Where possible, I try not to see my turbo-training sessions as an alternative to “proper” riding outdoors. I think of them instead as supplementary or in addition to my normal riding. But come the wetter, icier weather at this time of year I don’t get too hung up on swapping the thought of a very wet, cold ride outside for a quick blast on the turbo. The problem is, for me anyway, it’s just not as much fun indoors as outside. There isn’t anything to see or look at, and any challenges are necessarily contrived ones rather than a hill up ahead to be conquered, a tricky winding descent or rough surface – all the things that keep us focused on road rides. So the question is, how do we get motivated and stay motivated to do those increasingly frequent outdoors to turbo-trainer ride swaps when they’re not as filled with ride fun?
Hello Dear Reader, thanks for checking in – it’s great to have you here as ever! So how to grab some turbo trainer motivation is the question I hope to answer here with a few collected low-tech, mostly free tips that help me stay on the turbo for whatever duration I’ve decided (or the plan dictates). I have a bike motivation deep dive article and a bonus cycling motivation hacks article too if you’re interested beyond this one.
So before we begin…
I just wanted to check, can you tell the difference between what is for you a valid reason for not riding outside and what might be just a convenient excuse? Speaking personally, I know when I’m lacking in motivation, it’s the easiest thing for me to upgrade any ol’ convenient excuse into a valid reason – with a gravity and severity that seems highly related to my reticence to go outside and ride!
Q: Why even mention that? A: Because if we don’t have a valid reason, for example, the road outside is frozen solid, then maybe it’s best to find the motivation to get outside – that’s what my other articles linked to above concern. Does that mean I value riding outside more highly than a turbo-trainer session? Yes, I kind of do. Doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of utility to be had from the trainer, but they’re second best. But where we’re at here is having valid reasons for not going outside and not having the motivation to jump on the turbo trainer either.
We need some quick turbo-trainer mojo tips
I got you covered. Mix and match these as you need. Whatever it takes to not just get you through, but hopefully having a bit of fun on your turbo trainer. Ultimately it’s about your enjoyment, your feeling of achievement and success and your sense of satisfaction.
These tips are mostly low-tech, mostly completely free.
Let’s get to it…
#1. As ever, have a goal per session
Yes, yes! You’re absolutely right, I do repeat this suggestion a lot, but hey, it’s true #nolie 🙂 Working as a counsellor, I read so much peer-reviewed research into the efficacy of SMART-type goals for motivation that it’s really a no brainer. Research published by the APA shows that specific, challenging (but achievable) goals encourage up to a 90% greater likelihood of achieving what you’ve set your mind to. Okay, so we get all that. But I think when we talk about goals we can imagine far off in time, kind of nebulous ideas of how we’re supposed to be. And sure, goals can be long term and short term. For me, doing these turbo sessions, I like to have a particular, specific goal for just the one session. Whatever comes after we can cross that bridge then. So I like to know why I’m getting all dolled up to go out in the garage before I lift one finger.
Most times the goal is gonna be related to some aspect of training, or maybe specifically part of a plan. And that’s fine if your plan requires you to do certain type of work or for a certain duration. Sometimes though I find it’s the plan the causes the boredom or the lack of motivation. And that’s fine too. It doesn’t mean I’m gonna scrap what I’m doing. But from time to time, I’ll set a goal outside of the plan I’m on. Maybe it’s a goal to do a session out of the saddle (see #8) or maybe it’s to specifically feel the burn through my calves. Maybe it’s to just get into that ride head, to get away from the day’s issues, maybe it’s to clear my mind to allow me to think through a business idea. So the goal can be whatever you need it to be. The important aspect here in getting and keeping motivated is to choose the goal well so it’s easily accomplishable but yet still gives you a sense of success when you’ve done it.
