Turbo Love

“Remember that the body cannot do anything without the mind making it, so part of every turbo session is about strengthening the resolve of the mind. A strengthened mind is an asset that will stand you in good stead in all aspects of cycling.” Graeme Obree


As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan. I often get asked what is the best tool for triathlon bike training, for me it’s simple, the turbo trainer wins hands down.

I recently had a conversation with a triathlete who said his biking performance was limited, largely due to the fact that the traffic was too busy where he lived and he didn’t like going outside in the winter months. When I suggested the idea of buying a turbo trainer his reply was “do they really work?”.

As an inexperienced triathlete he was definitely of the view that outdoor bike training is infinitely better than indoor training. I explained my view was the opposite, especially where targeted specific fitness development was concerned. It’s a tool that when used in the right way can transform your biking fitness. They are also incredibly convenient to use and can be used all year round.

Where there’s a will there’s a way, lunchtime turbo at work!

The high quality workouts you can do on the turbo whilst cycling in a safe environment should not to be underestimated. You can do:

  • Strength work  ( hill climbing / big gear work )
  • Race simulations
  • Power training
  • Fitness testing
  • Time trials
  • Speed work
  • Endurance training

Trying to do some of these sessions outdoors can be treacherous if you live in an area with high traffic volume or in adverse weather conditions. It’s just not worth taking the risk.

Most of the athletes I work with do their bike work through the winter on the turbo trainer. We do throw in a few outdoor rides if the weather is good or if the athlete starts to get “turbo fever “. Who really wants to do 4-5 hour bike rides when it’s freezing cold outside? This only makes sense if you are building into a race with similar conditions.

Through the winter it’s best to aim for high quality training that focuses heavily on speed and strength development. Training shouldn’t just focus on one level of intensity; it should focus on multiple intensities so that you come out of the winter months fitter, faster and stronger. The frequency of outdoor bikes can then be increased as weather warms up and race season approaches. This will also help you sharpen up your bike handling and road skills. Many will still continue to do most of their high quality intensity sessions inside on the turbo trainer during this period.

 Hitting the turbo hard ! Team Nagi tough guy Remi Fackeure

When it comes to psychological training it is an absolute winner. The mental toughness required to execute a training session staying in one position with only your thoughts for company shouldn’t be underestimated. It will force you to stay engaged minute after minute because it is so easy to slow down or stop. Only you can make the decision to carry on in that moment of boredom or suffering. Mental toughness is built when you conquer moments like this. The more you do this on a consistent basis the stronger you will become.

One of the biggest proponents of turbo work was legendary cyclist Graeme Obree.  Graeme broke the world hour track record twice using mainly turbo work in a small cold room in his house. This is regarded by many as one of the hardest events in world cycling. He didn’t use sophisticated technology; it was just him, his turbo and a cheap bike computer that showed his speed and cadence. He only had his thoughts and feelings for company, a true test of the mind if there was ever one. The ongoing repetition of this tough physical and mental training was what made him the incredible cyclist he became.


When the view is this good, don’t be afraid to take it outdoors!

I know for many starting to use the turbo for the first time it can be quite challenging so its important to do it right. So here are 10 top tips to make the transition to indoor riding as seamless as possible:

1:  You don’t need to spend a fortune; there are some terrific turbos out there for £100-£200.  I would highly recommend investing in a cheap bike computer that tells you your cadence and speed, this will help you monitor your effort and develop your feel for pace.

2:  If you don’t have a turbo trainer at home then indoor gym bikes such as Watt bikes & spin bikes are fantastic alternatives.

3:  Invest in a large fan to keep you cool, you can quickly over heat when cycling indoors.

4:  Set it up in a room where you will feel comfortable and you won’t be distracted. Think of it as your training “cave”.  Here you will be able to close yourself off to the outside world, completely immersing yourself in what you are doing (it’s not an opportunity to catch up on emails!).

5:  Get comfortable with doing short sessions first of up to 30mins first. You can build from there, mentally this will be much easier to achieve.

6:  Preparation is key for a seamless transition into training. Be sure to have the bike set up and ready for when you get home or when you wake up first thing in the morning.

7:  You will need to hydrate so have a bottle of water on your bike. Only use water for sessions up to 90mins, you will need an energy replacement drink for sessions longer than this.

8:  Eat small snacks such as bananas or rice crackers to stave off hunger pains, this will also help to fuel your efforts.

9:  Come out of the saddle every 5-10mins for 20-60 secs. This will help increase blood flow to the lower regions that can become numb at point of contact.

10:  Make sure you have a towel to stop sweat dripping all over your bike. You might also want to place a towel or a turbo matt on the floor to catch excess sweat. Make sure you wipe down your bike thoroughly post workout.

I encourage all triathletes to learn to love the turbo. For some this comes easy, for others it takes a bit more time and patience. If you are focused and committed it can quite literally help to transform your biking fitness when used in the right way.