INDOOR TRAINER GUIDE 

With more free time than we know what to do with during COVID, plenty of members have made the jump to training indoors. Hopefully this guide is a helpful tool to help you get started. I’ll try and cover the types of indoor trainers before going into the different apps available to aid with training (/racing) indoors.

Equipment noted with an asterix (*) isn’t required to get started - only required for smart training (zwift / trainerroad / sufferfest)

Strongly Recommended for all types of indoor training

  • Fan
  • Towel
  • Training mat – protect flooring from sweat
  • Bluetooth enabled Laptop / smartphone / tablet

Optional: Training mat, sweat catcher, phone holder, laptop stand etc.

*Get ready to sweat*

Rollers

Equipment Required

  • Rollers
  • Speed and Cadence Sensor*
  • Power meter*
  • Ant+ sensor*

Trainer of choice for track cyclists. Minimal fuss, simply unfold and jump on. The only form of indoor training that could possibly lead to a crash - requires practice to avoid falling off. Newbies thoroughly advised to have a door frame to hand on the first few attempts. Smart rollers are available with electronic resistance adjustment and power meters, but start around £350+.

Pros:

  • Great for core strength
  • More mentally and physically engaging than a purely static trainer
  • Minimal fuss – quick to get started, usually fold down very small
  • Compatible with single speed / fixed gear bikes
  • Cheap = accessible

Cons:

  • LOUD – more expensive = quieter
  • Risk of injury (and an embarrassing story of how you crashed indoors)
  • Limited resistance on cheaper models

“Dumb” Turbo Trainer

Equipment Required

  • Turbo trainer
  • Trainer tyre / Spare wheel (recommended)
  • tyres designed for road will disintegrate and leave a horrible black mess on your carpet and wall
  • DO NOT ride outside on trainer tyres in any circumstance. They have very little grip and the risk of crashing is very high
  • Advisable to have a spare rear wheel; much more convenient to change a wheel than a tyre when switching for outdoor riding. Will also require a cassette
  • Speed / Cadence Sensor*
  • Power Meter*
  • Ant+ sensor*

Called “Dumb” simply to differentiate from Smart Trainers, these are pretty basic turbo trainers with no internal electronics, simply a fluid roller and resistance lever for handlebars. This is a very accessible option; being quite cheap with models starting around £50 on Wiggle. Quite a bit of faff is required to jump on and get started, due to a special tyre and QR skewer being required. Can be used on smart training apps by adding speed/cadence sensors and / or power meter.

Pros:

  • Cheap
  • Simple to jump on and follow a session based on heart rate / perceived exertion
  • Perfectly good option for those not fussed with smart training apps

Cons:

  • Loud – more expensive = quieter
  • Faff. Spare wheel ideally required
  • Tend to be quite heavy and don’t fold down very small for storage

Smart Trainer (Wheel on)

Equipment required

  • Smart trainer
  • Trainer tyre / wheel
  • Ant+ sensor for computer
  • Most trainers also use Bluetooth, but Ant+ is arguably more reliable
  • Also worth getting a USB extender cable to have the sensor closer to the trainer

As suggested earlier, these are turbo trainers with internal power sensors and resistance adjustment. These trainers are designed to communicate with a training app in order to adjust resistance in accordance with the workout / terrain. More faff to set up than a dumb trainer, as some form of technical knowhow is required to pair the trainer with a computer.

Pros:

  • Built in sensors for use with training apps, making for a more mentally engaging session
  • ERG mode option sets resistance (watts) to desired output without the need for changing gears, simply concentrate on cadence
  • eRacing via Zift, Rouvy etc.
  • Training with power (watts) is universally accepted as the most effective tool for tracking FTP and cycling specific fitness

Cons

  • Loud
  • Faff to set up
  • Risk of technical difficulties – sensor drop outs can spell the end of a workout / race
  • More expensive than options described so far
  • Cheaper trainers can have limited resistance – particularly for sprint workouts / races
  • Internal power meters (albeit consistent) aren’t terribly accurate for replicating the same numbers outdoors – try and use a single source of truth for both if this is an option

Direct Drive Smart Trainer

Equipment required

  • Direct drive trainer
  • Cassette (compatible with your bike’s groupset)
  • Ant+ Sensor

Gold standard for indoor smart training and arguably the most straightforward to get started, simply take your wheel off and hook your frame on and you’re good to go. Tend to be the quietest option, highest resistance and most accurate power meters. BUT all of this comes at a cost.