Congratulate yourself afterwards too! That’s important to maintain motivation for the next time 🙂
So yep as we see, our goal needn’t necessarily be physiological improvements, we might set a goal, for example to…
#2. Practice mindful cycling
I’ve outlined elsewhere the benefits of a mindful approach to cycling. It’s a state of mind we can find ourselves in when cycling and possibly not realize it. The idea of mindful cycling isn’t to focus on that state of mind and risk becoming self-conscious, but rather to acknowledge that “in the moment” headspace that can actively help de-stress us, clarify our thinking and just leave us feeling psychologically better off.
Q: But why on earth does this help with motivating myself for the turbo trainer? A: It’s about giving yourself a reason to. Without wanting to sound pointlessly new-age, trying a bit of mindfulness while on the turbo trainer takes your focus off having to grind out so many watts over so many intervals or whatever’s making the turbo-trainer less than enticing. Mindfulness while on the trainer is just a really good way of centering yourself, getting back a clear head and feeling less taken by all of the external demands you have on you.
What this means is that turbo trainer time can be your time; time to get some space to yourself or distance from other issues, possible, some clarity of thinking on those issues and to simply reconnect to a bit of calm. I guess though, like everything, in order to see if the reward for doing it is better than the effortless (and fruitless) procrastination, you gotta try it first!
#3. A cake’s worth of calories
Well it’s a goal for sure. If you’ve been craving something decadent, if you ever fancied a food blow-out, do a workout to the equivalent calorific value knowing you got the treat at the end as reward.
Okay sure, maybe it’s a glib-tongued idea! Hands up to that. But as ever, there’s a reason behind it. It’s because food is a tangible reward rather than the kinds of indeterminate rewards we might otherwise get from a turbo session. Rewards like feeling good post-workout, or the sense of achievement at successfully completing more of our training plan can be wonderful motivators. However, they do require you to delay gratification until after the event.
Now while cake for afterwards is exactly the same, because it’s a tangible immediate dopamine-releasing reward it’s potentially slightly more in sync with the frame of mind that causes us to procrastinate or avoid activity. And, if your ego-type simply won’t permit you to accept delayed gratification then make the deal with yourself have some cake before and the rest after. Or… Okay then have the whole cake before. And really it’s up to you whether the procrastinating nature in you accepts that deal or not. Then again, ’twas ever thus! 🙂 #cakelife
#4. Use mirrors and video
Q: Okay, mirrors, sure, but how does this give me any more motivation to get on the turbo trainer? A: Now you’ve something else to look at besides those ride videos you’re straining to see on your phone. Not only can you admire yourself at the time, or afterwards on vid, but it’s actually a good way to monitor your posture, your position on the bike. Seriously, I’ve gained new eyes on how I was riding at the time I was having major saddle and sitbone issues from the bike.
But really this one’s simply about helping us make improvements to our riding while on the turbo. The idea behind that being to imbue our sessions with more of a purpose, confer on them a greater utility to us and give them a greater worth and greater reward: “it helped me discover some leg length discrepancy and fixing that has helped with ride comfort and endurance.” Well, that’s the idea anyway! They’ll bring more light into the room too haha. But whatever you do, just look yourself right in the eye in them mirrors or your cam lens, and give yourself a wave. You’re perfect! And if your core-beliefs won’t permit such an outrageous admission, go to #10 🙂
You never know though, maybe it might spark an interest in videoing for it’s own sake. Maybe your videos might be of help (or amusement depending :P) to others. Maybe you could…
#5. Create a video blog of your progress
Why not? That vlog can be a record of your progress and what a great way to show improvement specially if you’ve got data to either overlay on your trainer footage, or if you’ve put the camera on that computer. The thing is that those of us with a self-critical dominance in personality often struggle to find positives and therefore benefits in turbo trainer sessions specially if our interest is low or if we’re just not feeling it before we even hitch the bike up. But try watching an old vid (or imagine doing so) of you from a year back, from this time last off-season and see how far you’ve come. And that’s totally age-independent. I mean I’m well past my prime but still find this fun. It shows me that while I mightn’t have the greatest enthusiasm for this impending turbo session, it’s actually been working so far!
