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Best turbo trainer workouts and sessions to improve your cycling

Six top turbo trainer workouts to make you a better cyclist

Joe Robinson
26 Nov 2021

You’ve bought your new smart turbo trainer, you've got it all set up, and you've come to the conclusion that it does indeed represent your path to cycling greatness. 

The question is now: how are you going to use it?

If you’re new to the turbo trainer game, you may find yourself aimlessly riding around Zwift's Watopia or pedalling in front of your blank garage wall for an hour before getting bored and retiring to have a shower.

Alternatively, you might dive right in and sign yourself up to a structured programme with six weeks' worth of workouts designed to make you the fittest and fastest you've ever been - something that while effective could be hard to keep up with.

Possibly already prescribed as part of your new regime, possibly picked solely because you fancy something a tad more targeted than spinning away for an hour or two, we’ve collected six classic turbo trainer workouts. 

Each aiming to improve a particular area of your performance, they’re guaranteed to make you a better cyclist. Or at the very least a more conscientious one. 

Six great turbo trainer workouts

1. Functional Threshold Power (FTP) Test

Bradley Wiggins Hour Record Olympic Velodrome - Jordan Gibbons

Duration: 50 minutes

How to: Warm up for 10-15 minutes with one or two sporadic hard efforts thrown in, ride at your highest sustainable power for twenty minutes, warm down for 10-15 minutes.

Benefits: To find your FTP, subtract 5 per cent from your 20-minute average power. This will give you your FTP which, in theory, is the maximum power you would be able to sustain for one hour.

While this is not a workout per say, it is a necessary step in being able to complete other training sessions as they will use your FTP score as a baseline and future FTP tests can be used to measure your improvement.

Top tip: Don’t go too hard at the start. The ideal way to ride this is a well-paced, almost level effort, with a slight rise, burying yourself in the final few minutes to really empty the tank.

So, ride the first 10 minutes of the test a little conservatively at least 20-50 watts under what you’d expect to be able to sustain. Break the last 10 minutes into two sets of 5 mins, gradually stepping up your effort for each. Be sure to finish fully exhausted.

Another option is to cover the power numbers up on your head unit, so you don’t get influenced by the power numbers. Then it’s a real “from the heart” effort.

Also, bear in mind there is undoubtedly a learning effect from doing this test a few times. So don’t expect to get it spot on during your first try.

Once you learn how to pace that 20mins better, your numbers will inevitably creep up.

FTP test

2. Sweetspot - also known as the “2 x 20” 

Duration: 70 minutes

How to: Warm up for 10 minutes, ride at 85-90 per cent of FTP for 20 minutes, easy pedal for 10 minutes, repeat the first effort, warm down for 10 minutes.

Benefits: Sweetspot training will really help your body cope with prolonged efforts. It’s meant to be just sub-threshold, so you shouldn’t be in worlds of pain, just the kind of pain that you might expect once you’d settled in a breakaway in a road race, or during a longer TT effort.

It’s the perfect workout for increasing your FTP, too. It will also help you on club rides to sit more comfortably at a higher intensity for longer.

Top tip: During the 20-minute sweetspot intervals, increase you tempo for 10 seconds every five minutes, it will help stave off the boredom of metronomic pedalling, plus it replicates short bursts of acceleration that you might experience in a race or on the club run.

3. High-intensity intervals

Duration: 30 minutes

How to: Warm up for 5 minutes. Ride two minutes at FTP, ride 30 seconds a maximum effort, ride two minutes at FTP, ride 30 seconds at maximum then two minutes easy. Repeat this three times finishing with a warm down of around five minutes.

Benefits: High-intensity intervals will allow you to build your aerobic power and VO2 max in a relatively short space of time. With this session, you will be able to recover faster at higher intensities, something vital for cyclocross riders or multiple attacks in a road race.

Top tip: In the moment of rest between sets don’t just pedal lightly, occasionally put the bike into a bigger gear, decrease your cadence and pedal out of the saddle to help ease your leg muscles.

4. Strength session

Duration: 60 minutes

How to: Warm up for 10 minutes. Ride for 10 minutes at 60rpm at a tough resistance then ride five minutes at 90rpm with an easier resistance. Repeat the 10-minute effort at 55rpm and 50rpm with five minutes at 90rpm in-between. Warm down for 10 to 15 minutes at a high cadence.

Benefits: This session will really help to improve leg strength as you drop your cadence and push harder on the pedals. By doing this, your leg muscles will adapt to riding through raw power, something that is vital on steep, sharp gradients.

Top tip: Do not be afraid to get out of the saddle for the hard, low cadence efforts. Chances are, on the road, you will be forced to stand up on the pedals for these kinds of efforts. 

5. Threshold efforts

Duration: 70 minutes

How to: Warm up for 15 minutes, 5 minutes at 110 per cent of FTP x 6 with 2 minutes rest, warm down for 15 minutes.

Benefits: While these efforts will still help you increase your FTP power the key is really training your body to better deal with lactic acid build-up, meaning you will be able to go harder for longer. Perfect training for your local 10-mile time trial or long, solo attacks at a big sportive.

Top tip: Do not be disheartened if you struggle to complete this workout at your first go, sitting above your FTP is tough. If needs be, aim for at least three sets to start off with.

6. Endurance building

Duration: 60 minutes

How to: Warm up for 15 minutes, 10 minutes at 70 per cent of FTP at 110rpm x 3 with 5 minutes rest, warm down for 15 minutes.

Benefits: This workout will help build both your endurance and your cadence. Firstly, this will build a foundation for riding longer distances and feeling more comfortable in the saddle.

Secondly, it will improve your pedal efficiency allowing you to sustain a higher cadence when climbing.

Top Tip: Try to find a rhythm when pedalling at such a high cadence rather than just powering through the peals. A good way to know that you are pedalling smoothly is that you are not bouncing on and off the saddle. Try and keep pedalling smooth and circular.

This will help you become more efficient and smooth and stop you from feeling like you're about to snap your cranks off.

A short guide to buying a turbo trainer

We have already worked on a longer guide to the best turbo trainers on the market, which you can find here. However, it is worth quickly reminding ourselves of what's on the market currently and what can best equip you for these workouts.

In an ideal world, the below workouts would be completed with the rider knowing their power. It allows you to put specific numbers to effort levels, dial in your sessions to the millimetre. Additionally, to establish an FTP, you will also need a power metre.

To do this you can either use a power metre from your bike or one that's integrated into a turbo trainer, usually a direct-mount trainer.

Trainers like the Wahoo Kickr and Tacx Neo Smart offer internal power meters and ANT+ technology to connect to GPS units and computer apps.

These tend to be expensive and take up a lot of space but offer the most realistic and dialled road feel while also allowing you to follow a workout without changing resistance manually.

For a more affordable option, you can use the rear wheel turbo trainer. They will not offer the same benefits of integrated power or automatic change but are more compact and more affordable.

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