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Trainer time: Indoor riding tips

The tips you need - from software to spin classes

— by Sean Mackinnon

As the days get shorter and the weather colder, every athlete begins to think about bringing their training indoors. After the beautiful fall riding months, eventually, the day comes when it is time to head inside as the weather gets cold and the days get shorter. There is certainly nothing wrong with spending some time on the trainer or rollers all year, working on specific intervals. When you are forced to stay inside, though, it always seems like a bit of a chore. It doesn’t have to be that way, though – these days, there are lots of applications and trainers that make indoor riding easier and more enjoyable.


When you think of indoor training, Zwift is often the first thing that comes to mind. If you have never heard of Zwift, get online and give it a try. If you already have an Ant+ or Bluetooth-connected device on your bike, you are more than halfway there. Once you dial in your speed and cadence, or have a power meter, the only thing left to do is find a way to allow the devices on your bike to speak to your phone, tablet or laptop. Once you are connected, there are endless training rides, races and challenges to keep your mind occupied while you put in the winter miles. You can join massive “virtual” pelotons through one of the group rides available on Zwift, or race against riders anywhere in the world. With a variety of virtual courses that change every few days, there is little chance that you’ll get bored. Keep your eyes peeled for Watopia. This course is my personal favourite – it’s Zwift’s in-house virtual island. The other courses are virtual versions of rides around London, U.K., Richmond, Va., and their newest course in Innsbruck, Switzerland.

Related: Your indoor training menu

TrainerRoad is another popular platform for indoor riding. If you are into power numbers, this is the program for you. This software will sync with a speed sensor, power meter or smart trainer and give you customized workouts and training plans based on your desired goals. TrainerRoad is unique because each workout you do is specific down to the minute. Focusing on actual power (from your trainer or power meter), or estimated power from a speed sensor, you are given target power numbers to hit as you work through the workouts. For athletes who may not have a dedicated coach, this software can act as a virtual coach. As you work through a training plan or selected workouts, you will be able to see your progression over the months.


For anyone who is going to be spending a serious amount of time on the trainer this winter, investing in a smart trainer can be a great way to bring indoor training to the next level. Almost every indoor trainer brand offers a smart trainer and, although most smart trainers hover around the $1,000 mark, the investment can provide some excellent training opportunities and make the process a lot more fun. Paired with the newest indoor training software, smart trainers provide information on your power, cadence and offer automated resistance adjustment (to simulate the changing conditions of a ride outside). Monitoring your power output while training indoors can be a huge plus – it can help you dial in workouts to increase your FTP, work on high-end power output and dial in a new goal race pace.

Related: How to set up Zwift – the most cost-effective way


Efficient training

Riding indoors is never quite as enjoyable as being on the real road, so many people struggle to stay on the bike for long periods of time. Intervals are a great way to keep indoor workouts short and sweet. Unlike outdoor rides, where you might be with a group or be able to coast through various sections of the ride, riding on a trainer keeps you honest. You can spend a lot less time doing an indoor workout and get the same benefit, if not more, than riding outdoors. Some of the hardest indoor training workouts can take less than an hour. Incorporating specific interval workouts that are short, but specific, will minimize your time indoors on the bike, but produce efforts that will pay off later in the season.

Set up your riding area

Getting absolutely soaked and sweating profusely can be an issue when riding on a trainer, especially if you don’t have much airflow while you’re riding. Investing in a fan (or a few) can certainly help tackle overheating while training. Changing into a new kit halfway through your long ride can make things more comfortable and will definitely keep you motivated to stay on the bike, too. Hydration and fueling properly is another must for indoor riding. You definitely will be losing more water while indoors and dehydration can hamper upcoming workouts.

Spin classes and rollers

For those who aren’t as worried about hitting target power numbers and just want to work up a sweat, there are a couple of very different options to a smart trainer: spin classes, or my favourite, rollers.

Spin classes have been getting quite popular over the past few years and the best part is you can make them as hard as you want. There is also nothing better than having some company while riding indoors.

Riding on rollers is another amazing way to spend the winter months. Personally, I think that every serious rider should master riding rollers. Although there is a bit of a learning curve to master this type of indoor riding, the benefits of being able to balance yourself on spinning rollers translates well to the road. Bike handling is an essential skill for outdoor riding and a spin on a set of rollers once a week can keep your skills sharp, and possibly even improve them for the upcoming season.

Hopefully, our winter will be short and our indoor riding season even shorter. With an indoor plan and variety of cycling activities, though, the winter can fly by and can even have you better prepared for the 2019 season than if you were to ride outdoors all winter. The benefits of riding indoors are very clear – just look at how many pros are opting to stay on the trainer all year long. For me, being indoors is, and always will be, a drag. But, when you live in Canada, it’s inevitable, If you need to find me this winter, I will likely be on Zwift.

A triathlete until he was 15, Sean Mackinnon raced on the national cycling team for seven years and won two bronze medals at the 2015 Pan Am Games.