As the nasty weather begins to set in across the country, more and more of us will be forced indoors on some sort of indoor trainer.  Here are some tips to use your trainer time effectively.

Many riders who live in areas with harsh winters are very experienced when it comes to riding indoors.  Many others who work full time jobs and have busy lives will also ultimately find themselves confined to the trainer for some or most of their training.  Others view riding indoors as a silly, pointless, boring waste of time.  After all, didn’t we all fall in love with riding outside?

While I used to view the trainer as an evil, almost unbearable device, I have come to terms with the fact that it can be a very effective training tool.  It is very easy to execute a workout on the trainer, and there is virtually no wasted time riding out to good training roads,  putting on five layers of clothing to ride outside, etc.  Just hop on the trainer and go.

If you have big goals for next season, learn to love the trainer, or at least tolerate it.  I use the trainer when the weather gets really nasty (nasty for California anyway), or when life gets in the way of my regular training.

Here are my five tips for using the trainer effectively:

1-Have the right equipment

Having the right setup starts with the trainer.  Trainer options are better than ever right now, modern direct drive trainers have fantastic “road feel” and useful features such as a built in power meter and bluetooth connectivity.

If you have the money, a direct drive, smart trainer is the way to go.  If you don’t, there are plenty of quality traditional trainers.  Get one that is stable and easy to setup.

2-Have the right setup

Dedicate a small area of your house or garage for your trainer workouts, setup some kind of trainer mat (you will be sweating a lot), a stool or table to hold your phone/laptop, and a towel.

Use a fan.  Riding indoors will challenge your body’s ability to thermoregulate.  A cheap box fan will do the trick, a quality floor fan that can easily tilt upwards is a nice upgrade.

The setup


3-Find your motivation

Some people like to turn on Netflix or watch TV while on the trainer.  I have found that listening to music is much more effective for me, it helps me stay motivated and focused.  Listening to music has been shown in many studies to reduce perceptions of effort and improve performance in other ways (1).

Remind yourself of why you you are doing this.  What are your goals next year?  Picture yourself succeeding in your favorite race or major goal for the year.

4-Have a plan

If you are going to ride indoors, pick a specific workout to do or ask your coach to give you one.  Setting out to “just ride” on the trainer, or trying to do a full 2-3 hour workout is an easy way to find yourself bored out of your mind, or frustrated and burnt out.  I used to find myself giving up on the trainer without accomplishing much because I did not have a specific workout to do.

Many cycling head units can automatically link up your workouts from Trainingpeaks, then you can easily follow your workout on your cycling computer.  If you have a smart trainer, you can link up your workouts from Trainingpeaks, then your trainer will automatically adjust the resistance as you move through your workout.

Most cycling computers have workout pages similar to this one. Mph included to remind me that I am indoors.

I also prefer to do specific, targeted, and shorter workouts at higher intensities as opposed to trying to replicate a longer, less intense ride.  You can execute an effective workout in a shorter amount of time, and you won’t be spending hours on the trainer.

5-Set conservative goals

It’s important to remember that riding inside is not the same as riding outside.  You may not be able to do the same power, or the same volume at a given intensity as what you can do outside.  Riding inside can often feel much harder in general, especially if you are using erg mode on a smart trainer.  Don’t assume that you can do the same workouts indoors that you do outdoors.

When I am picking my workout, I choose something that is short and to the point, then give myself the option of completing more intervals/time etc.  This allows me to set a low threshold for having a successful workout, and I avoid the frustration of not completing my workouts.

By doing this, I have slowly created a positive mental association with riding the trainer because I almost always execute my workouts and then some.  I regularly used to give up on riding the trainer part way through, or just not start at all because I always felt like I was not accomplishing anything.

No matter where you live, or what you do for a living, there will almost certainly be times that fitting in a trainer workout will be necessary if you want to maintain consistent training.  Learning to use the trainer effectively is an important skill to master if you want to improve on the bike.

To learn more about coaching with Data Driven Athlete and Sam click here.

For a complete archive of blog posts click here.

Sam Bassetti
Associate Coach
Data Driven Athlete


1. Costas I. Karageorghis, David-Lee Priest. Music in the Exercise Domain: a review and synthesis (Part 1).  Int Rev Sport Exercise Psychology. 2012 Mar; 5(1): 44–66.