Climbing the Passo Gavia on a turbo (BigRingVR)
How to stay sane during long, low intensity rides on a Turbo
If you are preparing for a long endurance event during a lockdown (or at any other moment when you can’t ride outside), you have little choice but to do some long, low intensity rides on your turbo.
If this idea fills you with dread, you are not alone. There are, however, ways to make the time pass more quickly and to get more out of each long ride. Dare I say it; it is even possible to have some fun!
The answer is to add variety, mix things up and keep ringing the changes:
1. Vary the intensity
Do some of your LIT sessions in Z1 active recovery, some at low Z2 endurance and some at high Z2 endurance. Be strict about this: keep your power and/or heart rate in a narrow range. #intensitydiscipline
2. Vary the cadence
Do this on a regular pattern so you are obliged to concentrate, for example every two minutes switch between 40, 55, 70, 85 and 100rpm, while keeping the power constant. Pedalling at either end of the cadence range develops very different but equally valuable qualities!
3. Vary the focus
All these turbo sessions are an opportunity to improve your pedal stroke and your position on the bike. Focus on pedalling as smoothly as possible. If you have a decent power meter look at the Torque Efficiency numbers and try to push them to 100%. Pay attention to your position, with your hands in the drops or on the hoods, elbows bent, looking straight ahead. Strengthen your core by taking each hand alternately off the bars, maintaining your position and stability with your abdominals.
4. One-leg drills
Improve your pedal stroke by unclipping alternate sides and pedalling with one leg only. A good exercise is to do this for one minute per leg, alternating hands on the hoods and hands in the drops (which engages the glutes more). Keep a steady pace and make the stroke as smooth as possible. Vary the resistance and the cadence to vary the difficulty.
5. Constant sound ladder
Develop a smooth pedal stroke at different cadences and resistances by using the sound of the turbo as a guide. Start in your easiest gear and focus on creating the most constant sound possible from the turbo. Progress up the ladder by changing into a harder gear one at a time until you are at a point where you can only just maintain a constant sound.
6. Take short breaks
For any session lasting much over two hours, plan a 15-20 minute break every two hours. On a real ride in the mountains this would be the descent. Take the opportunity to stretch and replenish your water bottles, maybe even do a few sit-ups or squat jumps. There is no particular reason not to ride 8h on the turbo: so long as you are well-ventilated, eat and stay hydrated it is a purely mental challenge (not unlike the last 2-3 climbs on the Tour du Mont Blanc).
7. Use the Virtual Reality service which best matches your needs
If you are training for criteriums, Zwift may be the best service. If you are training for a GranFondo or the Tour du Mont Blanc, perhaps not… Other services provide an excellent simulation of climbing real roads, with high-definition video and not an avatar in sight. You can comfortably settle into a 2h Z2 climb up the col du Grand Saint Bernard, the col de la Madeleine, the Stelvio or any other pass that takes your fancy. I personally like BigRingVR; see here and here for recent reviews of the alternatives.
8. Switch to rollers
Being forced to stay inside gives you a great opportunity to learn to ride on rollers. It’s much more dynamic than a turbo and great for your balance. If you have never done it before, look for some help before starting. British Cycling has a good beginner’s guide to rollers on their website.
Training during a lockdown
For a full discussion of how to prepare a long endurance event when you can’t ride outside, see our article Training During a Lockdown.
For a range of turbo sessions suitable for endurance cyclists, including HIT, see our article Turbo Sessions for Endurance Cyclists