Smart trainers are so hot right now! Everyone is using one, and if you’re not, you’ve no doubt heard numerous testimonials from your buddies on your weekly group rides. Like them or hate them, there is no denying that smart trainers have changed the face of cycling.
Using a smart trainer in conjunction with a program such as Zwift or Trainer Road can yield strong training returns, as well as being highly addictive. The popularity of Zwift has grown to a point that there are even professional road riders racing in Zwift criteriums (e-crits) as well as live commentary on Facebook! This blog will explore the positives of smart trainers and how to use them effectively, as well as negatives and the potential consequences of excessive use.
Having a smart trainer in your arsenal is invaluable for fitness gains that can be acquired in a time-effective manner. Life can leave us extremely time-poor. Working 40 hour weeks, trying to be the best parents we can be and spending valuable time with our partners all eat into valuable bike time. Having a smart trainer means you can jump onto the bike, log onto a program like Zwift and after a 10 minute warm-up, be tackling the famous Alpe Du Zwift (the virtual world’s answer to Alpe D’huez) from the comfort of your own home. From a coaches perspective, a smart trainer eliminates external variables involved when prescribing workouts, meaning the workouts that a coach writes can be more complex, detailed and specific as the athlete doesn’t have to compete with traffic, road obstacles, undulations, etc.
The most important factor in using a smart trainer with a virtual reality program is that it’s fun. For most of us, cycling is our hobby and therefore has to be fun or we wouldn’t do it. Being able to clip in and be thrust into a world where we can ride with pros, compete for jerseys and be able to ride when the weather outside is miserable is enticing ( a common issue at this time of the year in Melbourne).
The problem with using a smart trainer is that it is addictive. The easy access, time-efficient riding and video game style fun can often lead riders to ignore their outdoor riding. One thing a smart trainer can’t do is help develop bike handling skills. With road, CX and track racing (the predominant disciplines of Kilowatt CC athletes), bike handling plays a huge role in determining the outcome. Bike handling and fitness are equally as important to be a successful cyclist. It is often said that it is not the fastest rider that wins, but the most crafty rider. Smart trainers can help build your body into a physiological beast, but it can’t teach you how to corner, how to rub shoulders at 45kmh in a tight bunch or how the bike feels under your body when it isn’t locked into a stationary device. Riding solely on a smart trainer not only ignores valuable bike handling development but can be downright dangerous to yourself and the riders around you when you turn up to a road race with an FTP of 400 watts and no idea how to use it.
In order to be a safe and successful cyclist, you need to develop the skills needed to be able to stay upright on a bicycle. Without them, your fitness gains will be wasted as you bring both yourself and your riding buddies crashing down at your local criterium. My view is that even if a smart trainer and virtual reality cycling program is your preferred method of training, you ensure that you are still maintaining no less than three road rides per week that help develop your bike riding abilities. Smart trainers are a great tool, but they should be viewed as exactly that: a tool.