Indoor training can be engaging and highly effective – but you have to be intentional about it. You can’t just buy a trainer and expect to get fit anymore than you can expect to lose weight just by buying a bathroom scale.
Here I’ll walk you through what you need: the hardware, the best software and the technology you need to connect everything.
There are scores of training software out there, but the two best by a long shot are TrainerRoad and Zwift. They’re quite different – one is straight-up individual training with no distractions, and the other is a social video game that has revolutionized indoor riding. But both center around power, measured in watts, because that’s at the core of cycling physics.
The whole premise with training with power is to quantify your effort. If you can measure your power output, you can measure improvement. And you can measure the workouts needed to get there.
HARDWARE OPTIONS: Three main types
For indoor training, you’ve got a good, better, best situation.
Good is a standard trainer, like the CycleOps Fluid 2. The big positives here: they are easy to use, set up, move and store. They are relatively low cost. And hey, you may already have one! Resistance is controlled by pressure against your rear tire, and by shifting gears.
When you use with TrainerRoad or Zwift, you can get power output estimated by doing a roll-down calibration. It’s easy and just takes a minute, but you need to do this ideally before every ride, and certainly every time after you have taken the bike out to ride outside and put it back on the trainer.
Better is a standard trainer with a power meter. The big positives here: all the benefits of the standard trainer set up – plus more accurate power measurement inside plus, hey, now you’ve got a power meter outside too.
And best is a smart trainer, like the CycleOps H2. These things are such great training tools, because they are interactive with training software to adjust resistance on the fly, whether you are doing a set of power-based intervals on TrainerRoad or riding up a steep hill on a Zwift course.
WIRELESS CONNECTION OPTIONS
Besides the trainer, you need a smartphone or a computer, plus a strong wifi connection. If you have the option, 2.4GHz works better than 5GHz, at least for Zwift. It’s counterintuitive, but true.
For a the standard trainer set-up, you need a speed/cadence sensor that works on either ANT+ or Bluetooth. ANT+ is standard for cycling peripherals, but it’s a little limiting as it requires an ANT+ USB dongle being plugged into your computer and eliminates being able to use a smartphone for everyone except those who have a new, high-end Android.
I like Bluetooth because it works with phones and laptops without the need for a dongle.
For the standard trainer + power meter set-up, you can use the speed/cadence sensor, but you really only need the power data. And here again, ANT+ and Bluetooth both work, but Bluetooth is easiest.
For the smart trainer set-up, you don’t need anything. Besides integrated ANT+ and Bluetooth to talk to phones and computers, the best smart trainers like the H2 have native ANT+ FEC, so you can control them with your cycling computer like a Garmin Edge or a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt.
For training apps, you have outdoor footage software like Rouvy or Kinomap where the faster you pedal, the faster the outdoor video moves. It’s fine, but not super engaging for me. You have Sufferfest, which uses pro race footage as a backdrop to interval workouts.
For me, two are worth my money: TrainerRoad and Zwift.
You’re familiar with Zwift, right? That’s probably why you’re here. At any moment, there are thousands of riders on the platform, which has hands down the best graphics of any virtual cycling game. But while the graphics help, what makes the game tick is the interaction with other riders. Whether just riding along or doing a group ride or a race, you can draft off other riders. But the psychological pull of staying with the group is stronger than the change in required watts. Zwift is a virtual group ride.
TrainerRoad, on the other hand, is like a spartan gym. It’s just you, the precise work, and a digital coach telling you what to do. One thing I like about TrainerRoad is how little instructions pop up throughout the workout, with reminders like keeping your shoulders relaxed or lengthening your spine. All stuff that translates to riding outside.
If you want to go all in, you can subscribe to training plans, tailored to various disciplines and durations of target events.
Another cool relatively new thing with TrainerRoad is the calendar, which automatically imports your rides from outside, so you can track your training stress and PRs at the micro and macro levels.
Zwift has workouts and training plans as well, but not the big-picture analysis.
Some of my friends say Zwift and TrainerRoad are for two types of people, but I think it’s more for two types of motivation. If you are laser-focused on getting fit for a particular race, TrainerRoad is an excellent, hyper-specific tool that will get you in fighting shape with an absolute minimum of time invested. But if you are more interested in something that motivates you as well as gets you some exercise, Zwift is the best thing going.
Both have free trials, so why not check them both out?
I hope this was helpful in getting you started on interactive indoor training. For more information on CycleOps trainers visit CycleOps.com. And when you are ready to take that hard-earned fitness outside, come ride with us at Roll Massif.
For a chance to win this CycleOps H2 smart trainer, register now for Elephant Rock.