Those observable improvements and progress towards training or other goals are a fantastic way to catalyze motivation. And that’s what we’re all about here.
Of course, depending on your persuasion, that video log might be made public. While you might doubt that anyone would want to see your training, I believe there’s a very high probability you’ll be surprised. While folk like to see extreme stuff, most of us do also like to see others just like us doing what we’re doing, struggling with what we’re struggling with. Anyway, just food for thought as ever 🙂
If you already elevate your front wheel when on a turbo trainer, go ahead and skip over. But for me, there’s something fun, or maybe it’s just something different to elevate the front wheel on whatever’s to hand in the garage. I use various offcuts of scrap wood to get the elevation I want.
Q: Why’s that any more motivating than both wheels level? A: I’m sure it’s a completely subjective thing this one. For some reason, don’t ask me why, I find it more fun on the turbo trainer to do every interval, or maybe the majority of a short session standing out of the saddle spin-class style. Combine the standing session -or mostly standing- with some good banging music and it just feels like a more fun session. And fun is good! Fun is motivating, right? I wish I knew why riding out of the saddle on the TT is more fun for me so I could share, but give it a try if you haven’t already. These are just ideas not prescriptions 🙂
I know there are purpose built stands that the tire slots into, but I haven’t had any issues with decently wide 4″ wood blocks of various heights depending on what I’m training. A bit cobbled-together, but man I do like the MacGuyver spirit in all things 🙂
Listening to music with a driving beat really suits this session and helps maintain in-session motivation. See #8.
#7. Create the most awesome bike playlist combining your own music and that of your friends
Q: The music idea’s an old one but what’s the deal with combining mine and friends? A: Okay I’ve spent time thinking this through. As ever I’ve tested it personally and find it helps during hard-push TT sessions. So here’s my reasoning. If you use music on your turbo trainer rides already you don’t need any confirmation of its efficacy in helping get the job done. But that’s backed up with research too. A study at the University of British Columbia tested and found that “listening to self-selected music can reduce the potential aversiveness of an acute session of SIT by improving affect, motivation, and enjoyment.” But yeah maybe that’s not a surprise.
Combining that with the music of friends I think might bring two different things to the table. Firstly, it’s different music from your norm. You may be aware that listening to music that’s new or unfamiliar to you increases neural connectivity which is never a bad thing (specially for the ol’ dudes amongst us!) But I noted a study too performed with top-level shooters suggesting that while unfamiliar relaxing music was the most relaxing, music – the kinds that your friends might suggest for an exercise playlist – that’s unfamiliar arousing music was the most arousing. The study suggests that this can be applied to performance in diverse sports, and that “practitioners can apply unfamiliar relaxing and arousing music with imagery to manipulate arousal level.” So that’s what this is!
The second card on the table is that I imagine at least that some of these songs, if you’re close to your pals may conjure them in your mind before your session or in session. And why’s that beneficial? Well one would hope those pals to be the kind to offer a bit of encouragement, a gee up, or possibly kick your ass out of your chair onto the trainer maybe? So that’s my line of thinking here. Again I find it’s a good help. Subjectivity can’t always be accounted for of course! But that’s just a basic ol’ psychological hack and maybe your friends don’t even like music. Or maybe you really don’t like theirs!
I know musical tastes vary, but hey, if we’re talking turbo trainer, I reckon you gotta have the beat driving. That’s why I’m suggesting…
#8. Listen to DI Radio
What, you don’t like ol’ school drum & bass? Haha, yeah I get you. I have to admit I’m a big fan of electronic music for any kind of exercise. If it’s not your scene, I totally understand. I’d still suggest at least giving it one try, you never know! I’m all about expanding ya horizons 🙂 But if you’re there already, it’s a great free online app (find them at www.di.fm) with a massive variety of streamed genres to keep the session pumping, like really pumping.
