Sunday, October 4, 2015

Taking the "Pain" out of the "Pain Cave" - Part 5: How Effective is your Indoor Training?

About this time last year, I started the "Taking the 'Pain' out of the 'Pain Cave'" series of blog posts.  But, as things got busy in the fitting studio, I got a bit sidetracked.  So, I thought that as trainer season approaches again and a lot has changed, it's time to talk trainers again.

If you missed out on the first few posts, you can catch up here:
Part 1:  Introduction
Part 2:  Resistance
Part 3:  Drive Types
Part 4:  Accessorizing

So far, we've talked a bit about the hardware aspect of training.  Since the last installation, Vector Cycle Works has become a dealer for several brands of trainers:
Kinetic (often referred to as "Kurt Kinetic")
Wahoo Fitness

The various products offered by these manufacturers range from under $200 to over $1600.  In another post, I'll provide a more complete comparison of the specific products.  For the purpose of this series, we're going to talk about the effectiveness of your training.

I am often asked about what level of trainer is appropriate for someone, and that is going to depend a lot on budget, what you expect from the training, and what features help you justify the cost.  In the first few installments of this series, we covered the basics of the trainer types and how to accessorize so you can get in a decent workout.  That was all about the hardware, but now we're going to get into what I like to call the "squishy bits" - the aspect of the human experience that is a bit harder to quantify.  Humans are very analog, and we have a spectrum of "needs" and "wants" that we should understand.  Do you want it to be fun?  Do you want it to be effective?  Does your coach want information?  What is your budget?  How much time do you have?  What is your schedule like?  What motivates you?  These are all questions helping to define what you need.

Motivation is a big key here.  Are you intrinsically or extrinsically motivated?  What is the reason for you to get a trainer?  Simply put, many of us do indoor training because we want to ride faster.  We don't need indoor training.  We can take the winter off and go out and ride on the first nice enough day in the Spring and still have fun on our bike.  We might be a little rusty and find ourselves saying, "man, I was having a hard time keeping up with the group today" or "I wish I hadn't gained 10 pounds over the winter..." but we can still have fun on a bike.  Indoor training fills a "want" - a want to show up at the first Spring group ride feeling better than ever.  The spectrum of products on the market represent the spectrum of wants that we may have.  The fundamental question we need to ask ourselves is, "how effective will this workout be?"

I consider indoor training to have 4 levels:

1.  A trainer and the TV
2.  Enhanced with video
3.  Training with power
4.  Smart trainers

Let's look at each of these in a bit more detail.  For now, we'll cover the first two levels in about as much detail as needed, and just touch on levels 3 and 4.  The higher levels get considerably more complicated, so we'll save that for the next installment.

Level 1:  A Trainer and the TV
This is where you've got all the hardware, and you sit and ride for a couple of hours, maybe watching TV or a movie.  This is better than nothing, but is mostly ineffective for three reasons:
1.  You are not especially motivated
2.  You have no guidelines for training
3.  You have no way of measuring your progress

This level of training is what gives indoor training a bad name.  You can do this with the most basic of trainer, but you'll probably realize that you wasted your money because you became bored with it and the trainer now sits in the corner collecting dust.  You might even start hanging your laundry on it, along with the treadmill you don't use anymore.

If I could give this level of training a score of 1-10, I'd give it a 2, at best.  You want more than this.  You deserve more than this.

Level 2:  Enhanced with video
Level 2 is where we start to add a bit more structure and entertainment value.  There are a bunch of fun video options out there from brands like The Sufferfest, epicRides, Spinervals, Pain Cave, Cycling Videos Online, Ride Fit, Indoor Cycling Videos, Turbo Tripping, Real Rides, Endurance Files, and many more.  Having a few videos improves issues 1 and 2 above regarding motivation and guidelines.  The videos offer some motivation by adding entertainment value and making it a bit more interesting.  For example, The Sufferfest incorporates cycling video with indie music and a dark sense of humor to make the videos more tolerable and relevant to sitting on the trainer.  epicRIDES videos are rides through scenic areas with music and an on-screen narrative.  You can find a video to match your tastes.

