When I hear the ‘t’ word, it’s usually accompanied by a rainbow of other, more distasteful ones. But what if we triathletes learned to love it — and should we even bother?
I avoided the turbo for my first two training seasons in triathlon, it seemed to me an unnecessary evil. I even went so far as to adopt the uncompromising approach to outdoor bike training, heading into the elements all winter long, learning new skills such as how to avoid skidding on ice on my skinny wheels, and how to get the blood back into my hands when I could no longer squeeze the brakes.
On the turbo, nothing is for free. Learn to love it, and it will love you in return by giving you the edge.
Yet as I began to learn more about improvement in triathlon, the turbo, it would seem, isn’t just for wimps, quite the opposite. To make noticeable gains on the bike the turbo is unparalleled in its nature to force you to focus on little else but effort and non-stop pedalling for a finite period of time. On the turbo, nothing is for free. Learn to love it, and it will love you in return by giving you the edge.
Here are Triathlove’s top tips for learning to love the turbo trainer this winter.
- Structure it, but simply.
If you’re new to the turbo, it’ll be tempting to decide on a simple unit of time to start off with, such as 45 minutes. You’ll get a lot more from it if you give it a little structure, but this needn’t be over-complicated at first. Simply split the time into three; warm up, main session and cool down. Split the main session into chunks, alternating sustained hard efforts with recovery.
- Stay mindful.
If you’re not using a turbo video such as Sufferfest or Zwift, it’s tempting to zone out into a more pleasurable distraction such as Netflix (questionably more pleasurable!) to get through the session; but when you focus in on what you’re doing, time goes by faster and you’ll get more from the session. Focus on your form and breathing using handy mental exercises. This can be as simple as becoming aware of your breathing or watching the seconds tick down to help you sustain an effort. See more mental exercise ideas below.
- Use mental exercises.
I have two favourite mental exercises. to help me stay mindful on the bike:
- 90 Circles. First up, ‘90 circles’ is 30 pedal strokes with effort on the left only, 30 on the right, and 30 together. Repeat. Each circle should be beautifully complete, with consistency throughout the revolution. Imagine you’re drawing a circle with each full turn, you want an award-winning one every time.
- Body Scans. Secondly, a body scan exercise is handy during the toughest parts of the main session. The idea is to spend time focusing on each part of your body, checking form, which should be relaxed, not tense, alongside breathing into each area as you go. I start from my feet and work my way up.
- Goals. Another great use of mind time on the turbo is goal visualisation, thinking about what you’re training for, and imagining great success. In NLP, successful goal visualisation is about making it as real as possible, imagine the scene of success, and then build it using colour, smell and audio visualisation. Cheesy as Brie but if it’s good enough for Chrissie Wellington, it’s good enough for me!
- Find your beat.
My filthy euro-pop habit is embarrassing but it works. Music is my bestie on the turbo; the difference between no session and a great session. I usually start listening to music before a session just to get me motivated for it in the first place, it works every time. Once in the saddle, I use the beats of the most wonderfully bad music to get the most out of my sessions. Simples.
- Find your why.
Let’s face it; most people won’t sit on the turbo without a reason. It’s hard, not simply because it’s seen as boring, but also because there is no freewheeling. The tough aspect of the turbo will make us stronger of both mind and leg, if only we can find the motivation. My turbo light bulb moment was understanding that it could make a huge difference to my ability if used effectively. If you have a goal that you’re excited about, use this as the reason to integrate turbo into your routine—you won’t regret it.