Thursday, November 25, 2010

Training - Trainer Tactics

Indoor trainers offer a lot of advantages to those with limited daylight, limited clothing gear, and limited time.

Limited Daylight

Obviously, since you ride indoors (or at least without moving geographically), you can ride a trainer even in the pitch dark. You remain safe from cars, wild animals, and weather (if indoors). Lon Haldeman, the long time dominating rider in the Race Across America race, would ride rollers in an unlit basement.

I'd recommend against setting up a trainer in the middle of a street, but you should be okay in most other places with a firm, level floor/ground.

Limited Clothing

Trainers help those with limited clothing gear. To ride semi-comfortably out in the cold requires at least a minimal amount of clothing expenditure, and to do it "properly" (with a team kit etc) requires quite a bit of money. I won't call it "tremendous" but at the same time I'll point out that my various team jackets cost about as much as a (magnetic) trainer. Folks out there wear shorts that cost as much as my Cyclops Fluid2.

Since trainers work on virtually all normal bikes, you can buy one trainer and use it for many, many, many years. For the most part they don't wear out - the roller will get a groove in it, paint gets scratched, but functionally they'll remain virtually the same for literally a decade. This beats expensive, limited-use winter clothing which can start to show some wear in five to seven years and, more importantly, which you really shouldn't wear if you join a different team.

(Apparently some fluid resistance trainers will leak but I haven't had issues with that.)

Limited Time

Those with limited time will find plenty to appreciate in trainers. First off, no matter what mechanicals you may suffer, you're still at home. A flat tire won't wreck an "on the limit" schedule, nor will a maladjusted rear derailleur that mates with your rear wheel's spokes. As soon as the pieces stop flying you can climb off your bike, walk into the kitchen, and announce that yes, you had a mechanical, but that you don't need a ride home.

Second, it takes very little to prepare for a trainer ride. You only need to wear shorts, shoes, socks, maybe a heart rate belt, and check the rear tire's pressure. It also takes very little "wash energy" to wash that gear, at least compared to washing a full cold-weather kit load out.

If I was doing an outside ride I'd have to add a LOT to the list. Booties, tights or knickers, base layer/s, long sleeve jersey/s, short sleeve jersey/s, jacket, neck thing, head thing, helmet, cold weather gloves. Putting the stuff on takes a while, even more so when trying to judge what to wear (or what not to wear).

Once I get home from said cold weather ride I have to strip all that stuff off. It takes time and energy to wash all that gear, the hook and loop closures eat away at the other gear in the wash, and I have one less wear left on that gear.

If I'm prepping for a trainer ride it's different. Just the bare essentials. For a really long trainer ride, I'll wear a jersey too, to get my mind into it. I have a few caps near the trainer so I can wear one when the sweat starts to pour. I have a stack of "not wearable outside" shorts, jerseys, and the like in the trainer room. Shorts with rips, ones from teams as long ago as 10-12 years (at the limits of lycra endurance), even the less-than-optimal team shorts from last fall (now replaced in the gear bag with much better quality Hincapie gear). I have maybe 15 or 20 pairs of shorts, from Mapei shorts to New Canaan Cyclery to TriState Velo (Carpe Diem sponsored them for a few years) to Carpe Diem Racing shorts to Verge plain shorts, even a very pricey Castelli pair of "painted on" Body Paint shorts (a gift from a friend, if you must know). Each time I ride the trainer it's one less time I need to wash my current kit shorts.

If I'm totally unprepared, it can take half an hour to get on the trainer. Bike comes in from the car, through garage, through house, down stairs, all the way to the other end of the basement. Gear follows, maybe the floor pump, get bottles filled, find some bars, the list goes on and one. Usually I do this only a couple times a year, when I prep for a long stint of trainer riding. For the record, on Thanksgiving Day this year, I've already been in trainer mode for about a month.

When I'm somewhat prepared, i.e. my gear is already downstairs and the bike is already on the trainer, I can get on the bike in about 5 minutes.

And that includes finding a DVD and staging it in the player.

Trainer Enjoyment

As a long, long time trainer user, I've tried everything to make trainer riding more enjoyable. Or bearable, if you're of the opinion that trainer rides rank in the same genre as cleaning toilets or changing diapers. I used to do very structured training, intervals and the such. I have to admit that after the second year of training in the family house's basement, I actually dreaded walking downstairs, even if it was just to move clothing to the dryer. I hated the trainer, hated being near it, hated the pain and mental anguish it dished out on me.

So what changed?

A lot of things.

First, I decided to severely limit structured training when on the trainer. When I was 16 and 17 years old, I was doing intervals twice a week on the trainer through the winter. I forced myself to finish each rep, each set, and mentally destroyed myself. When I was 18, at the height of my "serious training" phase, I finished ONE race the entire year, out of maybe 45 or so races.

