Training on the turbo has it’s benefits but is it really a good substitute for getting out and hitting the roads? Triathlete Will Clarke weighs up the pros and cons of road cycling versus training on the turbo.

Every one of us is wired slightly differently in the head, some people can’t stand the idea of training on a turbo trainer at all and some absolutely swear by it. In my eyes there is a time and a place for both, but I also tend to edge towards training outside.

Turbo sessions can be dull

Trainer sessions add many great qualities to your training but the problem is not many people can look me in the eye and seriously say that they are great fun! Cycling is a time consuming sport, normally it should account for around 50 per cent of your weekly volume, and most find that hours pass much faster when you have distractions like the scenery and good company.

Difficult to get the same quality session on a turbo

For sure 90 mins on the turbo trainer does not feel the same as 90 mins on the road and putting out the wattage that you need for your quality sessions is also a challenge on a trainer. Without the distractions of scenery, company and the feeling of flying by at 40kph you’re forced to focus on how much the interval is hurting you so many people can’t muster the motivation to get the same quality intervals that they’d be able to produce on the road.

Miss out on honing your technical riding skills

If you ride too often on the trainer you lose the technical ability you get when you spend hours on the road and that accounts valuable minutes when you’re racing the more technical courses. Riding well in a group is also an important part of being a good cyclist especially if you want to compete in road races or sportifs.

Riding on the road provides ‘natural intensity’

When riding on the roads you’ll often get in some natural intensity can make you a very fit and strong cyclist without even considering various sessions. Everyone has different variables on their rides no matter where you live, that can be steep hills, head winds, someone else attacking the group for a bit of a tear up or even if you’re riding in a big group you can follow the wheels and get in a nice recovery ride which can be perfect timing in your training.

Turbo session can help mimic time trial sessions

Using the turbo trainer can be very valuable for your performance though. Most Triathletes are competing in a time trial format where you’re riding alone against the clock and trainer sessions replicate this perfectly. The quality of sessions you can receive are higher than you can probably produce on the road (if you don’t mind suffering and not moving anywhere). You are riding in a 100 per cent controlled setting and there is no reason to stop peddling or come out of your aero bars. No traffic lights, potholes, corners, pedestrians, traffic, so you can focus on riding at the intensity required.

A turbo session can give you more for your limited time

As you have no reason to stop peddling it’s also reasonable that your 75 min turbo is worth over 90 mins on the road in terms of training effect and when the nights are drawing in it makes turbo training a crucial element of your training for most athletes. If you are short on time it can be be very beneficial to complete short, specific and intense morning or evening sessions during your working week.

Practice technique on the trainer

Another benefit is you can use the trainer to practice your technique. Pedalling drills such as single leg work can help with your technique and strength, and if you put a mirror directly in front of you then you can practice making your front end look as small as possible by squeezing in your shoulders and forcing your chin down and forwards to bring your head lower. Drills like this will help you to become a much more efficient and strong time triallist and is a fantastic use of your training time.