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Trainerroad first look review

Last year was a revelation to me in that I discovered indoor training. Thanks to the folks at Wattbike, I trained indoors consistently and rode better than I ever have (you can read an overview of that story here: https://girodilento.com/learnt-2000km-wattbike/).

Until that point, my turbo was just an expensive thing that gathered dust in my garage. However now I’m a convert to indoor training all year round and a little while back the folks at Trainerroad got in touch and asked if I’d like to try using their system. Obviously I said yes.

I already knew of Trainerroad and had friends who are using it and I think it’s a clever idea.

Trainerroad is a computer training platform that allows you to take speed, cadence and heart rate information from your turbo trainer (or power meter) and it then gives you a dashboard with power output and cadence targets to ride using one of their now hundreds of training sessions.

It’s a clever idea to create an online platform for this, but even better they’ve gone and measured the power curves of lots of common turbo trainers to give you a proxy power output when you train. So this means you can train with a power meter even if you don’t have a power meter, or the funds to buy one.

Some of the nearly 1,000 workouts available on Trainerroad.com

Some of the nearly 1,000 workouts available on Trainerroad.com

To get started with Trainerroad, what you need is:

  • To sign up for an account (US$10 per month or $100 per year)
  • A computer or iPad/iPhone
  • A turbo trainer or Power meter system (like a Wattbike in my case)
  • A speed and cadence sensor
  • Optionally a heart rate monitor
  • An ANT+ dongle to read the data from the sensors above for the Trainerroad application to use.
  • An appetite for suffering indoors to go faster.

You’ll need to download the Trainerroad software or app once you’ve signed up and created your account to run when you’re riding.

Given that many of us have most of the items on the list above, all I needed to buy was an Ant+ dongle (amazon link) to get my data from my sensors to my laptop.

In practice you can either choose a pre-selected plan, base or build, triathlon or…. Or choose from any one of around 1,000 workouts.

If you have sufferfest videos you can drop them into the Trainerroad app and it will enable you to  ride them to power outputs, which is cool and probably a more precise way to train for greater benefit.

The strategy I had in mind for trying Trainerroad has not gone to plan so far. I had been going to use it to train for the first quarter of the year to ride the Paris Roubaix sportive but two back to back chest colds that each took me off the bike for 3+ weeks at a time, ended my training and saw me lose almost all of my fitness.

So now I’m trying to get fit again and am using Trainerroad as part of this process. For the cycling training plans there are low medium and high volume plans for how much time you can commit to each week. For base training there is traditional base (longer, lower intensity) or sweet spot base training (higher intensity based around your FTP threshold) – you choose your preferred approach.

To begin with you need to do a fitness test to establish your FTP. If you’ve not done one before, they’re pretty horrible. You right as hard as you can maintain for the duration of the test. Not pleasant but it establishes the baseline to train with.

You then work through your chosen plan doing workouts each week to start building strength, power and fitness.

When I trained with the Wattbike, it uses both power and heart rate zones, which in simple terms begins with workouts that are relatively low intensity to try and equalise your heart and power zones. I started off riding in zone 3 or 4 heart rate when riding zone 2 power. If I droped my intensity to bring the heart rate down to the right level, my power dropped out of the zone it was supposed to be in. It was frustrating but over 4-6 weeks everything aligned and I noticed that I was already faster on the road.

A peak into a training plan but you can also create your own from the workout library

A peak into a training plan but you can also create your own from the workout library

Trainerroad somewhat surprisingly to me after that experience ignores heart rate completely. It’s just about riding to the power output and cadence required by the session. In that way it feels more like a blunt instrument and now that I’ve lost fitness, I’ve had situation where riding a sweet spot session (based around intervals at 88-94% of my FTP (not max power) where my heart rate is at 90% of max (or more). I think I got to 93 or 94% or Max heart rate on one base training session.

To me this has felt a bit too full on, given my lows levels of fitness so I’ve been mixing it up (and going off programme) by also putting in some of my zone 2 equaliser rides, where I’m riding at the top of my zone 2 power output and trying to keep my heart rate in the vicinity of where it should be.

I suspect that Trainerroad would say that my heart rate should come back down as I get fitter and I would agree that this should be the case. I just haven’t expected to feel beaten up by base training.

In fairness to Trainerroad I should probably re-test my FTP which has no doubt dropped, so I’m probably riding to a power output above where I physically am right now.

My patchy progress to date, showing the career views each rider gets

My patchy progress to date, showing the career views each rider gets

So my first impressions are that it’s a fantastic idea and the platform itself works really well for me. Now that the platform is up and running there’s no end of the kind of programmes they can add (and I hope they continue to). If you’re not fit, you’re going to find it hard though. Even the base training can be very demanding.

When you’re riding, most workouts have a text commentary telling you to what cadence to aim for when to ride one legged etc, etc, there seem to be quite a few drills within workouts. Personally I find the drills a bit annoying but that could just be me. I’m working hard enough just to keep up, I don’t need the extra brain teasers.

A friend and colleague who’s also using it has also moved to mix up his workouts too. This decision maybe slowing down or reducing the gains we make but my body isn’t in a place to try harder or hasn’t been. I’m struggling a little to get my head around high intensity base training.

In summary, in the early days or my time on Trainerroad which has been stop/start, I love the platform and how it connects your turbo time to a data system, I’m just not as won over by the actual training plans personally, but the sheer volume of workouts is fantastic for the USD$10 per month. I have no expertise as a trainer, so my thoughts on the plans are just an opinion. Regardless, I’m going to stick with it and update you as I go.

Any questions or comments, please let me know.

Thanks for reading.