Now I'm less demanding. I race because it's fun, not because it's my job. Therefore it's okay to be slightly less than perfect. I'll put sugar in my coffee; I eat french fries occasionally. And on the trainer, I don't force myself to do intervals. Heck, I barely do 20 minute FTP tests - I get maybe two or three of them done per year. Yes, I do them sometimes, but it's a rare thing. I do them when I want to, not because someone (a book or person) told me I have to do them.

Second, I focus a lot on the pedaling sensation. I'll find myself on the trainer, pedaling furiously, with my eyes closed. I have no objective proof this helps, but I worked a lot, for many hours on many rides, on improving my pedal stroke. I forced myself to pedal smoothly, sometimes by tensing other parts of my body to ridiculous magnitudes, then teaching myself to relax said tense muscles while maintaining my smoother pedal stroke. When I'm working or focusing on my pedal stroke, time flies.

Third, I use audio and visual stimulation to help while away the time. Watching riding videos and listening to music makes the time go by quickly.

Random Tips

I found the following random tips help me on the trainer:

1. If riding rollers, don't watch videos, especially of descents in the mountain stages of any Grand Tour.
1a. If riding a trainer, don't try new cornering techniques observed while watching above type clips.

I've ridden off the edge of the rollers more than once when I've gotten so engrossed in a video that I start moving in relation with it. When the front wheel drops off the rollers I realize that, oh, right, I'm not on that road. I'm on the rollers.

And relating to 1a... the Missus once heard a loud thump in the living room. She ran out to find me laying on the floor, shoes still clipped into the pedals, my bike and trainer on their side. I'd been watching a Giro clip (Bugno was riding for Polti and had Spinergy Rev-X wheels) and one guy just in front of him was cornering like he was on a motorcycle. The guy hung his body out to the side, knee out... and I had to try it too.

2. When riding really hard I don't pay attention to video, although on easier rides it's important to observe how good riders ride. I focus on form and feeling; I don't have the energy to focus on visual stuff. MP3s allow me to do this while still using conditioned response to elicit an adrenaline flow.

Videos of good riders always helps. When I played violin I had teachers with good form that (importantly) demanded good form from their students. My strongest point on the violin is my form. It's something anyone can do but relative few accomplish. Good form lays the foundation to exploit one's abilities to the fullest. I have good violin form and I got only so far on the violin (final four in All States). That defined the outer limits of the violin for me. Watching pro cyclists on video helps everyone visualize and learn good form. Yes, there are those exceptions that pedal weird, like Sean Kelly. But for the most part the pros provide a great example of how to pedal a bike. You can't go wrong watching them ride.

It's critical for me to get the adrenaline going and music does that. Maybe not adrenaline per se, but definitely motivation. Music really affects me. I think it has to do with conditioned response, where a stimulus elicits a reaction. Music that psyches me up, well, it psyches me up. When I hear such music I get psyched up. I put a lot of that music in my helmet cam clips; the ones by professional bands stay on my MP3 player. Interestingly enough I realized that I keep the same playlist in the car, on the trainer, and in my laptop, a playlist that has only 50 or 60 songs. I have others of course, but I seem to focus on those that I really enjoy.

For MP3s that's key. Listen actively, not passively. It's not like the radio where it's just background noise and every now and then I think, "Oh, hey, I like this song!" My playlist is one that I really like - every piece has significance.

3. When doing sub 2 hour trainer rides, watching sub 2 hour Classics DVD/tapes works.

Over the years I've built up a nice collection of race DVDs and tapes. I watch them for objective reasons (like watching good form and to rehash race tactics) but also for subjective reasons - it's fun to watch bike racing. Race videos also have some built in rhythm. They start a bit easier, hold decent tempo for a while, then culminate in a furious push to the line. The build up to the finish helps motivate me when I'm getting tired.

One interesting thing I've observed (and it's a conspiracy theory so I have yet to prove it otherwise) is that the riders who doped seem to ride more stupid than those that either doped more discretely or didn't rely just on doping to do well. I'll watch a race and think, "Oh, what an idiotic place to attack", and then realize that, oh, right, that's the guy that got arrested in the middle of the Tour while in the Polka Dot jersey for being a major drug dealer (and user). No wonder his whole team was flying in that particular Classic!

I keep MP3 volume low so I can hear some of the commentary. It's interesting to catch minor errors throughout the clips - the heat of the moment catches everyone off guard. In particular one Paris Roubaix was, in my opinion, decided because a lone chaser (O'Grady) never got a TV camera. No one knew he was bridging to the break, not the team directors, not the break, not the field. Suddenly he popped up way off the front, in the break. He rode a superb race to win it, but if he'd gotten tailed by a camera bike I think the field would have reacted differently. I read the race report on the race but since they go off the TV too, it wasn't clear when he took off. I always wondered how he made it to the break. Watching the race video, with the conspicuous absence of his chase, explained it.

