Indoor cycling is booming, and there is a training platform out there for every taste. But for the time crunched rider who just wants to get faster come spring, the TrainerRoad app has it all.
It wasn’t long ago that the term ‘indoor training’ was enough to fill even the most committed riders with a sense of dread come winter. Hours spent mindlessly staring at the wall, churning out hours of painful, sweaty intervals on a rickety old trainer so noisy your downstairs neighbours were filing a complaint to the authorities.
How times have changed. With the influx of slick, bluetooth enabled smart trainers from brands like Wahoo, Tacx and Elite, and an array of digital platforms that make it more engaging and motivational than ever, indoor training has transformed from the ugly duckling of the cycling world to the biggest craze sweeping the industry. At September’s EuroBike trade show, indoor cycling was the biggest talking point, with several of the big brands unveiling full-on indoor bikes and the sudden explosion in Esports from platforms like Zwift.
Indoor training apps – the options
So which is the best training app for you? From my experience, this entirely depends on your objectives and on what motivates you to get on the bike. Zwift is far and away the most popular, and it’s easy to see why it appeals to the masses. Virtual, simulated riding around a range of courses, organised group rides and races, and a video game-style reward structure that unlocks new bikes and other ‘prizes’ as you go up the levels. If you want to recreate the experience of riding outdoors then for many, Zwift is as close as you’ll get. Whilst there are training plans, the focus of Zwift is in the social aspects of riding in a simulated virtual world.
Other popular options include The Sufferfest – a training-oriented program that combines hard structured workouts with real-life pro racing videos and ‘energising’ music. This works for many, but the slightly cheesy obsession with ‘pain’ and ‘suffering’, the repetitive videos and heavy rock music may grate on some. Look further afield, and other apps like Rouvy, Bkool and Fulgaz all offer their own take on things.
But from my personal experience, having been consistently indoor training for 12 months now, if your goal is simply to have the most effective indoor training, and your only motivation is to be a faster cyclist when you head outside into the real world, there is only one power-based cycling app to seriously consider – TrainerRoad.
Unapologetically focused, The one and only objective of the TrainerRoad app is to make you faster. There are no video game graphics, no virtual worlds, no prizes, no videos, no music. If your motivation is reliant on any one of these things, look away now.
What it does offer is an unrivalled catalogue of tailored, structured training plans, over 1,000 highly effective, adjustable workouts and an online ecosystem that can make it the single online hub for all of your training including outdoor rides.
In short, for the ‘Type A’ athletes who get a much bigger kick out of seeing their FTP increasing and their skill as a rider improving than they do unlocking a new virtual bike, this platform delivers.
The user journey is simple. After signing up for your subscription ($19.95 / £15.50 per month or $189 / £147 annually) you can start to plan your training by navigating the clear and simple menus. The plan you choose will depend on what kind of rider you are and your goals. Planning a season of crit racing next year? Or perhaps some European Gran Fondos in the Alps? There is a plan for you. Cross country mountain biker, or are you all about smashing the 25 mile TTs? Again you will quickly find a structured plan for your chosen discipline that focuses in on your specific training demands.
Conceived by TrainerRoad’s head coach Chad Timmerman, the plans are based around a logical ‘Base, Build, Speciality’ structure (between 8 and 12 weeks per block) that you follow in order after completing an FTP test. The theory is that if you work back from your main event, you’ll arrive in the starting pen of your A race in absolute peak condition after 28 weeks of solid, high quality, structured work. Once your plan is selected, the workouts will appear in your Calendar, a highly intuitive feature which houses your whole riding season, keeping track of TSS including that from outdoor rides. Workouts can be easily rescheduled by simply dragging and dropping to a different day, so that when life gets in the way you can adjust things and still keep your goals on track.
The actual user interface during workouts is, like the platform itself, simple and to the point. No frills – just the data you need. After pairing your smart trainer and heart rate monitor to the TrainerRoad app, it’s a case of following the evolving timeline during the workout and hitting the respective power targets represented by blue blocks. This works best on a smart trainer in ERG mode, which takes care of changing the resistance automatically for each interval, but TrainerRoad also works with traditional turbo trainers and even for riders with just a speed sensor. You can even do the workouts outside, with a neat new feature that syncs the workouts to your Garmin or Wahoo head unit while out on the road.
So does it work? From my experience and that of every other rider I know who has followed the plans consistently, I can confirm that YES, TrainerRoad makes you faster. When I started on the platform back in December 2018, my FTP was 285 and I was significantly heavier. Fast forward three months to the start of the season after completing the ‘Base’ phase plan and my FTP had leapt to 325. This is a significant increase. I’d also shaved off two kilos of weight which meant my dramatically improved power to weight ratio to over 4w/kg had transformed my riding. It enabled me to score top ten finishes in my local early season crit races and meant that I enjoyed a season of event PBs. This included taking 15 minutes off my previous year’s time up the iconic Sa Calobra climb in Mallorca and finishing the RideLondon100 sportive in the top 2% of finishers with a time under 4hr20. I can confidently say that this was solely down to the TrainerRoad app and the base training I did over the winter.
Away from the training itself, TrainerRoad also has a highly engaged and interactive community of users, with a busy online forum discussing all aspects of training and cycling in general. There is also a brilliant weekly podcast hosted by the company’s three head honchos CEO Nate Pearson and coaches Chad Timmerman and Jonathan Lee answering users’ questions. It’s a highly informative and entertaining listen and really humanizes the app and overall TrainerRoad experience, which only motivates you to use it more.
So, if you’ve got your sights set on smashing your cycling goals in 2020 and are more motivated by going faster in the real world than beating avatars in a parallel digital universe, I would argue that TrainerRoad is the best value upgrade you will ever buy to make you a faster cyclist.
Feeling inspired? Read what events I’m training for in 2020: https://theobsessivecyclist.com/2019/11/15/season-planning-top-cycling-events-in-2020/