Some turbo trainer basics

Man on turbo trainer © Nick Salazar

My most popular ever blog post is My first ever turbo trainer session. I wasn’t sure why it has become so popular, so I decided to analyse the search terms that people have entered that have led them to this post. The top results could be categorised as follows:

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    • There were too many posts to list about the Challenge Weymouth bike course.
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I’m guessing that many people arrive at that blog post as WordPress uses it as the first link when someone gets notified that I have liked or commented on a post on their blog, but some people also search for something and end up there… apologies to those people who are probably disappointed by what they find! Anyway, in this post, I’m hoping to address some of the things that people are searching for.


Turbo training/cycling/Duathlon for weight loss

OK, first up, I’m going to tackle the easy part of this request: ‘Duathlon for weight loss’. I’m not convinced that a single race will make any difference to a person’s weight loss, although with a strict training plan before the event and continued effort afterwards then it may help as a motivational factor. I also believe that combining sports means that you give some muscles more recovery time and challenge your fitness more than spending all of your time on a single sport.

I think that being on a turbo trainer can certainly make you work harder than just going out for a ride… but it does depend on how you use your turbo trainer. As I live in a city, then if I want to go out for a bike ride, I spent at least 15-20 minutes in stop-start traffic trying to get out of the city, which isn’t terribly effective training, whereas every minute on my turbo trainer counts. However, if I were to do some leisurely pedalling on my turbo trainer whilst watching a TV programme or movie then it may not be an effective workout. I try to make sure that I have a clear idea of the workout that I want to do before getting on my turbo trainer.

Another factor that can make cycling on a turbo trainer feel like hard work (and may cause temporary weight loss) is the temperature. When cycling outdoors, there is always a breeze (or at least the feeling of breeze as you cut through the air). As you are static (and usually indoors) on a turbo trainer then there is no cooling breeze, which may cause your body temperature to rise more quickly… and many people end up a hot sweaty mess on a turbo trainer in a relatively short period of time. It is therefore important that you have access to plenty of water/suitable drinks whilst on a turbo trainer and that if possible there is some air movement, whether it’s from open windows/doors or a fan.

Turbo trainer workouts

I tend to do a variety of interval sets on my turbo trainer so that I have to put in hard efforts followed by short recoveries. If you’ve ever been to a spinning class then you may be able to adapt what you have done there. I don’t feel that I’m qualified to give advice on turbo trainer sessions, so here are some of the best that I’ve found online:

I also like the Train with GCN videos that are available on YouTube. Here’s an example of one:

What’s your favourite turbo trainer workout?

Music for cycling on the turbo trainer

I’m not someone who ever runs with music and I wouldn’t think of cycling with headphones, but I love listening to motivational music when I’m on my turbo trainer. I tend to prefer tracks that I used to listen to in spinning class… and these have the advantage that they are usually about the right rpm for me to maintain good cadence. These are the tracks that can usually be found somewhere on my turbo trainer playlist:

  • Titanium – David Guetta featuring Sia
  • Wake Me Up – Avicii
  • Break Your heart – Taio Cruz
  • Bounce – Calvin Harris (featuring Kelis)
  • Wild One – David Guetta
  • Don’t Wanna Go Home – Jason Derulo
  • Give Me Everything – Pitbull
  • Turn Me On – David Guetta
  • You Make Me – Avicii
  • We Found Love – Calvin Harris (featuring Rihanna)
  • Where Them Girls At – David Guetta (featuring Nicki Minaj)
  • Dynamite – Taio Cruz
  • Sweat – Snoop Dogg Vs. David Guetta
  • Little Bad Girl – David Guetta
  • Hey Brother – Avicii
  • Higher – Taio Cruz (featuring Kylie Minogue and Travie McCoy)
  • She Wolf (Falling to Pieces) – David Guetta featuring Sia
  • Duck Sauce – Big Bad Wolf

Erin at Sweet Sweat Life often recommends All Day by Girl Talk for trainer sessions. If you’ve not listened to it before then I’d strongly recommend it – it’s a free download 🙂 If you use Spotify, you can also find some great turbo trainer playlists there.

What do you listen to when you’re on your turbo trainer?

Clothing for cycling

The question that gets asked a lot is ‘what underwear should I wear when cycling?’ The sensible answer is not to wear any – cycling shorts are designed to be worn without! I have quite a few different pairs of cycling shorts, tri shorts, bib shorts and tights. In very cold weather, I prefer to wear my fleecy bib tights, but for most of the year, I wear SOAS Racing tri shorts either with or without knee warmers. I find tri shorts with minimal padding are significantly more comfortable than padded cycling shorts, but it’s definitely down to personal preference, so you may need to try a few pairs before finding out what is best for you.

