The weather currently looks like this where I am:
It's looked like that for days. Storm Frank has decided he identifies as female and is now Storm Gertrude or whatever the feck her name is. And since you, probably like me had big intentions of getting (or improving) your base level of fitness but have found yourself sitting in the softest parts of your arse eating mince pies for most of the holiday season, you now vague sense of panic that you should have started weeks ago and if you don't start now you never will (both these things are true).
So what's a cyclist to do when you can wave at Noah floating past in his ark from your living room window? I'm not one for urging someone to spend unnecessarily, but in times like these (especially if you don't have a gym membership) I would urge you to get a Turbo Trainer. If you've got kids, work unsociable hours or plain just don't feel like getting completely lycra'd up it's the best investment for you and your cycling.
A quick search here shows a price range (for new) of £60 upwards, but keep in mind you don't need one whose resistance you can change with a dial to get great use out of it. A thorough look (ebay or gumtree) and ask about, you may even find someone willing to lend or give you their old one for much cheaper, though I'd have a gnawing urge on the back of my head of wanting to do something NOW! and order one from the webernet with next day delivery. If like me you're finding January a squeeze, consider this from the GCN lot:
I much prefer having my bike attached to the equipment (the main difference between a turbo trainer and roller) as a touch of the breaks or a lack of balance would send me shooting through the air but then that is just me.
So what's the best place to set up your turbo trainer? What kind of training and how long and often should you be on it? What other items do you need?
1. Where you going to put it?
- You'll need somewhere you can look at something, a window, tv or a place to set your computer screen. It's really good for the sanity when you're on the the thing.
- Air circulation - fresh air is best as you will sweat a lot so preferably near an open window or utilise a fan if you've got one.
- A place where it can sit. You need to be able to slot your bike in and just go otherwise dragging it out will be more trouble than you'll be bothered about. If you've got a place where your bike can sit there all weekdays even better. Most Turbo Trainers have quick release mechanisms which make getting your bike on and off a doddle. If not double check that any other system means you don't have to do much (or preferably anything) to the bike in order to make it roadworthy.
Here's where I've put mine*:
In our spare bedroom. I admit it's not ideal but there's enough space for me to see out the window (even when it's dark), rest my computer on the sill if I need to and get on the thing. I'd have it smack bang in the middle but we're trying to keep the bed there ready for guests.
2. What else do you need?
- ***EDIT*** It has been pointed out to me that I've neglected to mention a heart rate monitor. You can get one as cheap (Karrimoor are a good solid budget brand) or as expensive (Garmin, Fitbit, Jawbone) as you can comfortably afford. It will help establish your highest heart rate, your resting heart rate and all sorts of other things in between (VO2 max, rate optimum for fat burning, race rate etc). Appologies for this late addition.
- Towels, towels and more towels. From the picture above you can see I've pinned a rather large hand towel to act as a sweat guard (you can buy these but I'm quite tight-fisted). In addition to this you may want to put a towel, old blanket or yoga/stretch mat under the turbo trainer itself. Save you sweating onto your floor and from any sort of wear from sitting your 11 stone self** on it. You will also need one to mop your brow.
- Something to prop up the front of the bike (you don't need this if you've got rollers). Most turbo trainers have a matching front wheel block (that you need to buy separately boo hiss), but for years I've used gaffa taped catalogues, and right now my front wheel is on a plastic drill box - it has grooves in it that hold the front bike wheel more securely - like so:
- A wee bag to hang on it. If the weathers bad or you want to set the bike up for a few days you'll keep any accoutrement's that you require in there - it's also a really good habit to just have your cycling stuff in a little tote and to put it there after outside rides, saves a lot of time looking for things. So things like heart rate strap, the bike shoes you have or like to wear, a wee note book and pen to record what you've done, perhaps a plastic bottle so that you've always got one handy to fill when the mood takes you. I keep socks and a set of leggings especially for here. When I've done a session I hand wash these items and then drape them over the radiator (and occasionally the bike itself) to dry so next day I'm on this thing those items are another thing I don't need to go look for.
3. How should you use it?
- In the beginning short and sweet. 5 minutes just to get the feel of it and trust yourself you're not going to topple over and then build up over time. Your bits will get sore - even if you're used to your saddle - because the bike does not change position and the terrain stays the same so the same bits of you get a far more concentrated squeeze.
- I doubt I know anyone who does more than 45 minutes on the turbo trainer - so keep that in mind when allocating time to it, choosing what to watch or what to do whilst on it. Also when you are training on it you'll get a more intense work out - there's no slowing down for traffic or corners, no having to watch the verge or have cars overtake so you can really focus in on what you're doing and can get far more 'done' than the same time spent on the road.
4. What kind of training should you do?
- Ultimately it's up to you, but most users (myself included) do HIIT training. There's also quite a few free You Tube training sessions specifically for turbo training. Again the GCN guys and girls are a great free resource, not just for Turbo training sessions but their info about cycling (not just training, but pro news, news news etc) is pretty good as well.
- In saying that don't be constrained to using it to smash out a session after session, particularly if your time is short. In my first year I found it most useful being able to jump on and off it during the week when I wasn't/couldn't go out for 3 hours of an evening cycling. Waiting for my bath to fill - gave me 10 minutes, up sharply in the morning 5 minutes before my shower, 15 minutes before getting ready for a night out. Having a quiet night in with pizza - 10 minutes while it cooked. Little stints - you don't always have to go hard - will make a big difference especially when you can't use your bike to get to the shops or commute to work. 10 minutes during the week day keeps your limbs warm for your longer ride on Saturday or Sunday. 10 minutes the day after your long ride will help recovery and flush the lactic acid out of your legs. 5 - 10 minutes a day is enough to shut the shouty little man at the back of your head up because that will give you 50 minutes during the week that you wouldn't otherwise have done. I've sat on the thing whilst binge watching SPACED (20 minutes long without the ad breaks) - Jobs a good un'.
If you've gotten by without a turbo trainer in your life, comment below on what you'd recommend as good substitute exercise for cycling when it's raining. For the first in this series click here.
*My turbo trainer is an Elite Cronos Magnetic trainer with a little dial that makes it tougher in stages. Before this I had a the same make but with a fluid base and no dail. Would recommend the brand if you can get it. I have no complaints.
**Same race weight as Chris Froome - he's not 5 foot 0 though.
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