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The turbo trainer – love it or hate it, you can’t deny that it is a fundamental piece of training equipment that triathletes and cyclists need in order to execute important sessions, especially during winter. Ironman triathlete and Sundried ambassador Danny Mansfield gives his advice for making the most of your turbo sessions with some key workouts for you to try.
Learning to love the turbo
I think it’s fair to say that not many people like long turbo sessions, and I am one of those. I take my hat off to the few that can stay on longer than 90 minutes. That is about my limit when the mind starts to wander and boredom sets in. For most, including myself, a good hour on the turbo trainer can reap good training benefits. The turbo also comes up trumps when the weather is awful or you need to do specific intervals, which on the road can be difficult, not to mention dangerous.
So how do we learn to love it? There are a few things to consider before we get into what those key sessions are.
Turbo Trainer Set Up
Where you complete your turbo session is a real consideration to make. If you set it up in a cold, dimly lit garage it will not help in motivating you to get on it. Not everyone can have a pain cave, but an area where you are comfortable and have enough space is important. Make sure you have a towel and access to water – you will need it! Another important tool is a fan. By keeping cool, you will control your heart rate a little more, plus it’s a little more comfortable with a fan on.
Danny in his pain cave. It's important to train somewhere you're comfortable.
When on the turbo and following a particular session, I tend to have other distractions to help the time go that little bit quicker. My personal favourite is an iPad with Netflix and something to watch, or sometimes just music. You will find that following a structured workout also helps, as you tend to concentrate on what you need to do. Getting on that turbo for some aimless spinning will lead to inevitable boredom!
Ask yourself – when is the best time for me to complete my session? Are you an early morning person? Do you have other people to consider? Have you tried the turbo at different times? This is key, as it will open up flexibility to your training and time you have. Usually, double day training for me means an early morning session, which I don’t mind at all. I much prefer jumping on the turbo trainer early in the morning than running outside in the cold.
Do you have a heart rate monitor or power meter? Are you using them to their full potential? Although I train by power on my trainer, for beginners a heart rate monitor is a great addition. If you can combine this with some simple testing to work out your heart rate zones, your training is likely to be a lot more scientific in its approach. Having a plan that matches your current fitness and goals will give you purpose to your training. But, to keep things easy, you can also use perceived effort (RPE) if just starting out.
Once we have worked out these things, we can start to consider what sessions to complete. There are lots of different workouts that allow us to build strength, aerobic endurance, tempo or sweet spot work. For me, there are three key workouts along with the dreaded FTP test that triathletes need to consider. Let’s explore these.
Turbo Trainer Workouts
This strength building turbo trainer workout is all about developing leg strength, making you push harder on the pedals. It will encourage your leg muscles to become stronger, which is great for climbing!
Start with 15 minutes of endurance pedalling with some high cadence spinning. We are talking perceived effort 3 or heart rate zone 2. Cadence should be comfortable, somewhere between 80-90 rpm or higher when you add in some high cadence spinning.
Here you will need to change up a few gears to add resistance to the pedals. You want to get into a gear where your cadence drops to around 50-60 rpm and then push as hard as you can for 30-60 seconds. Once complete, recover by shifting down again to easy spin for 3 minutes. Repeat this for around 5 sets and you can increase the sets or the duration of interval as you become stronger and fitter. Be careful though, your knees will take a pounding so start easy and find out what you can sustain and build from there.
10-15 minutes easy spinning bringing your heart rate down.
Sweet Spot Workout
This workout will be taxing and make your legs, lungs, and heart work hard. The idea is to ride just below FTP/threshold zone for short periods of time, enabling you to train your body to cope for long sustained efforts. It’s a must-do workout for long distance triathletes.
Complete a 20-minute warm up. This will be 10 minutes of easy endurance pedalling followed by 7 minutes of fast cadence efforts – aim for around 105-110 rpm. Split this 7 minutes up into 1 minute fast cadence followed by 1 minute easy. When you’ve completed 4 faster efforts, take the last 3 minutes easy.
Complete 3 x 10-minute intervals at around 85-90% of your threshold power or threshold heart rate. If it is too much or you can’t sustain it, shorten the duration of the interval. Separate each interval with 5 minutes of easy pedalling. As the season progresses, you can increase the length of the interval so you are spending longer in that zone.
Spend the last part of your session with 10-15 minutes in your endurance zone.
Boost Your VO2 Max Workout
This one is all about developing your lungs and body to use oxygen more efficiently. More oxygen means less lactic acid! It involves some high-end short efforts and requires you to have a bit of base fitness beforehand. If you know your FTP number, then your VO2 will typically be 110-120% of that benchmark.
