The top 10 tips for your effective turbo trainer workout

A cyclist is featured on top of a racing bike.

We know turbo training is good for us, without traffic lights to stop you or hills to free-wheel down, every pedal stroke counts so your sessions can be more focused and more productive than outside, perfect for hard training (which we really need to do!).

Given the restrictions we've all seen this year and the fact they don't look like they'll be lifted any time soon, indoor activities and trainers are on the rise... if you can find a Turbo, Indoor bike or any kind of at-home machine, grab it while you can!

In past years we’ve dabbled with indoor cycling and turbo trainer workouts but this year we’re going for it! Zwift workouts, Peloton, Sufferfest, TrainerRoad - we’re going to give them all a look-see!

As motivation for us, and for you, we’ve gathered some of the best tips around to make sure this year we have no excuses!

One of the best bits of advice is to have it set up and ready to go at all times, it was the faff that killed it for us last year. First step to winter fitness is to set up a permanent turbo training zone.


A cyclist is sitting on top of a racing bike.

1.     Identify your maximum heart rate / FTP

To get the most out of your turbo sessions it is helpful to know your training zones; at a minimum a basic heart rate monitor will help make every ride more targeted and beneficial but with so many ‘smart’ trainers now offering power meter as well it is an opportunity to take your training up a notch.

Many online training hubs, such as Sufferfest, Peloton and TrainerRoad provide testing protocols to follow which makes the whole experience easier, if not more pleasant.


If you have access to your power meter the most useful test is the FTP test - functional threshold power - and from the results, you can establish your training zones and monitor how your power output changes as you train.

Without a power meter the best second option is heart rate.
There are a number of ways to estimate your maximum heart rate, although they are not that accurate, or you can simply, but painfully, test yourself to the limit.

For decades 220 minus age has been used to estimate maximum heart rate (MHR). However, this is now outdated. Newer gender-specific formulas are now used:

Male: 214 – (0.8 x age)
Female: 209 – (0.9 x age)

To establish your true maximum here is a simple test that can be done using a standard heart-rate monitor on the turbo to find out MHR.

Finding your true maximum is a vomit-inducing exercise in pain and should only be done if you know you are physically fit and able to do so. A helper may be required for encouragement and to record results.


MHR Test:
After a 10-15-minute warm-up, ride hard for 10 minutes, this should leave you gasping; when you reach the final minute ride as hard as possible and sprint the last 20 seconds. This should produce a maximum heart rate reading. Keep pedalling and warm down gradually before stopping. This is best done on your turbo not outside as it may leave you feeling very wobbly and light-headed. 

A woman is working out on a turbo training bike.

2. Know your heart rate training zones

  • Zone 1:
    Establish base fitness > 60–65% maximum heart rate, < 55% FTP power
  • Zone 2:
    To improve efficiency > 65–75% maximum heart rate, 56-75% FTP power
  • Zone 3:
    To improve sustainable power > 75–82% maximum heart rate, 76-90% FTP power
  • Zone 4:
    To push up threshold power > 82–89% maximum heart rate, 91-105% FTP power
  • Zone 5:
    To sustain a high percentage of maximal aerobic power > 89–94% maximum heart rate, 106-120% of FTP power
  • Zone 6:
    To increase maximum power output > above 94% maximum heart rate, > 121% power

A cyclist is working out in a turbo trainer.3. Set up - Pick a spot for your turbo trainer workout pain cave

The idea of having a home turbo training space or ‘pain cave’ as some cyclists love to call them, has become increasingly important with the amount of gadgetry and connectivity now available for turbo training.

Of course this is not realistic for everyone... Who has a home big enough and a family willing to let them fence off one room solely for a turbo trainer?
Even if all you can spare is a small corner of the garage, like us, it’s a good idea to leave it set up and ready to go. If you are hooked up to a screen for your Zwift workouts the last thing you want to do is dismantle it at the end of every session.

Even if you have a simple ‘non-smart’ turbo trainer and bike you are still more likely to train regularly if everything is set up and ready to go.


4. Get set up

An ideal turbo training area would include a fan, or be near to an open window, as indoor training can get seriously hot. You need a mat for the floor to catch the sweat, of which there will be buckets and a spare or old bike you can leave permanently in position. The giant screen, surround sound and microphones for chatting with training buddies on your virtual ride are purely optional.

Make sure you set up your turbo trainer securely, the last thing you want when you are head down sprinting out an interval is to feel your bike rocking or moving.


Some turbo trainers require you to leave the rear wheel in but replace your quick release with one that fits the clamps in the turbo, others known as direct drive require you to remove your back wheel.

The back wheel of a turbo training bike is featured.

