How to get ready for your best trainer season ever

By Molly Hurford

Trainer season is upon us, and whether you just started riding or you’re getting on your indoor trainer for the first time ever this year, we have a few tips for getting started this season. Riding the trainer can be a great way to keep your cycling skills sharp even when weather prevents you from riding outside, but it can also be painfully monotonous and—if done without putting much thought into it—it can also be an ineffective way to train during the winter months. The good news: It only takes a few small tweaks to set yourself up for success.

Set up your space

If possible, having a semi-permanent trainer setup somewhere in your home is the first step to consistent success riding the trainer. Whether you’re using a corner of a guest room, creating a ‘pain cave’ in the basement, or taking over the garage for your trainer setup, try to create a space that’s just for riding. And set everything up before your first ride, so that when it is time to hop on the bike, you’re ready:

-Have a mat under your trainer and bike to prevent slipping or scuffing your floors

-Set up a spot for a towel to rest (it can hang over the bars if you prefer)

-Create your screen setup: If you’re planning to watch movies or ride on Zwift while you use the trainer, figure out where your screens will go. If you are using the internet while you ride, you also need to make sure wherever the trainer is setup has internet access!

-Figure out a way to get airflow. Fans are your friend, as are open windows.

Clean your bike

This should go without saying, but give your bike a clean before you mount it to the trainer. This means wiping the frame, wheels and tires down, as well as degreasing, cleaning, and re-lubing your chain. The last thing you want is to track mud and grease into your guest room when you bring your bike in, or to spray the wall behind you as you start pedaling.

Make sure everything is working

The most common reason we see trainer rides go sideways is when people have their setup ready to roll, but their Zwift password doesn’t work or the trainer itself is on the fritz. Sign into Zwift before you hit that first ‘time to ride’ moment (or at least give yourself a few minutes of buffer to get set up for your first ride rather than cramming it into a busy day). Ideally, you’ll also test the trainer before your first scheduled ride, just to make sure everything is working correctly. It’s much better to do this without the pressure of needing to get on and get pedaling!

Decide to keep going

We see this happen so often that we wanted it to have its own section: If your smart trainer disconnects from your cycling computer or you get booted off of Zwift or whatever other online platform you’re using, KEEP RIDING. Your ride shouldn’t end just because your wireless router acts up, and just because your avatar on Zwift may be stopped doesn’t mean you should be. We see far too many workouts end because of tech issues rather than tired legs. If your internet breaks, go old school and rely on your watch to finish out your ride to the best of your abilities. Your intervals or efforts may not be perfect, but in this case, actually finishing the workout is much more important than doing it exactly right.

Check your training schedule

Whether you follow a training plan or you just wing it day to day, remember that time on the trainer isn’t exactly the same as time spent riding outside. Rarely should you do 3+ hour trainer rides, even if you regularly get out and do 5+ hour road rides outside. Rather, most of your rides should be under the two hour mark. Focus on quality training—like doing good interval sets—on the trainer versus just trying to muscle through straight endurance riding. If you miss doing long hours, try a double day of doing a longer (2-3 hour) ride followed by a hike, snowshoe or XC ski.

Choose your reward

If you find riding the trainer painfully boring, you may need to bribe yourself a bit to get those workouts in. Personally, I’m a big fan of dedicating a certain Netflix show that I really want to watch to ‘trainer time,’ meaning the only time I get to watch the show is when I’m riding. For some people, having a certain reward like buying that new set of bib shorts for doing a set number of kilometers might be enough to keep them entertained on the trainer (or just adding a dollar-per-kilometer into your cycling budget for 2022 to keep things interesting!). One note on reward systems, though: Try to keep the rewards on the healthy side of things though: It’s tempting to start equating pedaling a certain number of hours with getting a big slice of pumpkin pie, for example, but try to avoid thinking of food as a reward, and instead, indulge appropriately without attaching numbers to it.

Warn your housemates

Trainers are loud and annoying. Let’s just acknowledge that. Warn your housemates, especially if you live with people who work from home, about the hours when you’ll be on the trainer. You may even need to designate ‘trainer hours’ if you live in a smaller house where doing a conference call while someone is using the trainer is simply not possible. And even though you’re home, not out on the road, you’re not really home and available to help out around the house while training. So remember to keep your partner/family informed of your plans to disappear into the basement for three hours on a Saturday.

Write down your WHY somewhere nearby

At some point, no matter how much you love Zwift Island, the trainer is going to get boring. So set yourself up for success by putting your WHY, whether it’s a racing goal for 2022 or just wanting to stay healthy so you can ride with your kids, somewhere where you can see it on every ride. Ideally, you can even add a picture or two to go along with it—think of this as a mini-vision board exercise. That way, when the going gets tough on the trainer, you can look up and see that race day photo of you at an Ontario Cup last year with “get into the top 5” written on top of it. If you can remember what you’re working towards, the trainer will seem less like a chore!

About the writer:

Molly Hurford is a journalist in love with all things cycling, running, nutrition and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside and healthy habits of athletes and interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete podcast and website, and most recently launched the book ‘Becoming A Consummate Athlete.‘ She’s the author of multiple books including the Shred Girls, a young adult fiction series and online community focused on getting girls excited about bikes. Molly is a little obsessed with getting people psyched on adventure and being outside, and she regularly hosts talks and runs clinics for cyclists and teaches yoga online and IRL… And in her spare time, the former Ironman triathlete now spends time tackling long runs and rides on trails or can be found out hiking with her mini-dachshund DW and husband, cycling coach and kinesiologist Peter Glassford.