I was bored of turbo training, so this is what I did
Published 5 February 2020. Written by Chris Worfolk.
Last month, I started my IRONMAN training programme for 2020. Pretty much straight away, I was bored with sitting on the turbo trainer staring at a wall. So, here is what I did to change that.
The pros and cons of turbo training
Turbo training is excellent at producing results. You complete an FTP test and then create workouts that are precisely suited to your current fitness level.
It’s also convenient; you can do it at home. Just jump on the trainer and get your workout done. And after, you have your nutrition and own shower right at hand.
Most of all, you can do your set. There are no cars, traffic lights or tight bends. You can put your head down, or even close your eyes, and squeeze the maximum amount of power out of your legs.
However, there are disadvantages, too.
It is lonely, hot and repetitive. Riding outside is fun: there is stuff to see and a freeze to cool you down. You can also ride with other people.
What was I doing?
When I first started on the turbo, I used Zwift. Cycling through a virtual world provides some of the enjoyment of riding outside.
For me, Watopia is the best place to be. Austria is beautiful but involves long stretches of similar terrain. London often ends in Box Hill and New York is either central park or that silly glass roadway. Going from a rustic village to a volcano in five minutes is much better in my opinion.
Zwift is no replacement for the real world, though. You do not get the fresh air or feel of the road underneath you. The group rides are fun, but joining those means that you cannot do a structured training session.
And, to fully enjoy Zwift, you need a smart trainer or at least a power meter. And, if you experience any drop-outs, those will quickly drive you crazy.
The Netflix era
Because of drop-outs, and generally being bored of an inadequate substitute for the outdoors, I dropped Zwift and switched to Netflix.
This gave me two choices. I could watch something new and exciting, or something I had seen before and was happy to re-watch.
New and exciting has some obvious benefits. But, when doing intervals, it is hard to concentrate when you are desperately trying to push out the watts for a full two minutes. Therefore, I found I was missing important bits and struggling to follow the story.
Old and comforting means that I can lose focus for those periods I am pushing out the watts. But it is never going to be as gripping as a brand new story, and thus, we have attention left over to think about the boredom and discomfort.
There are additional complications, too. Episodes end and you have to put the next one on (I don’t use autoplay because it is addictive). And, if it drops out, you end up staring at an error screen for the rest of the session.
Streaming worked for 2019, but by this year I was once again bored of sitting on a trainer that I could not get comfortable on or sufficiently entertained myself. So, I went back to looking at my motivation to come up with some new ideas.
My 2020 strategies
My first task was to get my races booked. Not just the race itself, but the things around it, too. This year, I will be racing in Copenhagen, so I booked my flights, accommodation and bike transfer.
This makes the goal real. I have something to work towards now. I can use mental imagery of flying into Denmark, racking my bike in transition and arriving in the start line.
Second, I made a countdown chart. Time moves fast when you are as old as me. I am working on a 28-week programme this year, and I plan on doing three bike sessions a week. Two of these will be on the trainer, and one will be outside.
That means, at most, I will have 56 turbo sessions to do, and then I never have to get on a turbo again (should I choose not to). So, I put 1-56 on a chart that I could cross off every time I complete a workout. That allows me to visualise my progress and see that the remaining 50 sessions are nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Third, I permitted myself to swap some of the workouts for spin class.
Is going to spin going to produce optimal results? No, but I’m not going to that Olympics. I’m an age group athlete looking to beat the cut-offs. And spin is pretty good, even if it is not the 100% perfect workout.
By making that trade, I get more fun and more variety, both of which are cornerstones of motivation. I get to work out in a social environment, where I can do a bit of karaoke as I cycle, and look forward to getting on the bike.
This is critical because if you hate what you are doing, it is taking a substancial emotional effort to force yourself to do it. Whereas, if you enjoy it, you are going to be able to focus on getting stronger and faster, and stay engaged and excited about your training.
Staying motivated while training is an ongoing process. Sometimes we get bored or fed up with what we are doing. Especially when you are sitting on a turbo trainer, staring at a wall, or a loading screen.
When this happens, it is time to pause and review what we are doing. For me, and students on our Sport Psychology course, that involves looking at the theory begin motivation and building a better programme.
Or, if you don’t have access to that, think about your goal-setting, fun and variety, and what you could tweak to make things more enjoyable.