying a turbo trainer, check out the reviews on the right.

Session 1: 30-minute time trial (50 mins total)

Not so much a training session as a test. Perform it every month or so to see how your training is progressing. Warm up for 10 minutes, starting on the small chainring, largest rear sprocket (lowest gear) and medium resistance.

After every two minutes knock your gear up one sprocket aiming to maintain a cadence of 80-100rpm. After 10 minutes shift to the big ring (keep a medium resistance and you should be in the middle of the rear block) and ride as hard as you can for 30 minutes.

Cool down for 10 minutes, reversing the warm-up routine. Record the distance you achieved in the 30 minutes and try to beat it next time.

Session 2: Threshold booster (41-65 mins total)

3-6 x 5 mins with 3 mins recovery

This session is designed to raise your lactate threshold and your ability to perform at or near it. Warm up for 10 minutes in the same way as for Session 1. Shift to the big chainring and work hard for five minutes (aiming for a heart rate 15-25 beats below your maximum).

At the end of the five minutes drop to the small chainring, drop the resistance and spin easily for three minutes. Repeat this work/recovery cycle for three to six reps depending on ability. Cool down as in Session 1.

Session 3: Power blast (37-57 mins total)

5-10 x 1 min with 3 mins recovery

The Power blast will boost your explosive strength and power, allowing you to blast up short climbs or win the sprints to town signs. Warm up for 10 minutes in the same way as for Session 1.

Shift to the big ring and your smallest sprocket. Sprint flat out for one minute (try not to rock the bars too much – your frame might not like it!), initially building momentum out of the saddle before sitting down and carrying the speed through.

At the end of the minute spin really easily in a low gear against low resistance for three minutes. Repeat this work/recovery cycle for five to 10 reps depending on ability. Cool down as in Session 1.

Session 4: One-legged wonder (40 mins)

5 x 1 min left leg, 5 x 1 min right leg

This is more of a technique than a fitness session, although it will help to even out any imbalances between your legs. Warm up for 10 minutes in the same way as for Session 1.

Stay in the same gear/resistance as at the end of the warm-up, but cycle one-legged for the next 10 minutes, alternating one minute left and one minute right. Concentrate on maintaining a high (80-100rpm) cadence and on a smooth, fluid technique.

Next, shift into the big ring and ride moderately hard with both legs for 10 minutes, keeping up the same cadence and the same feel of fluidity. Cool down as in Session 1.

Session 5: Stairway to heaven (42 mins)

3 x 6 minutes of ascending difficulty with 2 mins recovery

One for building hill strength and mental toughness. Warm up for 10 minutes in the same way as for Session 1. Shift to the big ring but select a moderate sprocket, like 22. Resistance should be at about a third of your turbo's maximum. Ride moderately hard.

After three minutes, shift up two gears and try to maintain the same cadence for a further two minutes. Finally, shift up another two gears and ride hard for a minute out of the saddle.

Drop to the small chainring, drop the resistance and recover with easy spinning for two minutes. Shift back to the big ring but this time perform the '3 mins, 2 mins, 1 min' sequence with two more clicks of resistance.

Recover for two minutes again and then work through the '3-2-1' once more, again cranking it up by two clicks. Cool down as in Session 1. Be warned, though, this is a toughie.

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