With winter in full swing in the Southern Hemisphere and the bitter months not far awaiting those in the North, the use of the home trainer for cycling activity normally does or starts to consume more of our cycling time. This can be daunting for some whilst others relish the opportunity to get their training miles done just a few yards from the comforts or restraints of home life. Team rider and head coach at Mind Matters Athlete Coaching Justin Morris put together some pros and cons for your consideration before you either head out in the cold outdoors or sweat it out on the trainer.
Pros for home trainer use
- The home trainer eliminates a lot of the distracting factors that riding on the road or trail has. You can find a rhythm and focus on it! Those 3-5min VO2 efforts or even 15-20sec sprint efforts can have your full commitment on the trainer, no stress about cars or erratic terrain disrupting your effort.
- Enhances mental fortitude: whilst the above point can be a benefit from a physical training perspective when it comes to enjoyment and stimulation on the bike pedalling hard and going nowhere can be very frustrating mentally. Some of the new computer programs alleviate this, but if you are tasked with spending upwards of 1hour 30 on a trainer you have some serious mental grit!
- Increased time efficiency: using a trainer can make very good use of your riding time if it is already competing with the multiple demands of ‘off bike life’. On the trainer you are eliminating stoppage time and freewheeling time so every single pedal stroke is utilised to create some form of wattage. This is a huge benefit when it comes to building strength on the bike. The old ratio that used to be commonly spoken about was 1h trainer = 1h30min outside. There are of course many variables to consider, however you can assure yourself from a pure strength utility perspective when you are on that trainer you are being very efficient.
- Protected from the elements. This is the big one in winter time and what attracts most people to use the trainer in the first place. You are not getting rained, snowed, hailed on inside and you can adjust the conditions on the trainer to avoid the unpleasantries of the weather reality. This is especially important in winter time as one of the greatest risks athlete’s face training through the cold months is compromising their immune systems. There is a general rule that I was taught as a young road professional about what are the suitable conditions for a trainer session: Warm + Wet = Ride outside Warm + Dry = Ride outside Cold + Dry = Ride outside with appropriate clothing Cold + Wet = RIDE INSIDE! These basic tips are designed to ensure you keep the dreaded ‘lurgy’ at bay during the colder months. There is one precipitation you will NOT avoid inside though and that is PERSPIRATION! Ensure you have a towel handy and have the washing machine on standby.
- GREAT for injury recovery. This is one benefit I have experienced myself on numerous occasions as has team mate Imogen Smith. Bones can take upwards of 6 weeks to heal, rendering outside riding a bad idea for an extended period of time depending upon the severity of the break. The reduced/non existent potential for injury/crash on a trainer means it is often the first phase of a comeback plan for many an injured cyclist. Matthew Hayman famously won the 2016 Paris Roubaix after using predominantly home trainer training in the weeks preceding due to a broken arm.
Cons for using a home trainer
Just as you may have started thinking the trainer is the way to go! Don’t throw away that rear wheel and helmet just yet!
- Offers no sensation of balance or stability. It is reasonably straightforward to build a lot of strength using a home trainer, this however does not always translate into SPEED on the road or trail. Speed is what wins races and without having the sensation of being able to handle and balance your bike at speed the hours of home trainer training are going to offer no benefit when it comes time to zip a race plate on. This is especially relevant for those training for MTB races where it is often the bike handling that will decide the result among the elite end of the field. There is 1 indoor solution to this issue however and they are called ‘rollers’. A lot cheaper than a trainer and they still encourage the core activation required for stability/ balance on the bike.
- Social aspect is limited/ non existent. Some of the online home trainer platforms such as Zwift have aimed to lessen this ‘con’ with the ability to interact with other users mid workout. However, this will never replace the most common reason people get into the sport and that is to be around like minded folk and chat about experiences. The bunch ride or trail side banter is harder to stimulate alone inside.
- Power output is different outside. Whilst some may claim to hit astronomical power outputs on the trainer, this does not always correlate to power produced outside and vice versa. Logic identifies that more power will be put through the pedals during an outdoor effort as there are more factors influencing the propulsion of the bike (namely upper body and movement of the bike). With erratic differences between some trainers/ power meters, the most reliable numbers for those training with power is those you use on your race machine.
- Races are done outside. Although this is another factor that is being challenged with the advent of online race series such as the Zwift series. The reality is that the vast majority of events people train for occur outside, meaning familiarity with your outside bike and handling that machine is crucial to success in outside races.
- Motivation is in the hills. This could be argued as being a more personal factor but the appealing parts of cycling for me are its links with freedom. Being able to point your cycle in a certain direction, push the pedals and discover potentially somewhere new is exciting, motivating and one of the greatest pleasures this sport can offer. The home trainer offers none of this whatsoever.
So whatever floats your boat and gets you pushing pedals know you are getting some physical and mental benefits from your activity. Inside or outside, love the ride!!