My Love-Hate Relationship with Bike Trainers

Triathlete on the bike portion of an Ironman
May 22, 2020

George Epley


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A useful tool for the majority of the triathlete community is the stationary bike trainer. The stationary trainer has become a great alternative to riding in congested traffic areas, dangerous weather conditions, and global pandemics. Trainers are an effective tool when targeting specific physiological training responses.  Many of us have logged countless miles in our pain caves staring at computer screens and watching a catalog of movies often developing a love-hate relationship with our trainers. However, this relationship with the trainer can provide many benefits but can also act as a limiter in our training, so let’s examine a few options. 

Like many of us, I have cultivated a beautiful collection of bike trainers, and I use each one for specific reasons. First, my all-time favorite is rollers. There is no better option to rollers if you want to work on your balance and pedaling efficiency since rollers are great for simulating outdoor riding and smoothing out your pedal stroke. Since rollers provide little resistance, they are also great for leg speed workouts. Riding a fixed-gear bike on rollers is by far my favorite workout for improving peddling technique. An efficient pedaling technique eliminates dead spots and lowers your gross power absorb (GPA) numbers. Gross power absorbed is the amount of energy that does not move the bike forward. GPA is the resistance that comes from the upstroke of the opposite leg that is applying force to the pedal. The force applied to the pedal or gross power released (GPR) is the power that moves the bike forward. An efficient pedal stroke will have a lower GPA, thus allowing a greater percentage of power to be used to move the bike forward.  Also, rollers are very effective at developing leg speed. Remember,  Power = Force x Speed. Working to find your ideal cadence and pedal force, often results in improved fatigue resistance and increased power output. A typical speed workout on rollers would be:

The Entire training session is at 56% of FTP or lower, this is about speed, not power.

  • 10 – 15 Min. WU@ 80 – 90 rpm
  • 4 Min @ 90 rpm
  • 3 Min @ 100 rpm
  • 2 Min @ 110 rpm
  • 1 Min @ 120 rpm
  • Then 15  seconds as fast as you can holding a steady pace

Repeat this,  3 times, 10 min. and then CD

I’ve included a few links below regarding rollers, the first one shows how to get started riding rollers and the next three show the benefits of training on rollers. Pay close attention to balance and leg speed in each clip.

Next on my list are fluid trainers, there are many benefits of owning a trainer of this type. First is portability and ease of set-up. You can set the trainer up in just about any location and no need for AC. They are also great on race day for warming up and can be easily transported with you on road trips. The fluid trainers provide enough resistance to cover the majority of your workouts. Also, if spending $1,200 on a smart trainer is against your ethics, then a fluid trainer is a perfect option. The workout file below is a three hour and forty-minute ride that was conducted on a fluid trainer. Remember, work ethic makes the athlete, not the trainer, they are riding.

To loosely quote Sir Mix – a Lot “ I like big fans and I cannot lie.” The great advantage of big fan trainers are startup inertia and smooth ramp rates to large resistance numbers. The Watt Bike with a combination of air and magnetic resistance provides a smooth transition up 3,760 Watts.  I prefer using this type of trainer for intervals under 5 min, and it’s really the only option for five second power tests. Big fan trainers also provide a similar resistance feel that you would get when riding outside. Now granted five second power test are not the norm in triathlon, but if you ever plan on winning your local criterium then knowledge of your FRC and P Max are vital. The link below may provide a little inspiration to hit a P-Max PR.

When smart trainers first hit the market-place, it was a significant advancement in cycling technology and training methodologies. They are a perfect tool for very defined workouts, such as 3( 10 x 30” x 30” @ 120% FTP).  When conducting this work out on a smart trainer, it provides a safe environment and the ability to hit finite training goals. Unfortunately, smart trainers are overused by many athletes. I know many of you love your smart trainer, but ask yourself these two questions, 1) Do you ride in the rain or temperatures below 60 degrees or above 90 degrees. 2) Do you ride your trainer over 2.5 hours?  The one element that I dislike about trainers is the inability to develop tolerance to weather adversity. Riding in less than ideal weather conditions builds race day character, tough athletes win races. Also, long rides over two and a half hours on a trainer are mentally challenging for many athletes. If you are one of the few that can bang out hours on the trainer, hats off to you because you are in the minority  Look at the two pictures below, and decide your best option for  3.5 hours at 56 – 76 % FTP,  I hope you choose the picture on the right. All types of bike trainers are a valuable tool for training, but like any tool, they work best when used correctly. 

If you have any questions regarding trainers or workouts on a specific type of trainer, please let me know. 

George Epley has a passion for knowledge and believes it’s the key to maximizing your potential. He keeps abreast of the latest scientific studies, always trying to find more efficient and validated means of coaching his athletes.  George is a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach as well as a Youth and Junior Elite Certified Coach.  He holds additional certifications with USA Cycling, USA Cycling Cyclocross, ACSM, MBSC, and Training Peaks.

Coach Geroge Epley has a passion for knowledge and believes it’s the key to maximizing your potential. He keeps abreast of the latest scientific studies, always trying to find more efficient and validated means of coaching his athletes. Knowledge in the form of communication is just as important. The more he knows about his athletes and the sooner he knows of changes in circumstances, lifestyle, or training, the greater resource he can be.

Coach George is a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach, USA Triathlon Youth & Junior Elite Certified, USA Cycling Elite Level, USA Cycling Cyclocross Certified, ACSM – Certified Personal Trainer, MBSC – Certified Functional Strength Coach, Training Peaks Coach and WKO4 Certified

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