Ride at a steady pace for 10 minutes then increase your effort for another 10 minutes. This should only be slightly harder in which you can still hold a conversation.
We are looking for 5 intervals lasting for around 3 minutes with a 3-minute recovery sandwiched between the hard efforts. Remember, each interval is 110-120% of FTP.
Complete a proper cool down and try not to do this workout back to back. You need proper recovery. To progress this workout, you can always extend the amount of intervals you do or the length of them.
What is FTP Testing in cycling?
An FTP test is a simple 20-minute hard-as-you-can and sustain for the duration of the interval. Ideally, this is done with a power meter but can also be tracked with heart rate. It starts after a warm up and also includes a cool down at the end. This is the key workout to give you your zones and check you current fitness level.
There are a variety of ways of doing an FTP test but the 20 minute effort is the most popular. If you don’t possess a power meter, you can also track your heart rate in this test, although it isn’t as accurate. This is not your everyday workout but one we use every 4-6 weeks to check on progress and adjust our training zones.
These turbo trainer workouts will not only give you bang for you buck, but will actually make the time go quicker on the turbo. Don’t forget to include that aerobic longer, lower intensity ride, which ideally is completed outside. Spread the workouts carefully as some are pretty taxing on the system, so make sure you manage your recovery, especially if you add in swim and run workouts too.
You can read more training advice by Danny on his blog.
For six years, I have been a professional triathlete and have enjoyed achieving at a high level and racing the best athletes in the world. After winning an Ironman 70.3 in 2016, my initial goal was completed and in my heart I admit I felt it was ‘job done’. However, I embarked upon another few years in the hope of taking the ‘next step’ – however good you get, there is always a next step! Triathlon has always been a little ‘faffy’ and techy for me though and you have to love what you do.
I am so glad I got the opportunity to compete at such a high level, but at 37 years old I have other things to achieve and if I’m to do them, it’s now time to get a move on! So come this summer, it was time to put triathlon to one side (though not abandon completely, as you will see!)
Ultra running. That’s where I came from and that’s where I’m heading now. I restarted triathlon after a run injury sustained shortly after my last long ultra: a successful 100 miler in 2012. Then aged 30, if I wanted to seize the opportunity of trying to be a pro athlete, triathlon was my best bet, and the time window relatively small. So when the opportunity presented itself, I put ultra to one side in the hope I could return one day (ultra runners tend to get good results when older - so in that respect I hoped I could afford to wait a while).
I have big goals for ultra and I have my eye on some British records that are rather mind-boggling, but I’ll give it a go and see how close I can get. I am not scared of failing, as I’ll still achieve lots along the way. It’s good to have a target though. Unlike triathlon, where there are no real times to aim for as courses are so variable, it is refreshing to have something specifically time-based as a goal.
The only problem with ultra running is the extreme nature and the need to build resilience without too many injuries. I have already overcooked it once in the past few months and had to take 3 weeks out from running - hard to do when you love it so much. Hence, the cycling and swimming will stay in place a bit this year, whilst we ‘transition’. I’ve already done my first cyclocross race, Redbull Timelaps and have a local duathlon lined up for December. It’s nice to be able to mix it up a bit - being ‘pro’ means you’re generally quite restricted in that respect.
As for life balance, I’ll continue to work closely with my key sponsors, including Sundried (watch out for some exciting new kit drops arriving soon!) and as well as paying the bills with freelance copy writing, I’ve relaunched my other passion, art.
Messy, crazy art. I studied art when younger but didn’t touch it for years. I have now ransacked my partner’s son’s old bedroom and it is now a splattered ‘art studio’, out of which comes all sorts of creations made with resin and/or acrylic pouring. I am still in the exploratory stage, but the business is gaining traction, particularly in ‘useful art’ - bespoke trophies, coasters, clocks, table tops, jewellery etc. Follow @aliceartuk on Facebook or Instagram to see my experiments!
In summary, it’s hard to make changes, especially when a routine is so drilled, but if you take a few weeks out of the sport every year or two, and let the dust settle, then you can truly reflect on what it is you want to be doing. I found a week off here and there doesn’t break what essentially is a habit, but after 3 weeks, it became clear where I wanted to go. Take your time to reflect. The body WILL thank you for an extended rest anyway!
Whilst I slowly build towards record attempts (I anticipate 3-4 years but that’s a guess), I simply want to get out and enjoy the blissful feeling of rhythmical running, take part in ultra events, enjoy some success and see some amazing sights, that can be right there in the doorstep.
My advice to you:
- Try new things in the off-season.
- Your gut instinct will tell you all you need, if you let it.
