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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.
It's important to warm up at the best of times, but particularly in winter we need to get our cold muscles ready to work so that we don't get injured. Triathlete and Sundried ambassador Simon Turner shares his tips for warming up thoroughly as well as some warm up exercises you can add into your outdoor training routine.
Winter Outdoor Training Warm Up
During the winter, especially on cold mornings, extra attention is required towards the muscle groups you will be working throughout your session. It can feel like extra effort to do an extended warm up, but discipline is required to prevent injury. A few extra minutes warming up could potentially save you weeks out with a pulled muscle or worse.
Firstly, I check mobility of all limbs and joints by doing a quick rotation forward and backwards. This is to ensure I don’t have any minor niggles prior to training.
A slow progressive warm up follows which can include running on the spot as well as dynamic exercises in which you go further into the exercise, for example squatting to half depth, then three quarters depth, then full depth. This is all designed to fire up the muscles and raise your heart rate ready to train or run.
Once that’s done, I go into a steady jog; nothing fast as this is to continue to raise my heart rate and to control my breathing. I continue this for 5-7 minutes and then I do 5 sets of striders (running strides). These are short sprints done before a workout or run to wake up the body and get it ready for the intensity of the session to come.
All in all, this warm up takes around 20 minutes and by the end I feel pumped and ready to begin my session, whether that's strength, running, or cycling.
So, you have reached the end of your race season, what do you do now? Are you feeling a little bit lost or have you already started looking ahead to next year's races? Here is a triathlon coach's expert advice on maintaining fitness during the off-season.
The first thing everyone should be doing is having a break. That’s right, a complete stop from training. Cue hushed silence! So many athletes use training as their coping mechanism from stress and work – I know I have and still do use sport like that on occasion. To take that out of your life can leave a massive void, a worry about what you will do with your time, a worry about losing all your hard earned fitness and speed.
The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, without a proper solid break from training or physical stimulation, your body can’t have a full recovery and reset. Most endurance athletes train most days (if their work/family/life schedule allows), if not twice a day, so taking a few days of doesn’t cut it. Time for your body to recharge and repair is essential. On top of this, your brain needs a rest. If you have a particular goal that you want to work towards each year – whether it be a particular race (of any distance), or a PB – then hopefully you have ramped up your efforts towards that goal and hopefully you achieved it. But to have that ramp up in intensity and effort, you have to have some down time too. If you don’t feel like you need that downtime, then chances are you’ll find out at a later point that you did need it and you’ll have a period of low motivation.
Take at least 2 weeks, if not 3, of doing no training whatsoever. Just stop. Take time to spend with friends, family, socialising. Two or three weeks will not lose you all your fitness. But it will have you ready and raring to do something. After that period of proper time off, have a couple of weeks to a month of what you may call 'play'. Do “stuff”, but it’s not training. Don’t worry about your watch or your speed. But if you feel like going and running – go run. Leave the watch at home and focus on enjoying the experience. Try something different – maybe climb, mountain bike or row. All of this is about having fun, about being active and maybe building a little bit of fitness without any worry, any focus, keeping it all light. The great thing with play is that you might develop extra skills that can help your primary sports.
Then it’s time to work out what you are doing for the year ahead and what you need to be doing now to aid and assist that. Unless you’re planning on doing an Ironman or marathon in February/March, you don’t need long training sessions (which is good when the weather is horrible and dark!)
You can use the winter to start changing habits and help toward your end goal. Do you keep putting off improving your swimming? Now’s the time with no stress or races immediately round the corner. Do you keep getting run niggles? Get your running checked out. Use the time you have effectively, get things looked at now and you can start your training year with the best possible habits before you start doing more and working harder.
Along with technique and skill retraining, the other thing that can be of real benefit is starting to build strength work into your programme. I am a massive believer in doing something for strength all year round – it doesn’t have to be in a gym, although if you can get to a facility it will add benefits because of the extra resistance you can hopefully incorporate.
The gym is a scary place for many endurance athletes who would rather be outside, worry about being weak, and have fears of getting “bulky”. Let's deal with each of these in turn.
1) The less fun element, or being away from what you are good at – if you have a good PT, or even look online, you should be able to work out or find a programme that is fun, motivating and enjoyable. That doesn’t mean it is easy, but in the same way your swim or run training can vary, so can work in the gym. It’s not a one size fits all, and should certainly be adaptable to you.
2) Worries about being weak – compared to whom? Being the gym is the same as going out running, or being in the water. We notice other people while we’re out training – but we don’t pay huge attention. When you’re in the gym it’s the same – someone may notice that you’re there, but they aren’t going to be staring at your form or how much weight you are pushing. Besides, the reason you (and anyone else) is doing your training is to get better. Take a deep breathe and focus on yourself.
3) Being bulky/putting on weight – a massive fallacy. To put on bulk and muscle you need to eat a hell of a lot, and you need to work super hard in the gym for a concerted period of time. If your food is balanced (ie calories in v calories out) then you will not be physically able to put on weight or size. It’s a physical and biological impossibility, against the laws of nature.
Just because you might start getting in the gym, that doesn’t mean you need to spend hours there. One or two sessions of 45 minutes to an hour a week are plenty. And this can fit in nicely with reduced other training while you build into a rhythm. If you’re someone who does two sessions of each per week, a gym session or two hopefully can slot in nicely.
If time is an issue, you could substitute one of your other sessions, or maybe your long ride through the winter (rather than going out and riding in the wet for 3 hours, you could do a 45-minute gym session and get more bang for your buck). Or you could do body weight exercises at home to reduce the time pressures on yourself.