For me this feels as if it cuts a regular tough 60 minute session by at least 25%
… True. And which explains why I’m ageing slowly haha #kidding Again, it depends where you’re mind’s at when you’re doing it, but I’ve noticed that the very nature of fast, repetitive (and not in a disparaging way) electronic beats can really be a trip when combined with hardcore riding intervals #exerciseisadrug And that’s precisely why it can help with motivation because it sets us in a highly positive state of conscious which is something that not only keeps us going through a session but that can deter us from subsequent procrastination. At least that’s my experience.
I’ve noticed that what the young folks refer to as hardstyle music helps in particular with standing out of the saddle sessions like #6. Nothing wrong with giving it a try even just once, right? Cool 🙂
#9. Hands in the air!
Haha, yeah, not strictly related to the dance music of #8 per se. So I guess this is a variant of the power posing which was proposed back in 2012 then subsequently debunked and the debunking refuted etc etc haha. So I’m not going into the legitimacy of the science right now. This isn’t really a call to adopt a power pose, but I think there’s merit in at least trying this. Just punch your fists in the air after you’ve completed an interval (and regained yourself!) If you can do that with the mind of having just achieved something worthwhile as yet another beneficial step towards achieving your personal goals it’ll definitely help too.
Again, I dunno if doing this is anything more than a motivational placebo, but the idea behind it is that it makes us feel more powerful. And who couldn’t do with that during an all out interval? I mean I’ve tried it and it seems to give me that boost each time to continue until I’ve finished. I’m always interested in hearing what others make of these ideas. If the science isn’t there, but the idea works subjectively does it matter? Personally I’m reasonably happy to go with what works at the time provided it passes my own not-too-stringent standards.
#10. Close your eyes, visualize
Are you being chased by aggressive rabid dogs? Nope, my garage is mostly rabid-dog-free too. Mind, it wouldn’t be the first I’d been chased by uncontrolled dogs when riding and it’s quite a thing for a burst of adrenaline like no other! And that’s what this is here. It’s a controlled burst of the old ride-like-your-life-depends-on-it hormone that’s actually a really interesting technique if used wisely. And probably in moderation!
For me, the most fun and fanciful visualization is being chased by a shark haha. Presumably one of the Sy-Fy Channel movie kind of sharks that somehow engineer their way onto land. But belief must be suspended here! After all this isn’t a way to exhume real past traumas and then flee rather than maturely confronting them. So, with my counsellor’s hat on, I’d suggest avoiding phobic reactions. I mean I have been attacked by dogs when cycling both recently and into my childhood so that’s possibly an old trauma though mostly dormant. I’d usually avoid utilizing that in this situation! I prefer sharks! haha.
So when it comes to each turbo trainer effort, visualize escaping from something real or fantastical. Spin those pedals as if your safety really was threatened at that moment.
Q: And how exactly does this enhance my motivation on the trainer? A: It’s a bit of fun, and fun is motivating. But it also demonstrates how possible it is to not only get through intervals but in many cases (depending on how big the shark is!) to crush your previous best. And success and achievement are two keys to sustaining motivation in the longer term too.
Okay so this is just a bit of light relief. Try it though. If it works, it wor… Wait, Shark! Everybody out of the water… I mean pedal for your lives! 😀
#11. Circumvent the boredom of the entire session
Q: How? A: by using the turbo time to complete or work on another task, the next chapter of your novel, googling which new local restaurants to try, movies new in the cinema, or cool things to do with your weekend free time. Practice your new language skills. You are learning a new language aren’t you? 😛 Post your cycling selfies on your Instagram. Plan your next instalment of your training vlog from #5 above. You get the idea I’m sure 🙂
Q: Yeah, but that’s just cheating isn’t it? A: I think of it as a hack rather than a cheat. How about that? It’s a hack, better? See what we did there? We’ve circumvented the fact that it’s cheating by renaming it a hack 🙂 #justkidding. But I think what we’re doing here is admitting in some way that the turbo sessions are sometimes kinda boring. That can’t be helped. Interval sessions are different and possibly don’t work well for this. But what if we can’t get out for a planned 2.5 hour endurance zone ride? What if we’re stuck indoors only managing 60 minutes steady, easy spin? Could we maybe resign ourselves to it at least with a smile if we have something productive to do with that time, right? That’s the idea here.
