By: Lindsay Goldman
Try out these fresh new flavors of suffering brought to you by Eliel ambassador and expert indoor rider Lindsay Goldman.
I’ve been riding the trainer at least once a week since 2007, which is a point of both pride and regret, because the trainer takes everything that is beautiful about cycling and distills it into one thing: cripplingly dull yet efficient pedaling. There is no scenery, no wind in your hair, no coasting or momentum. It’s just one pedal stroke after another until you reach the end of the workout or run screaming from boredom.
And yet I love it, because I am a neurotic, controlling perfectionist obsessed with multitasking. The trainer offers an uninterrupted ride to accomplish precise intervals and controlled efforts, while also allowing me to check emails, work on my laptop, or catch up on news. I’ve done Zoom calls and teleconferences, completed major projects, and emptied my inbox countless times, all while pedaling indoors. I’ve rigged up ways to have a laptop perched perfectly within arm’s reach during trainer rides, which is great except for when I sweat on the keyboard.
Given the choice, I’d prefer to ride outside. Most people would. But I spent the first 10 years of my cycling career on the east coast where winter brought sketchy sleet and chilly misery, so the trainer was a necessary evil to stay on track with training. Now, as a parent with a full-time job, the trainer helps me train productively in limited windows of time and there’s nothing I like more than grinding out a workout and being done efficiently. Whether you live in the coldest part of the world or a tropical paradise, there’s value in having a trainer on hand for rides.
Read on for the three types of rides I do indoors plus advice on how to make the best of each experience. And no, none of the tips include “set the trainer on fire and go outside.” I’ve also included sample training files from each type of ride so you can visualize the consistency and intensity of each effort. You can do these rides on a smart or manual trainer, or even jump onto Zwift.
Not pictured: all the grumpy, whiny faces I make when confronted with yet another indoor workout. If you’re not complaining, are you even riding the trainer? ☠️👎🏻☹️
1. Recovery Spins
While some riders use their active recovery days to spin to the coffee shop and enjoy life and a latte, I’m all about productivity - hop on the trainer for a steady spin under 100 watts while working or reading the news. It’s not as fun as getting outside but it removes the variable of terrain, which keeps the ride smooth and easy the whole time. The last thing I want on a recovery day is to exert any extra effort - the goal is to spin the legs out, get the blood moving, and refresh for the next day’s workout. When I’m done, then it’s time for coffee and I don’t even have to pedal home.
Tips for your next recovery spin: Just because the ride is easy doesn’t mean you can skip the fundamentals - dress properly in comfortable bibs, be sure to hydrate, keep your cadence smooth and high, and stretch/roll while your muscles are still warmed up after the ride.
2. Zone 2 Rides
If you feel like life goes by too fast, get on the trainer for a steady zone 2 ride - time will never go by more slowly. These rides can be catatonically boring - even if I’m watching the most riveting show or plowing through heaps of backlogged emails, I still notice every single minute that passes.
So why not go outside? A few reasons. First, the efficiency of a zone 2 ride indoors can’t be beat - it’s non stop pedaling without interruption, which is great for building endurance and aerobic fitness (and an unfailing ability to tolerate relentless monotony). My heart rate stays steadily in the right zone for the full duration of the ride. Second, I prefer to do these rides on the trainer when time is tight, because not a minute is wasted on traffic or lights. If I have a 2-hour time window and minimal flexibility, I don’t want to spend 10 minutes navigating cars and stops. The quality of a 2-hour steady trainer ride often matches that of a much longer ride outside.
To keep me focused, my coach often gives low-level intervals to add structure and break up monotony. None of the intervals are hard, but they help pass the time and create different types of physical stimulation within the zone 2 range of power and heart rate.
Tips for your next zone 2 ride: You’ll be sitting heavy on your mushy parts for a lot of steady pedaling, so wear properly-fitting bibs with a fresh chamois. Consider chamois cream to prevent the chafing that can come from sitting on the saddle so long without standing up - it’s a lot more prolonged contact than you’re used to while riding outside. Bring ways to pass the time - music, podcasts, Netflix - because these rides are boring.
3. Structured Intervals
Here’s where the trainer can really shine - a structured workout works much better on the trainer without the interruptions of traffic or terrain. My coach often gives me very specific, active interval workouts that would be nearly impossible to execute effectively outside. I’ve tried but end up running out of open road, having to brake at the wrong times for cars or lights, or dealing with downhills when I need uphills or vice versa. I love using the trainer to focus entirely on nailing the wattage and cadence requirements of a detailed workout. The suffering might kill you but at least cars won’t.
Tips for your next interval ride:
Skip the jersey and go with a light base layer to stay cool because you’re going to be sweating. Turn on fans if you’ve got them to keep your body temperature down. Be sure to hydrate well and fuel properly throughout the workout, and don’t forget your recovery drink and stretches when you’re done.
Try some of my favorite Eliel essentials before your next ride - Laguna Seca bibs, a Zuma base layer, and at least two of the 26-ounce water bottles. I also never start a ride without at least a few Honey Stinger waffles and chews in my burrito bag for easy access.