Pros:

  • Quietest – arguably the most neighbour / spouse / housemate friendly training option
  • Minimal fuss, straightforward to set up and get started
  • Ability to freewheel on some models (race-specific)
  • High resistance enables effective sprint workouts

Cons:

  • EXPENSIVE – current models with built in resistance adjustment usually start around £500
  • Bulky, heavy machines that take up a lot of space - unless you have a Tacx Neo which fold down very small

  

Bluetooth vs Ant+

Most laptops will have Bluetooth receivers that can pair with most smart-trainers. Many users have found however that connecting via Bluetooth can be very patchy with regular dropouts which could ruin a training session or bring an eRace to a swift end. It’s recommended to connect via Ant+ for the superior reliability (and compatibility with speed/cadence/hrms), although this isn’t compulsory. An additional dongle can be purchased from Amazon for around £10

 

Indoor Training Apps

n.b. There are plenty other apps out there to try, but I’ll only be covering off the most widely used in this guide.

Zwift

Cost: $12.99 / month

Free Trial? Yes – 7 days. 25km limit on rides following the free trial without membership.

One for the gamers and those who may struggle to stay engaged following a purely numbers and time based session. Zwift offers a virtual environment complete with climbs and descents that are mirrored by your smart trainer. Arguably the most social of the apps in this guide, you are able to meet up with clubmates / friends and follow the same workout, race or just casually explore the different worlds. In addition, races and time-trials are the major selling point when comparing with other apps, although these are notorious for being much harder than their real-life counterparts. The major limitation of zwift is their workouts feature is still a work in progress. Although this is steadily improving with the number of workouts and programmes slowly increasing, the plans are not bespoke to the user’s strengths or desired discipline. The requirement for quite powerful Graphics processing is required to experience Zwift in full, limiting accessibility.

Pros

  • Good entry into smart indoor training
  • Social – meetups etc.
  • Virtual racing
  • Virtual environment staves off boredom
  • Able to upload custom workouts as prescribed by a coach

Cons

  • Requirement for computing power / graphics processing for a proper virtual experience
  • Number of workouts are limited, no option to create a fully customisable plan based on strengths \ weaknesses and discipline (beyond uploading custom workouts)

 

TrainerRoad

Cost: $19.95 / month

Free Trial: Yes – 1 month with code from an existing user

If you’re serious about your training and care little for virtual mountains, this is probably the one for you. Following an initial FTP/Ramp test TrainerRoad will suggest a customisable workout plan based on your specialism, which may be Triathlons, Crits, Road Racing, the list goes on. Each workout is split into three sections: Base, Build and Specialism and intends to deliver you to your race day in peak fitness. While this sounds great, the User Interface is purely a graph showing power and other metrics such as cadence, heart rate, time etc. This is a deliberate move by the designers who feel it improves focus when compared with a distracting virtual environment. This works for some, but plenty of users will come unstuck with boredom after some time of using the app. That being said, there is a ridiculous number of workouts on TrainerRoad, each intended to have their own unique benefits in addition to customisable difficulty. Also an added benefit of downloading the workout to you garmin / wahoo GPS and taking the session outdoors. Developers have recently added the ability to link up with other users and do the same plan via video / voice chat.

Pros

  • Effective use of time on the trainer, every session targets something specific
  • Huge number of workouts available
  • Generate a customised training plan specific to your chosen discipline, experience and availability – includes swim / run workouts for triathletes
  • Ability to download sessions and take them outdoors
  • TrainerRoad podcast offers interesting insight on using the app and all things cycling

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Some may have difficulty engaging with the UI & subsequent boredom
  • Not really suitable for entry-level training, requires some prior experience and knowledge to get started without being overwhelmed

The Sufferfest

Cost: $12.99

Free Trial: Yes – 14 day, plus one month with code “ALLINSUFPLAN”

The Sufferfest fills the gap between Zwift and TrainerRoad. It retains a numbers based approach to training sessions like TR, but has an added level of immersion through the use of UCI race highlights (instead of a virtual environment like Zwift). The highlights often match the efforts in the session and genuinely add a level of engagement the other apps sometimes lack. Sufferfest also introduces the “4DP”, designed to identify your strengths beyond just an FTP (e.g. Climber, Rouleur, Pursuiter etc.). Your 4DP is then used to design a training plan that will target you weaknesses while being specific to your chosen discipline. It is called Sufferfest for a reason however, so be prepared to suffer like hell during some / most of the sessions - they are designed to rinse out the most from your legs in relatively short sessions when compared with Zwift and TR. 

Pros:

  • 4DP goes into a level of detail into the user’s fitness not offered by Zwift or TR, genuinely unique workout plans
  • Race footage adds a competitive edge and helps with staying engaged
  • Cycling specific yoga and meditation sessions also available

Cons:

  • Sessions are undeniably hard and will be too intense for some
  • Possibly a little too niche, targeted at serious cyclists & racers
  • Limited number of workouts available

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