The only question that remains is what to do with that time. I find I actually get some good creative ideas for things I’m writing, projects I’m working on, pieces of music I’m doing etc. I’d usually dictate or record what I have into the phone on the trainer so I don’t have to worry about remembering. Loads of apps available for that kind of thing. I find being on the trainer really does change my pattern of thinking and puts me in a different headspace. That’s what makes turbo trainer time good for other stuff too. It’d be less practical, possibly more risky recording on the phone while out riding. On the trainer, no problem.
Q: Does it enhance motivation? A: I find I can look forward to a session indoors if I’ve set the goal (see #1) to come up with some new material for a project I’m starting or in the middle of. I perceive that time on the trainer as my time to do that, to get those things done. To kill two birds with one stone metaphorically speaking.
#12. Dress for outdoors
Okay so this one isn’t for you lucky lot that have your trainers in your home, nicely heated and/or air-conditioned. Nope, this one’s for the hardcore garagers or shedders like me whose trainer might as well be outside but for the few degrees of temperature separation that the lowly garage/shed provides #brrrr 🙂
My garage isn’t insulated, it’s not heated, it’s not air-conditioned. It’s cold in winter and it’s hot in summer. So what do I do? I use a big fan. I’m using an 18″ blower here. Why? Because if I can’t heat the garage in winter to make it comfortable well I can at least get the full-on sense of being outside even though I’m dry. That means I have to dress for outdoors so I can put the fan on even in the middle of winter season. While I’m doing that I stick my helmet on too. I mean I know I can be accident-prone at times but I don’t wear it in the garage for safety. Though if you’ve seen my rollers technique you’d know a helmet might not be such a bad idea! #nolie. But it keeps the air flowing around the old loaf but I’m not as cold across the head with the fan on as I would be without the helmet. It just gives that completely subjective feeling that I’m riding “properly” ie. outside!
This goes the same for the albeit less frequent summer indoor sessions. Dress for outdoors, put the fan on, check the mirrors. All good 🙂
Q: So how on earth does this do one thing for motivation? A: It’s about feeling as if I’m not on the trainer but I’m riding outdoors. The good thing is I’m still dry yay! 🙂 I feel better riding outdoors than in so it’s the feeling better that enhances the motivation.
So dressing for outdoors is a practical fix for the cold (or a suitable attire for the heat along with the fan), but it’s a psychological hack to give that feelgood factor that we get on an unadorned outdoor ride with not a care in the world. You do do those kinds of rides don’t you? Yay for easy riders 🙂
#13. Go single-speed or go fixed-gear
So this is a tip that’s possibly not free if you don’t have a singlespeed or fixed gear bike. Maybe you don’t want one, maybe you’ve no interest and that’s perfectly fine. I have other articles about singlespeed road bike training if you’re interested in other perspectives.
Q: Why is this listed as a motivating idea for a turbo trainer? A: I listed this as it’s a different skill, it challenges different muscle groups if you try slowing without the brakes. I think practising in different ways, mixing things up, taking new approaches to riding all helps refresh us and re-ignite our motivation. At least that’s what I’ve found.
I’m a fan of the flip-flop rear hub
… Yep, I’ve tried fixed gear but only on the turbo trainer. I’m probably too filled with trepidation to take it out just yet haha. But why not? The turbo trainer is a great place to learn technique, particularly for slowing without brakes. But I do a lot of my turbo sessions on my new little singlespeed bike. It’s not better than the geared bike, the whole entire point of it on the trainer is that it’s just an alternative. And I believe that changing things up like that really feels like it makes a difference to my ability to self-motivate when it comes to trainer sessions. Maybe you might too?
