Training indoors is nothing new, but there are a lot of new elements to training indoors. From turbo trainers synched to the internet to a full spectrum of accessories to help mirror the challenges of real-world riding, it's become a huge and exciting world.
In fact, the technologies are improving with such speed that the inside spin is no longer a poor cousin of the real thing, it's an experience in itself and one you can look forward to just as much as getting out on the bike.
There are three elements you need to get right to make this happen: the equipment, the set-up, and the attitude.
In this article, we’re going to detail some of the most up-to-date thinking on each of these areas to help you get your indoor training set-up not just usable, but addictive, motivational, and transformative.
The right equipment
Having the right equipment is essential to making your indoor set-up an experience that's rewarding and fun, not one you dread. That means more hours spent where you really want to be – on the bike.
You’ll need some key pieces of kit to get started and some of them are more important than you might think. Even though it's in the next room, it still takes motivation and self discipline to get on the bike, so any little niggling annoyances can eat away at your steadfastness - beware.
Finding the right turbo trainer
There is a wealth of information in our Turbo Trainer Buying Guide, and guide to Smart Turbo Trainers, but for this article, we’re going to quickly summarise some of the things to consider for your perfect indoor set-up.
Firstly, it’s important to think about how much time you will realistically devote to your indoor training. If you plan on clocking up huge miles, grinding on high resistance settings for hours on end and emerging from your off-season chrysalis like a springtime road-eating monster, then you’ll need something capable of handling that kind of pressure, such as the Tacx Neo 2T.
If perfect road simulation is more your style, you might want something like the Wahoo KICKR.
Maybe convenience is your main concern and you'll want to leave your set-up in place (see our section on getting the attitude below)? If that's the case one of the latest bespoke bike models is the answer such as the Tacx Neo Bike Smart Trainer.
If you live with an easily annoyed significant other, family member, or even neighbour, then the loudness of your trainer will be very important. If you’re going to have someone knocking on the door telling you to keep it down, it’ll play havoc with your best intentions and throw you off schedule.
If that’s you, pick an ultra-silent model like the LifeLine Xplova NOZA S Smart Trainer.
And if you plan to use your trainer online, make sure it’s Smart enabled. More about that later.
Finally, consider whether or not you’re planning to take your bike out of action for an extended period. That decision will affect whether you should be looking at a direct drive trainer or a wheel-on model. If you find yourself constantly taking the wheel on and off it’ll make getting on the trainer seem more of a chore.
The important thing is to identify your priorities and buy accordingly.
Turbo Trainer tyres
A training tyre, such as Schwalbe Insider Performance Turbo Trainer MTB Tyre or the Tacx Trainer Tyre for Road Bikes might not seem that important but again you have to be realistic about what your training needs are in order to remain motivated.
If you find you’re wearing out your hi-spec Continentals on the trainer, it might put you off hopping on in the first place, as will the increased volume from high grip rubber.
Of course, a direct drive unit solves this problem – as we mentioned above – but don’t undo your good work by not putting all the necessary pieces in place.
Most turbo trainers will raise your back wheel, so it can feel a little strange - like you're constantly going downhill. You’ll need a wheel block to raise the front wheel accordingly.
These blocks also make sure your bike is sturdy, so you can cycle at full pelt without worrying about toppling over or weakening your connection with the trainer.
It’s probably something you’re not thinking about at the minute but protecting your floor from the ravages of your indoor training could end up being a sticking point. If you’ve just invested in new flooring, then the threat of scores or scratches could put your training on hold. Or if you want your bedroom carpet free of free-flowing sweat, then a mat, such as the LifeLine Trainer Mat is indispensable, not to mention its stability and sound reduction benefits.
We’re sure you know what a towel does and how it works, but it’s worth having one or two on hand, whether to mop your brow or to catch sweat falling to the ground, especially if you don’t have a mat.
You’ve done the difficult bit and got on the bike; now the goal is to stay on it as long as possible and maximise every session. One of the most important ways of helping you do this is staying cool using a floor fan – or two. There’s more you can do in this area, but see 'The right set-up' section for more.
