I have a love-hate relationship with my bike trainer. Ok, maybe it's more of a hate-hate relationship with it...but I've started to hate it a little less over the past few months. I am not a strong biker and I very much prefer to do all of my workouts outside. However, my coach told me that if I wanted to become a stronger biker, I needed to ride on my trainer. Those were not the words I wanted to hear. I guess I always assumed that bike trainers were just for suckers who didn't have snow bikes to ride outside during the winter. When in reality they are a valuable training tool.
When I did my very first ride on a trainer, I lasted about 10 minutes. Over the last year and a half, I have worked my way up to being able to make it over two hours. I used to ride for 15 or 20 minutes, get off, walk around, and then get back on. This past weekend I completed my longest trainer ride yet of 2.5 hours. Like a lot of things, it's a process.
While riding on a trainer is very different from riding your bike outside, it has some definite benefits.
- You can ride whenever you want. You don't need daylight or perfect weather conditions. It's always 70 degrees and light inside my house (thank you electricity!) so the conditions outside don't matter.
- You get a better workout. There's no way you can coast, so you have to keep pedaling. I find this annoying while I'm doing it, but when I get out on the road and feel like it's so easy because I can coast down the hills, I'm glad I put in the hard work. There's also no traffic, making it much safer (although, I have hurt myself riding on my trainer, we can talk about that some other time).
- You can do a more specific/focused workout. Since you don't have to worry about cars or terrain, you can get the exact workout you need (unless it is supposed to involve hills).
- You sweat more. Since you aren't getting the benefit of a breeze and it's probably warmer in your house than it is outside (depending on where you live and what time of year it is), you'll probably work up more of a sweat. And sweating has some great health benefits!
- No helmet hair. While this has nothing to do with athletic performance, it's a legitimate concern for some of us. I'm definitely more likely to get excited about exercising if I know that cleaning myself up aftewards is going to be less work.
- Bathroom breaks whenever you want. I guess if you were going to ride in the woods you could have this same benefit, but I like knowing that I can hop off my bike whenever I want to use the bathroom or grab a snack if I didn't bring enough nutrition with me to my bike station.
- It takes less time. There's less preparation involved in getting out the door. You don't have to pack all your food or find clothes for whatever the weather might be. You just put on your shorts and hop on your bike. And because it is a harder workout overall, you save time. There are some who would say that 2 hours of biking on a trainer is worth 3 hours on the road because you aren't doing any coasting. You also don't have to worry about flat tires or stopping for traffic so your 2 hours of riding is 2 hours of riding, not 2 hours with added time for whatever comes up while you are out.
There are also some definite drawbacks of riding on the trainer. While I am still not a huge fan of my trainer, I definitely think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
- Boredom. This is probably my biggest complaint (other than riding on a trainer is harder). Watching TV can only get you so far. Sometimes I can read or listen to music, but 2+ hours of riding and not actually going anywhere is mentally challenging no matter what.
- No bike handling practice. While your trainer is great for your fitness, it does nothing for your overall bike handling skills. I have found that just being on my bike feels different when I am actually riding it vs when I am on the trainer.
- No hill practice. If you have a hilly race coming up, it's probably a good idea to get a few sessions outside on some hills, because while riding on your trainer will make you a stronger biker, it does not necessarily prepare you for hills.
One thing that I have found extremely important to trainer riding is not just getting on my bike and riding, but having a workout to do. Whether it's a workout that's written down or a video workout, it's essential. This helps focus your session and keeps you from getting bored quickly. I use Spinervals for most of my workouts because they have a relatively cheap streaming option (you can get a free 2 week trial if you want to test it out). I don't always do the whole workout or do it at the same intensity, but it's nice to have some direction with trainer workouts.
Who am I?? I am an athlete and a Family Nurse practitioner with over eight years of clinical experience helping ordinary women cut through all the hype and figure out what actually works for their bodies. If you've ever been told by your healthcare provider that "it's all in your head" or that what you are going through is "normal," I can help! It's not all in your head and just because something is common doesn't mean it is normal.
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