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Staying Engaged on the Turbo Trainer for a Better, Stronger Cycling Season


If I hear one familiar refrain about spending time on the cycling torture device known as the turbo trainer, it’s that people have a tough time staying engaged, they have a tough time “working it”, or pushing hard…  The most successful cyclists I know have bitten the bullet and upgraded their standard turbo for a “smart” trainer and gotten on Zwift.  This solution, while fantastic for many, isn’t without its flaws.  It’s expensive.  Smart trainers, that will adjust resistance based on the Zwift program, run between $600 and $1,500 depending on the model and options you want.

If you can’t afford the upgrade (I don’t want to – you’re talking some serious cash to get my wife and I both on the system), there are tricks to staying engaged and working hard through the winter so you can enter the spring base mileage season ready to kick some butt.


The tricks aren’t quite as important as the why, so I’ll start with that:

  1. I don’t want to play catch-up come Spring.  Catching up to all of my friends sucks.
  2. Most of my friends will be working hard through the winter so they don’t have to play catch-up.
  3. Playing catch-up sucks.

Those three reasons alone are my motivation.  If I slack, I will pay for my easy off-season.

This isn’t, of course, to say that I have to ride my bike on the turbo for hours on end, I don’t (hell, I won’t).  What I do have to stick with is a good, solid 45 minute workout.  As long as I’m pushing hard gears a few times a week, with a couple of easy days in there, I’ll come out of winter with only a little endurance to build up, and fortunately I love riding my bike, so endurance building is right up my alley.

In the end, staying engaged whilst on the trainer boils down to, “I have to”, simply because keeping the effort going through the winter beats coming back and trying to play catch-up while losing the ten pounds I put on because I was taking it easy all winter in the first place.

So, here are my tricks, in no particular order:

  • Push hard gears on the hardest resistance setting.  Three days a week I should climb down and think, “man that sucked”.
  • When I want to shift to an easier gear I think, “Will taking it easy today help me in the Spring?”
  • Rinse and repeat that last thought.
  • Spend as much time outside on the bike as possible.  Spending time riding outside helps me to keep my eye on the prize when I’m on the trainer.
  • Look at the positives;  When I ride the trainer I don’t have to put on all of my cold-weather clothing (jackets, foot covers, wool socks, hat, neck gaiter, gloves, layers, layers, layers, etc.).  It’s a tee-shirt and a pair of shorts.
  • A good movie.  I own more than a hundred, not to mention Netflix and Xfinity on Demand.  A good movie will easily sustain me for the 45 minutes I need to get through a decent trainer workout.

In the end, it’s all about where I want to be in the Spring.  I want to be at the front of the group, able to drive the pace.  I don’t want to be at the back, trying to hold on to the group, struggling to keep up.  Sadly, it’s one or the other.


  1. Rollers for me, every time.

    You don’t get the same level of workout, that’s for sure, but I can sit there for an hour, even an hour twenty, and I find that really helps to build my base for Spring.

    I’m also a firm believe in the additional benefits you get from rollers; improved pedalling style, core workout, balance and bike handling, etc. A turbo would probably make me stronger, but rollers make me smoother.

    Each to their own – i’m definitely in the minority in sticking with the rollers…

  2. Or you could move to CA! LOL

  3. fastk9dad says:

    You don’t have to have a smart trainer to use Zwift or even TrainerRoad. A “dumb” trainer with a known resistance curve & Bluetooth speed and cadence sensors are all that is needed. The smart trainer just enchances the experience/ workout.

  4. I am struggling to get on the trainer, but I will now that cold weather is finally hitting. I used to sign up for computrainer classes, which are great motivators. The competitive side of me kicked in, especially in the power sessions where I excel. Right now, part of the challenge of getting on the trainer is actually getting back on the road bike. I am used to the rush of the mountain bike and the road bike seems… boring.

  5. I’m lucky that I’ve never struggled to get on the trainer, maybe I just like hurting myself. Even in the depths of a UK winter wth snow outside the training shed I got on that torture device! This year I’ve had to work long hours so I invested in a quality smart setup for year-round use.

    Like you say, winter work pays dividends come Spring!

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