Your training through the winter should reflect that there’s nothing immediate coming up for you. Enjoy your training, and try not to stress about it too much. If you wake up in the morning feeling unmotivated – take the morning off. It doesn’t have to become a habit, but if you remove the mental stress now, you’ll feel much better about getting your head down when the sun comes out.
Keep the sessions short and punchy so that you can get in and get done – and then maybe go to the Christmas party or that catch up with friends you haven’t seen in six months.
Volume is easy to add back into training; the body generally absorbs that better, so go for the quick hits, a turbo or spin class to get the legs moving, a short trail run in the dark (a group I used to run with called it Blair Witch Running!), or a club swim session for company – and then be done with it. Use races as fun training sessions – whether that be your local off-road 5-miler or entering masters swimming.
Training in the winter can be a challenge, mentally as much if not more so than physically. Give your body and brain a change, some fun, and tick over. Remove the stress and have fun. You’ll be thankful in the new year.
About the author: John Wood has been involved in swimming for the last 25 years and has competed at National and International levels. He is now a triathlon coach with Bristol and District Triathlon club, Flying Monks Triathlon, and North Bristol Tri, training adults, children and para athletes.
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.
Strength training is an important part of any balanced workout program and for a triathlete, this is especially true. All three sports of swimming, cycling, and running are strenuous activities that require careful attention to muscle balance to prevent injury and promote optimal performance. When you are consistently training in all three, strength training takes on a completely new component of importance.
Strength training for triathlon
Training for a triathlon is usually pretty time-intensive to gain the fitness level and specificity you need for each leg of your race. While lifting is a must, efficiency can help maximize your results without feeling too overwhelmed by your routine. (Plus, it’s nice to have time for other things in your life.) Find strength exercises that address multiple muscle groups at once, promote muscular endurance and stability, and ultimately give you the power you need.
Why you need a good lifting routine
Build muscular endurance for that extra “oomph” at the end of your race and power throughout. You don’t need to have bulging biceps to gain benefits either. Rather, you will maximize your muscles' reserves for pushing yourself to that next level. Plus, you’ll prevent injury. If you are intimidated by gyms or don’t have the time, consider a home gym set up. Ultimately, go for lower weight and higher repetition to gain endurance.
These moves will focus on typical problem areas that are common with all three sports. Complete 15-20 repetitions of each exercise for 2-3 sets. Your whole routine should take 20-30 minutes. When possible, do it 2-3 times per week.
- Choose light dumbbells.
- Get in a plank position on your hands with the elbows straight but not locked out or hyper-extended.
- With the core tight, bend one elbow as you extend the arm back and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
- Alternate between sides.
Keep your arms tucked in close to your side. Choose a weight that is challenging while still keeping good form.
Side Plank With Hip Abduction
- Get in a side plank on your elbow; make sure your body is in one line with no sagging at the hips.
- Lift the top leg straight up toward the ceiling.
- Keep the toes pointing forward toward the wall.
- Modify your knee on the lower leg if needed.
- Switch to the other side when complete.
You should feel this exercise in your obliques and glutes. You can add an ankle weight for extra resistance.
Prone Swimmers (Superman)
- Lie on your stomach with the arms outstretched in front of you.
- Lift one leg and the opposite arm off the ground 2-3 inches and hold 1-2 seconds.
- Focus on squeezing your glutes and shoulder blades as you lift.
- Alternate between sides.
You can progress to holding light weights in your hands when possible. You can also try doing this move on a yoga ball.
Lunge With A Bicep Curl And Overhead Press
- Get in a lunge stance while holding dumbbells or kettlebells in both hands at your sides.
- Bend both knees as you bring the back knee toward the floor (into a deep lunge).
- As you return to your original stance, curl your arms up until your elbows are bent past 90 degrees (bicep curl).
- Once you reach the top of your lunge, do a full overhead press.
- Bring the hands back to your side as you move into the next deep lunge.
Make sure you keep your weight evenly distributed through your feet (no leaning forward) and knees in line with (and behind) your toes as you bend.
Single-Leg Dead Lift
- Holding light weights in both hands, shift your weight onto one leg and find your balance.
- Then, hinge forward at the hips as you reach with your opposite hand for the inner ankle (the free leg will extend behind you).
- Stay slow and controlled as you return to the starting position.
- Switch to the other side when ready.
Try standing on a foam pad for an additional coordination challenge.
Rotator Cuff Strengthening With Static Sumo Squats
- Stand with your feet wider than hip-width and the toes pointing out slightly.
- Hold a resistance band in both hands with the palms up and elbows bent and tucked into your sides.
- Assume a deep wide squat that you will hold while completing your arm exercise.
- While keeping your elbows tucked into your side, pull the hands away from each other as you externally rotate the shoulders and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
Focus on keeping good posture and keeping the neck relaxed. The motion should be slow and controlled.
The caveat of specificity training
Specificity training is the theory that in order to make improvements with a specific sport, you must train your body to do those specific movements. Makes sense, right? However, when you are doing three completely different sports that require slightly different muscular coordination, this can be a tough balance to find.
Multi-move exercises are the way to go
Always try to incorporate key body stabilizers into your lifting routine, like the rotator cuff, shoulder blades, glutes, and abdominals. Challenge these muscles in ways that promote dynamic strength that you can easily carry over to your swimming, cycling, and running form. As a triathlete, don’t be afraid to get creative with your lifting routine and find what works for you.
About the author: Kevin Jones is a fitness coach and enthusiast. He writes about all things surrounding health, fitness, wellness, and nutrition. Kevin found his love for running on the trails in the Wasatch Mountain Range and regularly participates in half and full marathons.