5 of my ‘favourite’ turbo sessions

Turbo training over the winter months can be painful. I’ve not yet got to the point of exposing myself to the machine of sweating, pain and self-improvement yet, as I consider October to be the ‘off-season’ month, but I know it won’t be long before I swing my leg over the beast.

Despite the leg thrashing discomfort of a turbo session, I’ll always argue in favour of training on a stationary bike if the goal is to become stronger and faster. Even if you’re focusing on endurance, turbo sessions will make you fitter, making distance seem easier.

Training on a turbo means:

> No distractions – no roundabouts, no lights, no reasons to stop – and no excuses

> No danger (except perhaps heart attack) – going all-out on the roads isn’t always safe

> Warm and dry – the NHS confirmed to me recently that getting cold and wet does not cause you to get a cold – but it can mean a dormant virus is more likely to rear it’s head – so if it’s miserable it isn’t a bad idea to stay in

> No descents or freewheeling – admittedly, you don’t get hills, but that’s what gears are for. It’s hard to complete intervals outside when your ‘5 minutes vo2’ is interrupted by a 40 second descent

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My key advice for success on the turbo trainer is very simple:

> Have a plan – never sit on the turbo with the intention of simply pedaling as you would outside – you will get bored, you need a focus

> Have a fan – or you will overheat

> Have water

> Have music

Favourite sessions

A little variety is always good when it comes to the first point – the plan. I’ve picked up a few go-to sessions from friends and coaches over time – and these are some of my favourites.

I once worked with a coach not using power or RPE, but simply ‘hard’ and ‘easy’. This doesn’t mean only ever working on two pace levels  – ’20 minute hard’ is hugely different to ‘5 minute hard’ – what I mean when using this term is ‘as hard as you can sustain for the length of time’. You should be able to complete the duration, but only just.

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vo2 Max: The Building Blocks (68 minutes)

VO2max is the maximum rate at which your body can consume oxygen whilst performing an activity.  If you train with power, it’s 105-120% of FTP – if not, it’s ‘9/10’ or ‘very hard’. Intervals are 3-5 minutes long and you should only just get to the end of each one.

Working vo2 intervals will make you stronger if you really push at them – and with the power you can sustain for 3-5 minutes improved, you’ll begin improving your ability to hold longer intervals at a higher level if that’s the goal.

If you focus is on racing, kicking off and and catching attacks, these intervals will help you to up the intensity for those short durations.

Your body can only take a certain amount of vo2 – leave at least 48 hours between sessions like this – most athletes only really do 1 or 2 a week.

> 10 minute warm up
> 5 minutes of 30 second high cadence, 30 seconds easy
> 5 minutes easy
> 3 minutes really hard, 3 minutes easy
> 4 minutes really hard, 4 minutes easy
> 5 minutes really hard, 5 minutes easy
> 4 minutes really hard, 4 minutes easy
> 3 minutes really hard, 3 minutes easy
> 10 minute cool down

For time trialists seeking to improve their power over 1 hour (80 minutes)

The two x  twenty is a classic tester session – it’s is all about working on your Lactate Threshold or Functional Threshold Power – the power and effort you can sustain for one hour. The idea is to aim to hold your effort just above what you can manage for an hour, twice, for twenty minutes. Over time, this should increase the amount of power you can produce for an hour by teaching your body to hold that twenty minute pace for longer.

It’s easy to go too hard in the first few minutes, so be conservative in the first half, and then give it all you’ve got left over as the minutes tick by.

> 10 minute warm up
> 5 minutes of 30 second high cadence, 30 seconds easy
> 5 minutes easy
> 20 minutes as hard as you can ride for 20 minutes. Don’t start out too hard. If you’ve got a powermeter, aim for FTP, if you’re training on RPE (rate of perceived exertion) think 7
> 10 minutes easy
> 20 minutes FTP/7 as before
> 10 minute cool down

Close to race season, you may want to drop the recovery to 5 minutes, to mimic a 25 mile time trial more closely, and if you’re training for a longer race, such as a 50 minute time trial, you can double the reps to 40 minutes.

The ‘bit of everything’ –  (66 minutes)

My Tri coach used to use this as part of a brick session, so this was followed by a quick run.. You can also add in an extra ’15 minute TT, 5 minute easy’ if you’ve got time trials or longer, solo efforts in mind.

Your TT efforts should be steady and sustainable, and you should look to put out more power, or move up the ‘RPE’ scale as the intervals get shorter. This sort of mimicks the feeling you get towards the end of a race – when your legs are already tired, but you’re trying to dig deep to find your reserves:

> 10 minute warm up
> 5 minutes of 30 second high cadence, 30 seconds easy
> 10 minutes TT pace, 3 minutes easy
> 7 minutes TT pace, 3 minutes easy
> 5 minutes above TT pace, 3 minutes easy
> 3 minutes hard, 2 minutes easy
> 2 minutes hard, 1 minute easy
> 1 minute hard, 30 seconds easy
> 30 seconds hard
> 10 minute cool down (or jump off the bike and run, then cool down!)

For riders hoping to improve their hill climbing (& time trial riders again) (58 minutes)

It’s hard to replicate hills on the turbo trainer, of course, but you can click up the gears for low cadence strength focused intervals, and get out the saddle to replicate the final flourish over a longer hill.

This session gives you 8 minute ‘efforts’ broken up into 5 minutes in the saddle and 3 minutes out the saddle – which means plenty of variety to keep you interested.

>10 minute warm up
> 5 minutes of 30 second high cadence, 30 seconds easy
> 5 minutes in the saddle, high gear, at TT pace, immediately followed by 3 minutes pedaling fast out the saddle, 3 minutes easy
> 5 minutes in the saddle, high gear, at TT pace, immediately followed by 3 minutes pedaling fast out the saddle, 3 minutes easy
> 5 minutes in the saddle, high gear, at TT pace, immediately followed by 3 minutes pedaling fast out the saddle, 3 minutes easy
> 10 minute cool down

For destroying yourself (65 minutes)

Do you really want to do this?

This one is used for a hard session, when I’m short on time… If you’re after endurance, reduce the recovery, if you’re after top end speed and power, drop the length of the intervals to 30 seconds, keeping the recovery at 1 minute. Have fun…

> 10 minute warm up
> 10 x 1minute hard as you can, 1 minute easy
> 5 minute recovery
> 10 x 1minute hard as you can, 1 minute easy
> 10 minute cool down

Have you got any favourite sessions to share?

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