Turbo training used to be a poor substitute for real riding and something you did only if the weather really was too horrible to get out. You’d either be staring at a concrete wall or squinting through stinging sweat at a soggy piece of paper where you’d written down the intervals you had to do.
The turbo itself was a basic frame that when revved up sounded like it was going to take off (fan resistance type) or wailed like a banshee (magnetic resistance type). It was torture for the neighbours as well as for us.
But things are different now. We have super-sophisticated - and much quieter, hardware in the form of smart trainers from the likes of Wahoo, Tacx and Elite; smart bikes from Wattbike and immersive virtual reality software from Zwift.
Indoor training is not only more sophisticated but it’s also much more fun.
Here’s a quick Q&A on indoor training, plus one of our favourite indoor sessions to try out:
What are the benefits of indoor training?
The traditional benefit is that when it’s cold, icy, rainy, generally inhospitable outside, you can still ride. There’s more to it than that, though: an indoor session is likely to be a better quality one. Without traffic, traffic lights, junctions, corners and all the other obstacles that can disrupt your pedalling outside, you can complete an interval session much more accurately.
For that reason we find that a very specific, targeted indoor training programme need only take an hour a day on average – perfect for the time crunched.
It’s possible to do an entire programme indoors if that’s how you prefer to train – and some of our high-achieving, national championship-winning athletes actually do that.
2. What equipment do I need for indoor training?
If you’re going to get the most out of Zwift, the most popular indoor training app, we recommend a smart turbo or something like the Wattbike Atom, a smart bike.
These pair with computers, smartphones and tablets via ANT+ and Bluetooth, as well as your home WiFi, letting you ride with other cyclists in a virtual environment. Zwift has simulated gradients built into its courses so that if you hit a hill, a smart trainer will auto-adjust the resistance so that you need to pedal harder or change down.
But it is still possible to use Zwift without a smart trainer – the minimum requirement is a speed and cadence sensor. If you‘ve got a basic set of rollers or a basic turbo you can get started on that.
However, a standard trainer or rollers won’t auto-adjust to the gradients – the user has to change the resistance manually. You lose the virtual reality element by doing this, and if you’re on a group ride, you might suddenly need to pull out 400 watts to get up a climb. That’s more difficult to do on a set of rollers without any resistance as you have to change up to increase the resistance instead of changing down as you would on a real hill.
3, OK, I have my smart turbo and Zwift account. What now?
Generally, first thing you need to do is an FTP (functional threshold power) test. Once you have this number, you can do group rides and races designed by Zwift, or custom sessions programmes designed especially for you by us.
Your FTP is the best power you can hold for longer durations without going over your lactate threshold. The commonest way is via a 20-minute test, and through this you come out with a number expressed in watts, and a training programme will often be based around that, with the aim of raising it and enabling you to sustain more power.
We use power-based training levels from 1-7 (also known as Coggan power levels after the Andrew Coggan, the coach who developed them) where 1 is active recovery (<55% FTP); 2 is endurance (56-75% FTP); 3 is tempo (76-90% FTP); 4 is lactate threshold (91-105% FTP); 5 is VO2 Max (106-120% FTP), 6 is anaerobic capacity (>121% FTP) and 7 is neuromuscular power for very short, high-intensity efforts).