5. Put it in your diary

As with all training, you have to make time for it. Unlike meeting your mates for a quick ride, a turbo trainer workout is more focussed so, put a time in your diary and stick to it. Put your kit out ready, have a bottle filled and on your bike and know exactly what session you are intending to do the night before. Even a short 20-minute turbo session is better than no riding at all.

A person's hand holding a small white clock is featured.

6. Keep your cool

Without the cooling airflow, you create when cycling outside turbo training sessions can get incredibly hot and sticky; you will sweat more than you thought possible.

A fan can really help with this and keeping cool will enable you to train harder for longer. If you can’t get a fan, positioning yourself toward an open window will help. If you have the latest in ecosystem gadgetry from Wahoo you may be interested to know they have designed a fan which keeps pace with your effort levels, increasing the air circulation the harder your ride.

 Wahoo Kickr Headwind facing towards a turbo training bike.

7. Leave time for a cool down

Before any training session starts in earnest you need to warm-up your body with progressively harder riding; this raises your heart rate in a safe way, increases blood flow and opens up your lungs.

At the end of the session you need to cool down, the same process in reverse, so your heart and breathing rate drops slowly back to resting.

It is even more important to do this after a turbo session as otherwise you will find when you get over the turbo your legs will be made of jelly and you’ll be stumbling around like Bambi on ice.

8. Fuel

Indoor training is hard. Don’t forget to look after your body indoors the same way you do outdoors. Ensure you are properly hydrated and drinking throughout your session.

Any very hard session, or any ride longer than an hour, requires carbohydrates.

Download the ebook above.

Here are three perfectly tuned solutions, designed exactly to support your energy and re-hydration needs.

Option 1:

Our soft and delicious energy chews are the lightest and most effective natural way to energise, made with real-fruit, natural electrolytes and refreshing botanicals.

Option 2:

Gels are a handy and efficient way to get energy-boosting carbohydrates whilst exercising. But so many rely on synthetic sugars and artificial ingredients. Our range of all natural gels pack in high quality dual-source carbohydrates, using only a handful of real food ingredients. And they do it all in half the size of artificial gels. Win win.

Veloforte mixed bites bars

Option 3:

All-natural real hydration range. When it's hot, we sweat. When you're on the Turbo that means it's just pouring off you, so replenishing lost electrolytes and energy is a must.

Made from real fruit and the purest electrolytes, these deviously-light infusions come in three different variants so you can balance your intake perfectly.

For us one of the biggest challenges was motivating ourselves to get on the turbo. Once we get home from work it’s all too easy to slump on the sofa. A good trick is to mentally plan when your session will start and get your body prepared for exercise with some high quality carbs. Our Avanti bar delivers all-natural performance carbs as well as electrolytes to keep your muscles working. 

Caffeine can also boost your motivation and focus. A great excuse for a 5pm espresso before your workout (or a mellow caffeine kick from a Doppio gel).

We do our best training after these bars.

If you are squeezing in a turbo before work or late at night don’t neglect your recovery; a Forza bar has specifically the right ratio (3:1) of carbohydrate & protein to repair your muscles and replenish your energy stores, essential to get the greatest benefit from your training sessions.

Riding indoors means you will sweat a lot, plus it is a dry environment, so hydration is critical. Most turbo sessions are also harder than a similar length outdoor ride.  Expect to drink more per hour than you normally do and line up some bottles close to hand.

Three virtual turbo training workout images by Zwift.

9. Virtual training

Turbo training has been totally transformed in the last ten years with the introduction of power, apps and virtual training.

The sweat is still real but, like a video game, you can now navigate your way around online training courses, whether this is the notorious Zwift Island or a chance to ride the UCI World Road Race course, you can now cycle anywhere, at any time.

Virtual racing is also hugely popular and a great way to get some completion and really push yourself. With a global community inhabiting Zwift and Peloton you can find someone willing to race you pretty much any time of day or night!


Screenshot of Peloton turbo training homepage.

10. Find the right turbo trainer sessions for you

Everyone with a turbo has sessions they love, and sessions they dread.

For training to be truly effective your sessions need to form part of a training plan and target your weaknesses.

However much fun virtual racing might be, you still need those hard sessions to have a purpose and keep your eye on the overall picture of the fitness you are trying to build. Many online platforms offer training programmes you can sign up to. 

Following a Zwift training plan, or joining coached sessions with Peloton or Sufferfest is a great way of making sure you are doing effective training and they are very motivating!


The training sessions below can be done on any type of indoor bike set-up from your ‘dumb’ basic trainer to a smart trainer.

To make these sessions simple to remember, write them out on a post-it note and stick them to your stem before you start. 

