Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Trainer Tips

Very few cyclists have anything nice to say about the trainer.

“They suck.”
“I refuse to ride them”
“They’re so boring.”

The criticisms are not oft creative or positive.

Here’s a new one: “Trainers are the fishy grey/brown meat sandwiched between the shiny skin and the blaze orange flesh of a salmon steak.
I don’t know if that makes a hair of sense, but I really like it.

First off, I profess, I’m no lover of the trainer, but I know it has a place and plays an important role.
If anything, I would say I have a mild admiration of the device, which can quickly turn to disdain if we spend too much time together.

Let’s start with a couple reasons not to ride a trainer:
  • You have no interest in becoming a faster/stronger cyclist.
  • You feel like you need a way to compensate when the weather doesn’t allow you to do long days in the saddle.
  • You are looking for a way to catch up on emotional TV dramas while getting a work out.
Basically: if you just love riding a bike and don’t really care whether you go faster next week, next month, or next year; if you care more about riding at one pace all day than crushing a climb or dominating a sprint; or if you just find yourself turning the pedals leisurely for an allotted period of time with no variation in effort while on a trainer - you’re doing it wrong.

The trainer is a tool. Used correctly, it can be very effective. Used incorrectly, and you are trying to push flat head screws into the wall with a phillips head driver, hence, it sucks, it’s boring, etc.

Here are a few tips:
  • Keep it short, although, not too short: 45-minutes to an hour for most people is fine for a trainer session.
  • Give it everything you’ve got: You have no excuse not to. You’re locked in place, the weather is controlled, there’s no external hazards (traffic, potholes, moose), and you only have to do it for a short while.
  • Experiment with a program and go for it: Intervals, one-leg drills, all out efforts, or strength training are good bets. Find ones you like and can replicate.
  • Watch something: It is boring, so watch a TV show or a movie. A word of advice, it can’t be too engaging. If you are doing intervals or hard efforts, and you’re giving it everything you’ve got, you’re going to miss stuff, or you may become so engaged you fall off your workout. I like watching ski movies that I’ve already seen, bike races, or movies/TV shows that I’m only mildly interested in.
  • Do it with a friend: better yet, make it social. In college, living with fellow members of the cycling team, the bikes were regularly set up in the living room throughout the winter. The team would frequently take over common spaces or lecture rooms to plug into a big screen and spin as a group too. Just accept that you may not be on the same workout plan, and conversations may be broken by heavy breathing and the loud whir of the spinning wheels.

Here are a few tips that can make it even more tolerable, but are not as critical as those above:
  • Use a trainer tire: Trainers eat up rubber, and they can make a ton of noise. Some tire manufactures make trainer-specific tires for road bikes. These are nothing more than a heavier tread less tires that spin a bit more quietly and will last quite a while, compared to a tire made for outdoor use. If spinning regularly, or using a bike that will not be going outside (say, because of a long winter) mounting a trainer tire is a good investment.­ I have a spare rear wheel (also a good investment for riders who put in a lot of miles), so that wheel is the designated trainer wheel, and sports a trainer tire. If you can’t afford an extra rear wheel, and don’t have a lengthy period of guaranteed indoor riding, or for mid-season trainer rides, a regular tire will still be fine, just remember that you are wearing it down. If you’re using a hardtail mountain bike in a trainer, get it a city slick.
  • Get a bike computer: Ever notice how treadmills and stationary bikes have big display screens with gads of info? It’s fun to look at right? Get a little bit of that for your trainer ride. Aside from some additional information and distraction, monitoring cadence and speed can really boost the value of the work out. If you’re into heart rate monitors, those could help too.

Lastly, some don’ts.
  • Don’t spin easy: With one caveat - the occasional recovery crutch - spinning easy is valueless. If you don’t find yourself breathing hard, you are wasting your time. You can figure out how hard you can/want to work out based on fitness and goals, but don’t just sit there and spin at a flat rate and then say you did a did not. Even if you can only push it hard twice in a half hour, that’s a start. Build up from there.
  • Don’t make it a crutch: This is more likely to be an issue for the fitness-obsessed bunch. Basically, if it’s nice out, go outside. The consistent delivery available on a trainer, and the ability to get a good work out at any hour in any weather in a short period of time, makes trainers a bit like a drug for some people. Don’t be that person. Riding bikes outdoors should always be more fun than riding a trainer. Likewise, don’t show up to an actual ride talking up your latest torture session and expect anyone to care or really be impressed, unless of course you drop everyone on every hill…then they may be intrigued. Most cyclists tend to keep what they do in the seclusion of their own homes to themselves, unless asked.

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