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Get creative with these bike trainer workouts

By Becky Piper | April 21, 2020, 5:18 p.m. (ET)

bike trainer workout

With all the wacky changes, canceled races, stay-at-home orders, and quarantines going on recently, many athletes are begrudgingly getting their bike trainers back out to maintain their endurance fitness in these struggling times. 

Most people have strong opinions about trainers, but there are some benefits to riding one. Whether an athlete has a smart trainer, a “standard” trainer, or rollers, they can find ways to maintain their fitness and competitive edge.

3 Benefits of Trainer Workouts

More focused intensity: When you’re riding indoors, you won’t face any unexpected “bumps in the road” so you can fully focus on intensity intervals. Although there are many benefits to outdoor riding, there are many different types of interruptions - stop signs, stop lights, busy intersections, traffic, railroads, cars backing out of driveways, etc.- that can make it difficult to maintain intensity levels throughout the workout.

Mental strength: For some people, the trainer is a great place to build mental strength. This can pay dividends in those late-season, long-course races that we’re hoping will take place. 

I recently moved to a new house where the only area for my trainer was in my bedroom, away from the television. At first, it was so challenging that I almost quit. Over time, I developed enough mental strength to endure two-hour trainer rides without the tv distraction. 

Because I was able to focus solely on my indoor riding, I developed strategies to control my breathing, pace, and proper speed building. These directly impacted my competition in the 2018 Para-Cycling National Championships Road Race.

Testing: The smooth, unchanging time on the trainer can be perfect for testing. For example, Functional Threshold Power (FTP) Testing is best done in the same location and in the same conditions throughout the year. 

FTP is usually defined as the highest amount of power that you can sustain consistently for a predetermined amount of time. Unfortunately, where I live, it snows from October to April, making this particular test very difficult to complete outdoors. Therefore, a trainer is the best option.

If you’ve never done an FTP test (or other types of tests) on a trainer, you will need to do a baseline test first. This will lay the groundwork for your future training, based on the temperature, conditions, etc.

Here are two bike trainer workouts you can try while you’re stuck inside. One is power-based (so you’ll need a power meter or smart trainer) and one uses Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE). No matter how much or how little equipment you have, you can still do one of these trainer workouts! 

Muscular Endurance with Power

With Power:

Time: 1:30:00

Goal: Muscular Endurance

Warm-Up

15:00 moving from less than 55% FTP to 70-75% FTP

Drill Set:

5x (0:30 increase to 121% FTP, 0:30 EASY recovery, less than 55% FTP )

Main Set:

5:00 Steady Power - 56% to 75% FTP

2:00 Steady Power - 76% to 90% FTP

1:00 Steady Power - 91% to 105% FTP

2:00 EASY Recovery - less than 55% FTP

Repeat for a total of 6 times.

Cool Down:

Ride at less than 55% FTP for 10:00 or until 1:30:00 is up.

Aerobic Endurance - RPE

With Range of Perceived Exertion (RPE):

Time: 1:30:00

Goal: Aerobic Endurance

Warm-Up:

15:00 ride starting at RPE 2 and increasing to RPE 4

Drills:

5x (0:30 right leg only, 0:30 left leg only, 1:00 EASY recovery at RPE 2)

Main Set:

10:00 starting at RPE 3 and slowly increasing every 2:00 until you’ve reached RPE 6

5:00 decreasing from RPE 7 to RPE 3

Repeat so that you complete the Main Sets a  total of 4 times.

Cool-Down:

Ride at RPE 2 until you have reached 1:30:00

Becky Piper is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach and Certified Paratriathlon Coach; USA Cycling L3 Cycling Coach and Certified Personal Trainer.