Unless you’re a zen master, capable of extended periods of functioning mediation, then you’ll need something to keep your mind occupied as your body pleads with your brain to let it stop. If you aren't ready to go 'smart' and join platforms like Zwift, Sufferfest, and TrainerRoad, then music or podcasts are the way to go. Just make sure you have a ready-made playlist at hand. Some like to read books or magazines while on the trainer, others prefer to watch television or catch-up on their favourite box-set. Whatever your preference, make sure it will keep you occupied and engaged, and that it's within easy reach. Once boredom sets in, you’ll have a fight on your hands staying on the trainer.
Computer or smartphone
But if you are interested in joining with the huge and growing numbers of those joining in the smart training revolution, then now if the time.
Smart enabled turbo trainers connect directly with your computer, tablet or smartphone. Using data from your performance it can replicate information such as pedal power, speed, and cadence onscreen in real time allowing you to cycle through a virtual world.
What sets the devices apart is that onscreen climbs or declines are fed back into the trainer, automatically adjusting the resistance to give you a dynamic experience similar to a real-life ride.
So, as you pedal through the simulated course, you feel every incline and downhill section.
One of the big attractions is the ability to link-up with other users across the internet and compete in online real-time races leaving your home.
Many find this provides the motivation they need to stay on the bike and accomplish these long hours as they do battle on virtual courses against real life riders.
Fuel and water
While your trainer workout is unlikely to last quite as long as an outdoor ride, you still need to think carefully about fuelling and having enough water. It may be indoors but it’s still a ride, so make sure you have enough water and within easy reach. If you haven’t eaten within three or four hours of your scheduled session, get a snack an hour before you begin.
The right set-up
Your set-up is just as important as your equipment, in that, if you don’t have the right space in which to train, then you won’t be using any of your carefully chosen kit.
The room needs to be isolated or at least out of the way of household traffic, as cool as possible, and with enough space for your equipment and entertainment.
A basement or garage is perfect, but one end of a large room will suffice. You may just have to work with what you’ve got, but avoid hallways and doorways.
Place your rear wheel in the trainer, your front wheel on the wheel block, and the mat or towels underneath. Make sure you are within easy reach of your entertainment, and if you’re using an online training programme then make sure the sun isn’t going to cause glare on the screen halfway through your ride, or the monitor isn’t going to pop into sleep mode.
Make sure your fan, or fans, are well positioned to give you the best coverage.
Dress light; shorts and a sleeveless base layer are probably all you need but if you're planning on a big session then decent bib shorts are essential.
Indeed, dhb have released bibs dedicated to indoor training.
The right attitude
You’ve got the equipment, you’ve done the set-up, now comes the last element. It’s important to recognise how all three elements interact, with your set-up and equipment affecting your attitude and how often you’ll get on that trainer.
If all those aspects are ready to go, here’s how to get your brain ready and willing to start training.
We know that half the battle of using a turbo trainer is maintaining enough distraction to limit the boredom of your indoor ride. What we mean by removing distractions is taking away those things that will interrupt your ride or stop your training altogether. For example, some riders create a training schedule and share it with family and friends. That means you’re loved ones are more likely to work around your schedule and you’ll not be pulled away from your self-imposed regimen by last minute invites or demands.
Having a schedule will help you plan around your training better, so you don’t forget about deliveries arriving at your house mid-session, or having to move your ride around appointments. You’ll also be able to better prepare and maximise your efforts.
If you have a pet, make sure they’re well walked, fed, and watered before you begin, so they aren’t scratching at the door while you’re pedalling in a virtual sportive, and if your waiting on an important call, keep your phone in a reachable position.
When pushing your limits, you’re likely to welcome any distraction and give yourself an excuse to dismount – do everything you can to stop that from happening.
Remove barriers to training
Another important practice is to remove any barriers you have to training. If you keep your turbo trainer in the loft, your mat in the garage, and you haven’t yet pulled on your training tyre, then the likelihood of getting on that trainer this evening is close to zero.
As far as possible, have your set-up and equipment all ready to go, even when not in use, and remove all barriers you can to training. Even having a simple piece of furniture in the way or a small repair job needing done can be that little nudge that means you put your session off until tomorrow.
Without goals, how do you know you’ve achieved anything? When setting out your schedule, it’s a good idea to also give yourself some goals. But be careful, aim too high and you might give up altogether; aim too low and you could lose interest. Find an achievable goal that will require some effort and don’t stop until you’ve achieved them. Having the right goals can make a huge impact on your motivation and the difference between an amazing few weeks of fun and rewarding indoor training or another washout of an off-season.