Alternatively, look to YouTube channels such as GCN whose presenters will lead you through a turbo session and offer a little bit of encouragement and advice along the way. 

  • Sprint Session

Total time: 35min (one set)

These are great to add on to the end of a ride replacement session or as a full session if time is short. This session helps improve your ability to accelerate. The long recovery ensures you can ride at full speed again for the next full-on sprint effort.

  • 15sec max sprint
  • 2min 45 sec spin
  • Repeat 10 times per set with 5min full recovery between sets

  • The Long Ride

The long ride simulation is quite possibly the hardest thing to do on a turbo, because you will have to face a degree of boredom and often discomfort.

The best way to do this is in front of a film to help the time pass faster. Some riders have even been known to watch a full-length Tour de France stage, attacking when the riders attack to help vary the pace.


Whilst you can do this at a steady easy-to-moderate pace, to help break up the monotony and maintain your focus, chunk it up into 20-minute segments, swapping between zone 2 and zone 3.

Of course with Zwift you can now meet your online training partners and go for a steady few laps of Zwift island whilst having chat – just a shame there is no café stop!

  • Threshold efforts

Total time: 57min

This session is tough, so ensure you have a solid warm-up and cool-down.

Choose a gear big enough to push, but one you are able to keep on top of; you should be able to keep a cadence of around 90-100rpm. Recover completely by spinning in an easy gear at the same cadence.

10min effort

Zone 1

5min recovery

Easy riding

2 x 5min effort

Zone 2

1min recovery

Between efforts

5min recovery

Easy riding

3 x 2min efforts

Zone 3

30sec recovery

Between each

5min recovery

Easy riding

6 x 1 min efforts

Zone 4

30sec recovery

Between each one

5min recovery

Easy riding


An athlete is sweating and resting against the wall.

  • Strength session

Pushing big gears at a slow cadence is a great way of building your leg muscles, as it ensures that you are recruiting all of your muscles fibres. Out on the road, it can really help with long alpine climbs.

  • Warm-up for 10mins zone two2
  • 10 mins zone three 3 at 60 rpm
  • 5 mins zone two 2 at 90-100rpm
  • 10 mins zone three 3 at 55rpm
  • 5 mins zone two 2 at 90-100rpm
  • 10 mins zone three 3 at 50rpm
  • Cool down 10-15 mins zone two 2 decreasing to zone 1

  • 20-minute sweet-spot session

The sweet spot is the point of effort where you get the most bang for your buck in terms of fitness development.

It’s not an easy session to do, but neither is it as hard as intervals and you get a feel-good surge of endorphins when it is completed.

A simple way of thinking about what sweet-spot feels like is that it is ‘hardly comfortable, but comfortably hard.’


In other words, it is an effort you can maintain, but only just. It nudges up your lactate threshold and your Functional Threshold Power. It’s a great preparation for a time trial which also requires a sustained high-intensity power output.

After a good 15-minute warm-up, start your 20-minute effort at the lower end of your Zone 3. It will feel relatively easy at first but become harder as you continue the interval. Warm down thoroughly for 15-minutes before stopping.


  • VO2 Max builder

Anything with the word ‘max’ in is going to be hard, but don’t be intimidated by this one as you only need to work at a high intensity for one minute at a time, with a good recovery in between. Just at the point, you think you can’t keep going the interval is over.

This is a great session for pushing up your aerobic capacity, great for steep climbing and sustained high-level solo attempts.

Do this block after a very good warm-up, and don’t forget to cool down.

  • 1 minute - Zone 5
  • 4 minutes - Zone 2
  • Repeat 6 times

  • Technique Sessions

The turbo is a great place to work on your cadence and pedalling technique, you can do this instead of a recovery ride or as part of your warm-down from a longer session. 

  • 1-minute left leg only
  • 1-minute right leg only
  • repeat 6 times

  • Spin-ups

Pick an easy gear and drop your cadence to around 50rpm, for the final 15 seconds of every minute pedal as fast as you can without bouncing in the saddle, aim for around 150rpm. Repeat this for ten minutes.

A woman is lying down on the floor inside a gym.

Indoor training no longer has to be boring

To be honest we are a little bit excited about getting started! 

With so many great tools to enhance training such as heart rate monitors, power meters and ‘smart’ turbos every session can be highly structured and effective - no more time-wasting! 

Signing up to a programme from Sufferfest, TrainerRoad or Peloton seems like a good idea and we can certainly see how racing on Zwift gets addictive and with Apple's new Training programmes included in their new Apple One subscription package our lives indoors are set to be more active than ever.

If you want us we’ll be in the pain cave, sorry, we mean warehouse.