Cycling, TOOLBOX | One comment
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Suffering on the Turbo trainer in the basement.
If you have used the turbo trainer like me, suffering in the pain cave surrounded by snow, getting photos from Los Angeles friends, still riding outside and doing paceline work and dreaming of the spring – you know the trainer is a necessary evil for all of us cyclists in Canada.
We might not live in igloos, but the stereotype of the long Canadian winter is pretty accurate for most cyclists north of the 49th parallel. You have to keep riding in winter if you want to consolidate your summer fitness gains. Riding outdoors can be treacherous when it’s dark and icy, which is why indoor trainers are a boon to cyclists, especially those who want to use their own bikes rather than go to a gym.
Broadly speaking, there are two indoor options: trainers and rollers. Trainers clamp the rear wheel of the bike to a frame and use a roller with a flywheel against the rear tire to provide resistance, usually magnetic, fluid or air. Some newer models like the CycleOps Silencer features so-called direct-drive designs, where you take off your rear wheel and mount the bike’s rear dropouts on the trainer, wrapping the chain around a cassette integrated into the unit.
Rollers consist of a frame and three plastic drums that you ride on, with no form of clamping. Riding rollers takes more skill than a turbo, but it can also be more fun, as well as getting closer to the actual feel of riding a bike – you can’t beat them for their skill-sharpening factor. Proponents of this design argue that it engages the core muscles whereas a standard trainer primarily works the legs.
With nicknames such as ‘Satan’s bicycle’ and ‘the misery machine’, you would think there would be copious spikes or flames shooting out the pedals, but the turbo trainer appears harmless. All brands and varieties have the same basic design:
Clamp and QR: The bike attaches to the trainer via a clamp, which screws over the rear wheel quick-release skewer with a couple of locknuts to keep it in place. Most turbos come with their own skewers, which you should use both for safety reasons and so as not to ruin your own.
Stand: These normally fold out to give a turbo stability. In theory, the wider the legs, the more stable it’ll be. Some have independent height adjustment for uneven surfaces, some lock into place, others just fold out. The feet are typically rubber tipped.
Resistance unit: Wind, magnetic or fluid: these are the main types of resistance. How they ride depends on how well they’re made and the quality of the flywheel, rather than the form of resistance. Wind trainers are generally loud, while magnetic and fluid units are quieter.
Flywheel: A heavy, well balanced flywheel is generally a good thing in a turbo. It helps smooth out the ride so you don’t feel you have to stomp on the pedals just to keep them going, giving you more of a sensation of riding on the road while you’re stuck indoors.
For those gentle souls out there who have neither the need nor twisted compunction to do interval work in preparation for new season, let me share with you the five harsh truths I have learned about the trainer over the winter.
It sucks but it works. It pains me to admit this, but the trainer is the best bang for your buck. Be purposeful or your workout will suck. If you are going to subject yourself to the misery of the trainer, be sure that you are doing so with the purpose that befits the goals you have set for the day you will be released from the hell of your basement. Hire a coach, buy a book or get a cyclist you respect to design something for you. Getting on the trainer and then saying, ‘what will I do today?’ is a recipe for failure.
The trainer: A bike unlike any other
On traditional stationary bikes and elliptical trainers, you have choices. First, you set the resistance, and then you decide how hard you’re going to push it. Due to preset resistance on your trainer the difficulty changes without the push of a button. When you hit the climb you pedal slower, as you experience more resistance; when you pedal slower, it gets harder to push your pedals.
The resistance makes pedaling tough. But guess what? Pedaling is only half of the work you do. The coordinated pushing and pulling action of the arms and the pushing action of the legs, combined with the wheel resistance, challenges your heart to pump blood to both upper and lower body regions. Physiologically, this is demanding on your cardiovascular system, especially when you pedal as hard as you can. After about 15 minutes of hard work, I am covered in sweat. The T-shirt I am wearing is souked with sweat. When I push even harder, sweat begin to drop out of my mittens. When this happens, I know I am working hard.
Sure, the elliptical machine also has handles connected with the footpads, but you’d be wrong to assume that these two pieces of equipment are in the same league. Likewise, you may be seated when using the Turbo trainer, but don’t confuse it with any variety of recumbent bike.
The wheel resistance from the Turbo trainer results in a workout intensity with no comparison, which is why this type of a trainer is almost always available in even the most crowded cardio room. Good luck staying on it long enough to watch your favorite show.
The seamless transition between hard and easy efforts allows you to focus the hard work you’re supposed to do, rather than scrambling for buttons to change the resistance. The only thing you’ll be looking for are your lungs! Plus, cranking the upper and lower body simultaneously will burn more calories than you can on a standard spin bike, making Satan’s tricycle your go-to machine for serious conditioning work.
Pedalling in a group on trainers is better, but still sucks. I joined a spin class in which you use your bike and get hooked up to a CompuTrainer. There is ‘drafting’ and you can ‘race’ one another. Clydesdales will even ‘climb’ more slowly. Even inside, the larger cyclists can’t escape the humiliation of being dropped. These classes are way better than solo suffering but what right-thinking person would choose them over the road?
Trainers with power suck a bit less. In the work world, a big buzz-word is ‘accountability’, which is a fancy way of saying ‘do what you say you will’. I’ve found that having a power meter on your bike or built into the trainer makes it much easier to do purposeful workout and to evaluate progress.
Without Netflix, the trainer would suck beyond all comprehension. When you clip in for two 40-minute sub-threshold intervals (just tough enough to not be enjoyable), you’d better have something to take your mind off the monotony. Coincidentially, many TV programs are doled out in 40-minute episodes.
This past Christmas, my wife asked me what I wanted and I foolishly replied, ‘That great new iPhone-powered trainer, honey’. She dutifully complied and pushed that beautiful, modern-day Trojan Horse under the tree. Still, as I sat surrounded by snow and bemoaned my fate before starting intervals, I knew I had no one to blame but myself.
Winter training: THE HEART RATE METHOD
Your heart rate responds to the intensity of exercise, so training at different percentages of your maximum heart rate (MHR) will yield different physiological adaptations. This style of training is known as “energy system development.” To get a rough estimate of your MHR, subtract your age from 220.
Here are three heart rate zones you can work in to target different energy systems:
- 1. 60-70% MHR: This zone improves your aerobic capacity and is most commonly used for a warm-up or an easy 30-60-minute cardio session. At this intensity, you should be able to carry on a conversation.
- 2. 70-80% MHR: Work in this range is often referred to as “lactate threshold training” because it pushes your body’s ability to manage increasing concentrations of lactate and other metabolic byproducts. The goal is to develop higher power output over a longer duration.
- 3. 80-90% MHR: This cardio zone focuses on improving your VO2-max, which is essentially how much oxygen your body can utilize for a given cardiovascular activity. It’s affected by your body weight, age, and sex and is the most difficult cardio zone to exercise in because the work intensity is so high.
Heart Rate Training
- Warm-up 5 minutes at 60% MHR
- Heart Rate Workout Choose from zone 2 or 3. Alternate 4-minute intervals in that zone with 2 minutes of easy pedaling. Perform 4 intervals.
- Cool-down 5 minutes at 60% MHR
Have a good and healthy season.
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