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The Smart Bike Trainer Revolution

It may seem an excessive superlative, but the "revolution" in cycling trainers has been a remarkable transition in cycling based training equipment in the last few years. Almost on a par with such breakthrough's as the disc brakes, electronic shifting or 29 inch wheels and 1x drivetrains. However, the smart trainer revolution has really been driven by 2 elements, the software options on the front end to exploit and leverage expanding hardware technology built into newer "smart" trainers. The increased emphasis upon power based training and this hardware design and technology, exploiting greater accuracy, convenience and realism has culminated in a fairly sophisticated and exciting cycling arena.

It is hard to say which has lead the other the software or the hardware but game-like environments such as Zwift, which has become a high profile influencer among the general cycling population, and has led to better products and certainly more choices.

Smart trainer resources

The Software Options For Smart Trainers

The demand and development of smart trainers has been driven by the front end software development, or it could be the other way round, but needless to say cloud-based multi-player training applications like Zwift have defintely redefined the indoor cycling training landscape (pun intended). Some of the apps are cloud based (need Internet connection) and others utilize mobile or pc device interface more directly (download).

Software for Smart Trainers

Zwift Official Test Center

What is Zwift?

Zwift is a cycling trainer game that enables you to link your cycling trainer up your computer, your iPad and iPhone, letting you ride with other cyclists in a virtual environment, therefore helping to alleviate some of the boredom associated with indoor riding. Read more here

I am a recreational rider. Would I benefit from Using a Smart Trainer?

The benefit of training with power impacts all levels of cycling, and power based performance is measurement that will benefit to both beginners and experienced endurance cyclists and triathletes and racers. However, the caveat to this is that the data and measurement gathered by your smart trainer and/or power meter has to leveraged and used to be of any real benefit. This is where the time is needed by you or a coach to record, track and analyze the data to make decisions about your fitness (current and future), developing periodic training programs and workouts, and the response and success of such training. Power can reveal and be used for all of this but

  • Effective Training in a Controlled Environment: Specific interval training becomes highly effective without the natural variability of the terrain of outside. There is no coasting on a trainer, hence why many like to make the claim that 60 minutes of trainer time is worth more than 60 minutes outside. You have a controlled environment, to nail specific intervals, without any coasting effect. I promise you will never run out of a hill when doing low rpm hill reps' on a trainer.

  • Pedal Stroke and Posture (Fit): Without the requirement to manage your bike around traffic, terrain and other riders, the trainer provides the optimal environment to work on your pedal stroke and retaining proper posture. Including a mirror in your set up, for self-guided feedback, can begin the habit that, from minute one until the end of the session, you do things well.

    This means form over force, and every interval can be achieved while retaining proper posture. This is so critical, as performance in triathlon cycling is as much about retaining form under fatigue, and establishing a great habit of riding well, despite fatigue, will carry across to race day.

  • Specificity of Intervals: We tend to prescribe training as a combination of effort (power, RPE or heart rate) with a wide range of specific RPM play. A backbone of power training is developing the athlete's ability to generate power with varying degrees of force and cadence combinations. Many intervals are either very low cadence, or strength-endurance as we call it, as well as some very high RPM work at the top end.

    It can be a challenge to ride to suitable terrain outside, but the trainer offers immediate and controllable intervals in which you can mimic sustained efforts to train physiology, without the limiter of your terrain.

  • Time Efficient Training: Plenty of time-crunched athletes, with limited opportunity to get outside and ride in the week find an indoor bike trainer eliminates the challenge of quality riding in a time efficient manner, and allows you to avoid those nasty weather days.

Making Use of Training Data

When new power meter users start using power they are faced with a great deal of new data variables and definitions and increased volumes of training data. To leverage and exploit this data to ultimately improve and get stronger on the bike requires analysis and the ability to prescribe training programs and workouts based on the data over time.

The success of power based training depends upon as carefully controlled dosing and monitoring of training prescription, progress and resulting performance and physiological change as possible. In other words, if you decide to start training with power, then an implicit commitment is established between the athelete and their power meter ouput, accuracy and reliability. Reported by James Spragg of Spragg Coaching in Road Cycling UK magazine.