Whenever cycling outside, I always wear at least mitts (and windproof/waterproof gloves in winter). It may waste time in a triathlon, but I’m nervous that I may have an accident and damage my hands. I also always wear a helmet and glasses (clear or tinted)… but my helmet, mitts and glasses are the first items of clothing that I ditch when cycling on my turbo trainer as they are not needed.

I usually wear a cycling jersey when outside as the pockets are useful for carrying kit/snacks, and it’s good to be able to unzip the neck a bit when it gets hot. When I’m on my turbo trainer I usually find that a wicking t-shirt is fine – I don’t need to carry a repair kit or snacks and I don’t worry about wearing something close-fitting as wind resistance is not an issue!

One advantage of using a turbo trainer for novice cyclists is that it gives you a chance to get used to wearing cycling shoes and clipping in and out. I’ve never ridden my road bike with flat pedals, but I know that it’s something people worry about, so this can be a way of getting used to it without the fear.

Have you got any tips about cycling clothing?

Cycling for the first time in a long time or after injury

If you’ve not ridden your bike for a long time then it’s important that you make sure that it’s in good working order, whether you’re going to ride it outside or on a trainer. If you’ve had an injury then starting off on a trainer means that you can stop immediately if you feel any niggles, rather than having to make it back home.

I’m not qualified to give medical advice, so I can only recommend that you start gently and make sure that you have a good warm-up. Make sure that you build up over a period of time, rather than trying to start back exactly where you were before you were injured.

Choosing a bike

The bike you choose will depend on a number of factors, including what you want to use it for. I’m fortunate enough to own a hybrid that I commute to work on, a relatively cheap road bike that I use for touring and a carbon fibre road bike for racing (and most of my long rides). I’d also love to own a cyclocross bike. I don’t have a tri bike or aero bars because I don’t think I’ve got good enough bike handling skills and most of the courses that I am interested in racing tend to be undulating and hills are not friends with tri-bars!

There is a lot of debate about the merits of women-specific design. My main road bike is unisex and my other road bike is a man’s bike (Giant Defy). The women’s version of the Giant Defy is a Liv Avail. I compared the dimensions and the only difference I could find was 5mm on the top tube. As someone who used to be a gymnast, I am quite flexible, so I’m fine with the slightly longer top tube. The most important thing to do is to visit a bike fitter and get them to confirm whether or not the bike you are interested in will be suitable for you – obviously, you need to do this before you buy the bike!

I hope that answers some of the questions that people want answered!

4 Responses

  1. What is your preferred turbo trainer? I was reading some reviews at and it got me thinking on buying a direct drive smart trainer. Do you think these are worth the money?

    • I don’t really have a preference – I’ve just used whatever was available. I’d love to have a really fancy one, but don’t have the budget for it!

  2. Hi there Tamsyn. I’m a 54 year old male from the UK, although I’m working in Saudi Arabia. Two years ago I did a 100 mile bike ride across the mountains in Dubai and I’m looking at doing it again. The ride isn’t until November but with the temperature now hitting 45 to 50+C every day until September it does make outdoor training tough. In 2019 I managed some weightless but gained some again before the ride and I know this impacted me greatly on the very steep hills. I’ve now got a turbo trainer so wanted to use this to get fit and create some weight loss. Last time I was around 108kg and currently I’m 110kg. As a group we go out once a week on our a day off at 5am to attempt to beat the heat. My question is, how much training do you think I should do on the turbo trainer to supplement this one a week bike ride, until around mid September when it’s more bearable outside?

    • Hi John. I think how much you need to do on the trainer will depend on how much you’re able to do on your day off and whether you’re doing any cross-training. I managed to do reasonably well at RideLondon in 2017 off the back of very few rides (not even 1 a week for the months leading up to it), but I had trained for a marathon in that time… and RideLondon is almost completely flat. If you’re able to do a long ride on your day off (3-4 hours) then she should be fine with a couple of shorter (1-hour rides) on your turbo trainer. However, it’s really important that you have a plan for your rides and don’t just pedal at a comfortable pace whilst watching TV! If you can do some sprints/intervals, that should help to build your fitness. You’ll probably find that you sweat a lot, even if you’re in an air-conditioned room as you won’t have the usual air flowing past you that you’d have outside. If you’ve time to fit in some bodyweight strength training every week, that will also help you – try mountain climbers, renegade rows/plank rows, straight leg deadlifts and Bulgarian squats. Good luck!

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