- Change is always possible.
- Take time to reflect: no goal is going to be a joyous upward trajectory so there will be ups and downs. Knee-jerk decisions are risky.
- Accept you cannot have success without failure.
- Having said that, make sure to regularly check in with yourself that you are predominately enjoying your journey, wherever it takes you!
About the author: Alice Hector has been a sponsored Sundried athlete since our inception and has been competing professionally in triathlon since 2014.
Jack is a competitive ultra runner who has completed some incredible races. He talks to Sundried about running and his plans for the future.
Have you always been into sport?
Yes, I have always been interested in sport. Growing up I played a serious amount of rugby.
What made you get into the world of ultra running?
The challenge of the unknown and not knowing if I am able to finish.
What's been your best race to date and why?
When I won the Snowdonia trail marathon as I'd just come back from injury, the scenery was incredible, and it was my first time climbing a mountain.
And your proudest achievement?
Running with my dad for his first marathon at the age of 48 was a really proud moment.
Have you ever had any racing disasters/toughest race yet?
I tend to injure myself a lot which is always tough. One of my biggest racing disasters was during my first ultra when I led all the way until mile 43 but was overtaken with 1 mile to go which was absolutely gutting!
How do you overcome setbacks?
I try to focus my mind on what is coming next or distract myself with something else, then focus on coming back better than ever.
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started out?
Always race smart; you only win or lose a race in the last mile and that's the only one that counts.
What are your goals for 2020?
The Centurion 50-mile Grand Slam, the Lakeland 50, and running the Giant's Head marathon with my dad.
Who do you take inspiration from?
I take inspiration from my dad and British record-holding ultra runner Steve Way. They have both proven you never know what people are capable of. I also take inspiration from my girlfriend Kelly as she puts up with all the crazy things I do!
What do you like about Sundried and what's your favourite bit of our kit?
The products are such good quality and at an affordable price, plus I love how the activewear works as casual wear too.The Sundried Matterhorn hoodie is my favourite piece from the collection as it's lightweight, warm and comfortable so I wear it for everything, even outside of running too.
Fabio is an Italian athlete who went on a personal weight loss journey and discovered a love of running and cycling on the way. He talks to Sundried about his journey.
Have you always been into sport?
No, I haven't. I started when I was 19 due to the fact I was obese and I was looking to lose weight and become fitter and healthier.
What’s been your favourite race to date and why?
Stramilano 2017 (a half marathon in Milan, Italy), which was my fastest half marathon. More than 10,000 people take part in this annual running festival and there is great support. I ran it with some friends and I met a lot of great people while running. I felt really good while running it.
And your proudest achievement?
Going on a weight loss journey and losing 30kg (4 and a half stone).
Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?
I've never had a disaster on race day itself, however I've had to cancel a few events due to getting injured while training.
How do you overcome setbacks?
Resting and thinking that the good feeling of running and cycling will always be there waiting for me, even after a setback.
What advice do you wish you'd been given before you started competing?
Do not over-train to be the best. Try to be the best version of yourself by enjoying the training journey.
What are your goals for 2020?
Running a marathon and coming back to running competitions.
Who do you take your inspiration from?
Cycling races inspire me a lot.
What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?
Sundried Century Men's Padded Bib Shorts and Sundried Albaron Men's Muscle Fit T-Shirt.
The weather is certainly feeling colder, but that doesn't mean exercise has to move inside. Training outdoors has lots of great benefits. Sundried ambassador Heather Taylor gives us a list of the extra benefits you gain when exercising outside during winter.
It’s good for your mind and your body
A large study found that outdoor exercise is associated with increased energy and revitalisation, as well as decreased confusion, anger, depression and tension, when compared to exercising indoors. Outdoor participants also reported enjoying their workouts more and said they were more likely to repeat them than participants who trained inside.
It may make you feel better about yourself.
No need to feel self conscious outside, regular outdoor exercise has been proven to boost your self esteem.
Soak up the sunshine benefits (even in winter)
When the sun hits the skin, it creates vitamin D3 which is important for bone health and metabolic function. Extra exposure to sunlight during the day can also help you sleep better at night, improve immune function, and increase endorphin production.
You can burn more calories when you exercise outside
Resistance to the wind when running or cycling outdoors means you often burn more calories than if you were indoors and hills/uneven ground make your body work harder as it has to respond to the unknown.
So there's a few reasons to put on a few extra layers and keep moving. Why not take a look at Sundried's range of winter activewear to kit you out for the winter months? Such as compression base layers, hoodies, and long-sleeved training tops.
About the author: Heather Taylor is a personal trainer, triathlete, and Sundried triathlete.