4. When doing long rides, 2-5+ hours for me, movies I've never seen before usually work best for motivation. I need to see dumb action movies like Transformers and such, or better ones like Lord of the Rings or the Bourne series. I can watch 2 movies, do a bike DVD/tape (that's about an hour, and has an ending, i.e. a Classic not the first of 6 DVDs of a Grand Tour) and call it a long night.

I made the mistake of watching more serious action movies like Syriana (I think - it has George Clooney in it, along with the Bourne guy). It's a great movie, sure. But it totally sucked raw eggs as a trainer movie. A good movie will have small peaks every 8 to 10 minutes, and they get higher and higher until the end of the movie. The Bourne series is best for this. It's amazing - if you look at a power meter output from a Bourne movie ride, it looks like a coach told me, "Okay, do a warm up, then slowly crescendo to about 80%, then repeat every 8 to 10 minutes while adding 1-2% to each peak. You should finish at max effort on the last effort, and it should take you about 2 hours."


When your coach tells you that, just slip in the Bourne movie where they have the taxi cab chase in Moscow. You'll be all set.

5. I eat and drink stuff on the trainer, more so than out on the road. Energy bars, electrolyte stuff, water, whatever. The really long rides require fuel, so that's a given, but even on shorter rides I'll sometimes fuel up or down some electrolyte stuff. Usually I have multiple bottles ready to go. I may go through $10-20 worth of food/drink during a long ride, $5 or so in a 1-2 hour ride - it's enough that I have thought about doing a post just on the cost of a trainer ride.

I even use heat rub (Atomic Balm, medium) on trainer rides. It's another conditioned response thing, gets me psyched up for the ride. I use the Balm only on cooler training rides and in most sub-80 degree races. Since I associate the Balm with the Bethel Spring Series, it really motivates me when I go through the whole slathering on the leg thing, with the smell of the rub, the feel of the somewhat greasy stuff, and the deep heat feeling it generates.

It's critical to move heat energy away from the body when riding a trainer, and the combination of sweat/moisture and big fans makes it possible to sustain heavy efforts without any problems. If I notice I'm not sweating as much then I try and drink more. The fan I use really moves a lot of air so I get dehydrated without realizing it.

6. Speaking of which... A good strong fan really helps keep temps under control. The fan I use is powerful enough to hold about 1/2 to 3/4 inches of water back about 3 feet - it's strong. When I turn it on the lights dim and you hear the fan motor kind of grunt as it starts to turn the metal blade. I rarely use it on more than 1, but there are hard rides where I not only have it on 3 but also move the floor pedestal fan from across the room to right in front of my face. I've even sprayed water from bottles onto my head.

It also conditions me to keep working hard when there's wind in my face. I used to get super demoralized when I felt the wind hitting me square in the face. Then one day, when I was fit, I realized that although it sucked to be in the wind, if I pushed hard then it sucked even more for those around me. My then riding partner commented on my willingness to pull into the wind - I felt motivated by it. I also detoured to find hills to climb but that's a different thing altogether.

Mental conditioning helps, so having a fan blowing into my face helps me think of it as "normal", not "oh, no, not again!". In the past I had the fan blowing from the side or from behind, so it'd be mentally less tiring. As you might guess that didn't really help me.

Keep in mind that your head and neck release the most heat. Therefore you should try and direct air to the top of your body. Although it may feel good to have wind on your legs, you don't exude as much heat there. Your torso will feel cold because you don't do much work there, so don't direct wind there. That's one of the reasons why I wear a jersey on my longer rides - as my energy levels drop, my torso gets cold.

Hopefully these tips will help you prepare for 2011. At this point it would be appropriate for me to say, "Okay, time for me to go ride the trainer."

But I actually have to go work on the car before we head out to visit family and friends. So no trainer ride for me today.


Anonymous said...

We're at different points in our cycling "careers", so perhaps I might change my views as I get a few more years under my belt. However, I actually sometimes prefer using the trainer for the longer intervals where you don't need to come out of the saddle. When I'm doing an interval, let's say 8 minutes in duration, I like putting a full length Youtube video in (perhaps a CDR clip?) popping in the right gear to sustain the right Wattage, and then turn the brain off, save for the minimal cycles to make sure my Wattage hasn't dipped. All variables save for "the engine" are then eliminated.
I agree that might be boring to some, but not for the "Trainer Confessions"!

Rebecca H. said...

I am sure everything you say here is absolutely true. I'm still going to ride outside though :)

Aki said...

Heh. 130+ minutes last night while verifying a DVD's quality.

I have yet to do an interval this trainer season... maybe sometime soon.