The Best TrainerRoad Workouts

Trainer Road is an immensely popular online/software based training suite for indoor cycling. It offers hundreds of workouts which focus on all areas of cycling performance from aerobic endurance to sprints intervals. With so many workouts to choose from, it’s hard to know which are the most effective for your particular training goals and needs. This post will cover not only the some of the best workouts in the Trainer Road library for each training zone but also some ways to decide which workouts will work for your training goals and how to fit them into your training plan.

Endurance Training Endurance training is often referred to as ‘Base’ training in periodization training models. It is typically the basis for all training plans and is used to develop a foundation on which anaerobic and neuromuscular training is built. Base training primarily  encompasses three types of workouts, Classic Base, Sweet Spot Base, and High Intensity Interval Base Training (see my article on base training for more information on these). Trainer Road has a significant number of workouts that are effective for these types of training and many that are not. Classic Base Workouts These workouts focus mainly on Zone 2 endurance rides lasting from 2-6 hours. These are very basic and boring rides to do on a trainer. For this type of training a specific workout is not necessarily needed. Just get on your bike and keep your HR or power in zone 2 while watching some Netflix or a movie. For some variation, however, Trainer Road offers a few good endurance rides that vary their output slightly to keep things just a little bit more interesting. 2-3 Hour Endurance Rides (less than 2 hours is generally not effective for zone 2 training) Boarstone – a 2 hour endurance workout with some minor variation in effort. There are three variations to the basic workout (+1, +2, and +3). The second and third variations increase the intensity slightly pushing the peak effort into the bottom end of the sweet spot/tempo zone. These two variations are good for those who have already worked up to 4-6 hour endurance rides and are looking for something a little more challenging while still riding for longer durations. The first variation has four sprints near the end of the workout. These are good for those who compete in road races where sprint power after a long ride is necessary to win the race. 3-5 Hour Endurance Rides Maclure – a 3 hour endurance ride which features four 11 minute intervals of slightly elevated effort but still staying well within zone 2. This a good workout for those whose endurance base is well developed but have recently updated their FTP to a higher number. The elevated endurance intervals will help to adapt to the higher endurance load as a result of the increase in FTP. Big Mountain – a 3 hour endurance workout which features slight but constant changes in effort. These changes help simulate real world riding conditions where rolling hills and variation in terrain are expected. Highland – a 5 hour endurance ride with three variations. Each variation includes slightly different intervals similar to those found in Maclure. The third variation includes 30 minute tempo intervals interspersed throughout the ride. These intervals not only make the 5 hour ride more interesting but add an element of difficulty to maximize the effectiveness of the workout. Sweet Spot Workouts Sweet Spot workouts have become the staple of a good training program. Recent research has shown that riding at just below FTP or LTHR is the most effective way to increase power at threshold and aerobic endurance. These workouts are shorter and less time consuming than Classic Base workouts and require more focus and motivation. When looking for sweet spot workouts, make sure the work intervals are at least 12 minutes in length. Many of Trainer Road’s SS workouts feature intervals that are too short to elicit adaptation. 5-10 minutes at this work rate is too short for these types of workouts. Eichorn – a 1 hour workout featuring two 20 minute sweet spot intervals. This a great workout for those with limited time. Sometimes weekends get hectic with family obligations, housework, etc. If you are not able to get in your normal 2-3 hour long ride, Eichorn is a great alternative if you can spare an hour. Smith – 1.5 hours workout featuring six 10 minute intervals near (or at) FTP. While these intervals are cutting close in terms of length, the rest intervals are so short that they are still effective. This is a tough but effective workout. White +2 – This variation on the basic White workout is 1.5 hours of tempo/sweet sport work. It is not an interval workout but instead features 10minute segments of increasing difficulty beginning in the low tempo range. There are no rest intervals making this workout a challenge but also a great workout for TT and triathlon specialists. Logan – 2.5 hours workout featuring five 20minute sweet spot intervals. This the perfect sweet spot workout and one of my all time favourite Trainer Road workouts. The length of the intervals and the recovery period make for a tough but doable workout that leaves you feeling just the right amount of fatigue. This isn’t an easy workout and it does take up a little more time. Make sure you have some food nearby (I like to munch on crackers and dried cranberries during the recovery intervals) and lots of water or sport drink. Pendleton – 3 hour workout featuring seven(!) 20 minute sweet spot intervals with only three minutes of recovery between intervals. This is one of the toughest and most rewarding workouts in the Trainer Road library. It’s not a workout that can be done all the time, nor should it be. But for those who use overload training, it’s the perfect workout for the first day back after a recovery week. Unless you are very strong and have already done this workout several times, it is not the recommended to incorporate this workout into the final week of a hard training cycle. Your body will be too fatigued already to get much benefit (if you can even finish) and may put you at risk for overtraining or NFOR (non-functional overreaching). Hight Intensity Interval Workouts HIIT workouts have become popular for their ability to develop aerobic capacity and endurance in a very limited timeframe. These workouts are difficult to do correctly as they require the right amount of work effort and recovery time. Too much recovery and they become anaerobic sprint workouts. The standard HIIT protocol used for increasing aerobic endurance is the Tabata interval designed by Professor Tabata in a research trial to determine the effectiveness of HIIT workouts on aerobic endurance. This protocol is 20 seconds of high intensity output followed by 10-40 seconds of rest. Foerster – 1 hour workout featuring short high intensity intervals followed by short rest intervals. This workout bends the typical HIIT Tabata protocol almost too far but there is still value in its implementation. Spanish Needle – 1.5 hour workout featuring 15 seconds at 150% of FTP and 15 second rest intervals. This workout is about as close to a real Tabata interval that you will find on Trainer Road. It’s a very tough workout and you might even puke if you get through the whole thing following the correct power levels. VO2 Max Training These workouts target VO2 max and are designed to increase both oxygen uptake and power at VO2 max. There is conflicting research as to how trainable the VO2 system really is but these types of workouts have been shown to increase performance at both VO2 max and increase power at threshold. Trainer Road has several workouts designed to tax the VO2 system but like SS workouts, it is important to note the duration of the intervals. The VO2 system is typically the maximum sustainable power for 3-8 minutes or approximately 106-120% of FTP. Intervals lasting for less than 3 minutes do not tax the VO2 max system enough to elicit adaptation. A good rule of thumb is to consider ratio of duration to work rate. Short 3 minute intervals should have you working at the top end of the VO2 max zone (approx 120% of FTP) and longer 5-8 minute intervals should have you working at the lower end of the zone (approx 106% of FTP). Dicks – 1 hour (approx) workout featuring five 8 minute VO2 efforts with only one minute of recovery between each interval. The intervals are at the bottom end of the VO2 max zone but because of their duration and minimal rest period, it is a tough and effective workout. I recommend increasing the workout intensity (bottom right corner of the workout screen) by 1 or 2% to really tax the VO2 max system effectively. Langley – 1 hour workout featuring five 3.5 minute VO2 max intervals at 120% of FTP with plenty of recovery. The workout is difficult but easily doable because of the long recovery periods. Charybdis – a 1 hour workout featuring two sets of 3 minute intervals at 120% FTP. Rest intervals are 3 minutes long with an 8 minute recovery between sets. This workout is tough and effective. It’s a little more challenging than Langley but the shorter rest intervals maximize adaptation. Cartwright – a 1 hour workout consisting of four ten minute intervals. While not a standard VO2 max workout these intervals climb from just below FTP up to 112% of FTP. Starting from a higher intensity and moving into the VO2 max zone is a good way to develop fatigue resistance and build power at both FTP and VO2 max. I suggest increasing the workout intensity by 1-2% for a really great and effective VO2 workout. Anaerobic Intervals