The other element that gets introduced with some videos is on-screen instruction.  This is where the video has some narration telling you what to do and we start to introduce the concept of the structured workout.  We are trying to workout with purpose.  This is usually done based on rate of perceived exertion (RPE).  RPE is essentially you trying to determine on the fly just how hard you are working.  Video instructions might suggest "warm up at an easy pace for 5 minutes", or "go 10 out of 10 for 1 minute."  While a structured workout is going to provide benefit, it is pretty hard to guess what "easy" or "10 out of 10" actually is.  You might use a heart rate monitor or your speed and cadence sensor to give you an idea of where you are, but this is very much based on feel.

An alternative to the video version of Level 2 involves having a coach.  Your coach might prescribe a certain workout, similar to what many of the videos try to do, and have you report back with your results.  This is still very much about going on feel, but at least you've got that extra motivation that a coach can provide.  You are now being held accountable.

Another alternative is going to a spinning class.  This is the type of class like those offered at LA Fitness or Life Time Fitness where you get on a spin bike, adjust the flywheel resistance to your liking and a coach yells out instructions over the loudspeaker, all done to high-energy music.  Spin classes can be a lot of fun because you've got other people to motivate you.

Overall, I would consider training with video, being coached, or spin classes enhanced training that will help keep you on the trainer longer.  When it comes to effectiveness, I would give this a score of 4 on a scale of 1-10.  It's much more effective than not having it, but there is a long way to go.  These are still being held back by problem number 3 of Level 1 training:  There is no way to measure your progress.

Level 3:  Training with Power
This is where things get considerably more complicated, so I will keep this brief for now.  Training with power now takes that element of training by feel and quantifies it.  We are now starting to measure your output, addressing the third issue of the Level 2 training described above.  We are measuring your performance, collecting data, and using it to shape your overall training season.  This is no longer just a series of workouts, but a foundation for a plan.

In my opinion, this is the biggest jump in effectiveness between these levels - we're now jumping up to an 8 out of 10.  The best part of this is that there are many ways to go about it, to meet your needs and budget.  There have been huge advances in this area in just the last 5 years, particularly with what is called "virtual power."  Part 6 of this series will be all about virtual power and real power.  I'm gonna go into full geek mode on you for that one.

Level 4:  Smart Trainers
The concept of a smart trainer is not new - the CompuTrainer has been around for a long, long time.  Smart trainers take training with power up a notch by being able to adjust the resistance for you based on the demands of the workout.  Because of this, smart trainers can provide a more road-like workout - the ability to increase the resistance can allow you to emulate hills, allowing for workouts based on actual routes and race courses.  These course workouts add an element of fun to the workout that you might enjoy.

Smart trainers get expensive, although competition in this area has made them more affordable.  It also has made it more confusing.  You can take your training to a 10 out of 10 with a smart trainer.  The reason I say this is that while Level 3 provides the biggest improvement in being able to quantify the effectiveness of your training, Level 3 is all about the data and doesn't add as much "fun factor" as it could.  That might be enough motivation for you.  But, if you need just a little bit more, smart trainers push you just a bit harder.  When a workout segment expects you to push X watts for Y minutes, the smart trainer will force you to do that.  Without it, you can be told to do it, but coast through.  Like having a coach, you now have something holding you accountable.  Humans can benefit from that.

That was a lot of information.  In the next post in this series, I'll delve into virtual power and power.  From there, we'll get into smart trainers and other options to add more fun to your workouts!  Thanks for reading.

p.s.  Before you go, Vector Cycle Works is an epicRIDES affiliate.  Click here to buy their videos:
epicRIDES - Designed with Indoor Cycling Classes in Mind!