Again, I wouldn’t encourage you to spend any money just for this one thing. But if a cheap singlespeed road bike were something you had in mind to try, in my experience it’s a fun thing to do on the turbo trainer too. And that needs little explanation when it comes to motivation 🙂
#14. Make things convenient
This one’s a practicality more than anything. But for me, I find there’s nothing that’ll turn me off more when I’m already low on motivation than having to organize myself before I get out into the garage. If there are any inconveniences in getting clothes, kit, setting up the trainer or really any of the tiniest things at all, my inner procrastinating gremlin-like ego will shut down my lame attempts at motivating myself…
“Nope, you can’t do it because you have to swap the QR skewer for the trainer skewer and that’s a real pain to do. Call the whole thing off. Have some cake instead. You know you like that!” ~ David’s (and possibly yours) inner procrastinating gremlin-like inner voice
So to that end, I’ll go outside and set the bike on the trainer. Now I almost can’t get out of it. I’ve committed! Haha, my inner gremlin be damned 🙂 All I gotta do then is get dressed and get my music sorted and I’m away. It’s like going outside setting the bike up sets in motion a series of unstoppable events. At least that’s what I tell my procrastinating inner voice. I say, hey, I don’t make the rules. The bike’s set up outside. It’d be a fool that’d leave it sitting out there on the trainer and not do a session! #psychologyhacks101
So basically this tip isn’t so much a motivational as organizing things in both a practical and psychological way such that I almost can’t not go out. I mean sure, I could just ignore all that. But then if I’m determined to procrastinate or avoid it, well nothing’s gonna get me out there. And if you’re totally unmotivated at all then some of your ride fundamentals might bear looking at. I’ve addressed fundamental lack of ride motivation in another article if you’re interested 🙂
I try to not look on this as coercion or being corralled into doing something against my will. I choose to see it as a gee up. Something I definitely need from time to time.
I think this is a no-brainer for most tasks that require some deal of effort. Making a routine of it is, similarly to #14 above, is to assign yourself a task that you just kind of always do.
Again, I’m not certain that this is a motivational hack. But I think it helps to just get the task done if it’s part of a routine, whatever that routine is for you personally. If for example, I went on the turbo trainer or didn’t depending on whether I felt like it or not, well for me personally I know that about half the time I just “don’t feel like it”. If I hop on the trainer Wednesdays and Fridays because it’s part of the plan I’m working on, well I just do it. There isn’t a space to answer the question: do you feel like it. That isn’t part of the equation. I mean of course I can back out of the routine. But again, it’s all ammo to help counter the procrastinating gremlin that most of us have to some degree at some time regarding tasks we’re less than enthusiastic about.
But hopefully some of these ideas will assist you in gaining and sustaining motivation for the trainer. And perhaps some can be utilized beyond that to other tasks you find yourself less than keen to do without additional encouragement.
The fact is, you can do it. You can do anything. You can be awesome at anything.
And that brings me lastly, and to reiterate an earlier point, I say regarding actions like the turbo trainer, really, just do it. Or don’t do it! It might be a trite, but sometimes procrastination can get the better of us, other times we just got the blehs. For those times, none of the above may stand a chance against your apathy. In which case just make a snap decision and let it go. Are you going to get on the turbo trainer? If so, stop faffing about and just do it, no room for argument. And if not, just don’t make excuses, say, I ain’t doing it because I don’t want to. Simple. But you gotta make certain you don’t guilt yourself into some kind of unwarranted shame or remorse over it. It’s one trainer session, that’s all, it’s not your entire life’s purpose haha. Wait, you do you know your entire life’s purpose don’t you? #kidding 😛 You can always pick it up again next time.
But I think realistically if you find something here that helps long term, that’s just awesome. However, for me, it’s usually about picking and choosing my way through any of these various hacks, or more specifically, deploying multiple hacks at once.
Good luck in your riding. Mostly though, just have fun and ride safe, David.