My standard setup: dried cranberries, crackers, caramilk, trainer road, and le tour
My standard setup: dried cranberries, crackers, caramilk and extra bottles.

Anaerobic training is the basis for short high intensity output. It is an important part of criterium and road racing. While triathletes and TT specialists might not need anaerobic endurance as much as road racers, these intervals are excellent for general heart health. High intensity intervals of 30 seconds to 3 minutes promote excellent heart function and increase the heart’s pumping efficiency. They help to prevent heart related health problems and can increase life expectancy by increasing stroke volume and decreasing resting HR. Typically anaerobic endurance requires at least 1.5 minute intervals at above 120% of FTP in order to see adaptation. Maximal efforts are usually 2.5-3 minutes in length. Look for workouts with some variation in interval length. Workouts that make use of ladder style intervals (increasing intensity and decreasing duration or the reverse) are very effective at taxing the anaerobic system to produce adaptation. Sufferest Downward Spiral – 1 hour (approx.) ladder intervals descending from 2 minutes to 15 second in length. This workout is part of the Sufferfest series and can be used in conjunction with their video series (at a cost). For the TR workout, no purchase is necessary to use the workout without the video. The descending ladder intervals will work to exhaust the anaerobic system and increase endurance at this intensity zone. Bird – a 1 hour workout featuring three sets of 5 minute intervals at 130% FTP with only 1 minute of rest between. This workout is difficult on its own but to really get a solid anaerobic workout I suggest raising the workout intensity by 5-10%. You may only be able to get through one or two sets with an increased intensity but you will be taxing the anaerobic system more effectively with such short intervals. Kephart – a 1 hour workout that simulates real racing conditions and develops both endurance at FTP and anaerobic endurance. It features five sets of 15 minute intervals.  The work intervals bring you up to 125% of FTP with brief 15 second rests at 88% FTP. This is very similar to the kinds of conditions racers will experience in short fast criterium races. Crane +5 – a 1 hour (approx.) workout that consists primarily of supra-threshold intervals. Short 30 second bursts at 175% of FTP are followed by 3 minute intervals at 105%. These intervals, while not specifically designed to tax the anaerobic system, will help with attacking and establishing breakaways in racing situations. They can also be used to practice standing start track pursuits. Sprint Power Sprint power is something that really should be developed on the road. The physical action of sprinting puts a lot of pressure on the bike and requires a strong upper body side-to-side action of the bike. Doing sprint intervals on the trainer might be damaging to your frame. Sprint training is something that should only be done sparsely during the beginning and middle of training when you will typically find yourself on the trainer. Most sprint training comes in the final weeks before the competition season begins. That said, seated sprints are an effective way to develop leg power and speed. There are very few sprint dedicated workouts on Trainer Road and most are focused on repeated Tabata style intervals. In order to truly improve sprint power, 2-3 minutes must be allowed between intervals in order to replenish creatine-phosphate stores, the primary source of fuel for short powerful sprints. Free Ride 45 – a 45 minute workout with no power targets. This is not a sprint specific workout but is a great workout for recovery and a good place to practice sprints. Since sprints do not cause a great deal of longterm fatigue nor do they affect the ability to produce aerobic power, they are good to do during recovery rides.  During the 45 minute ride, maintain power at 40-55% of FTP and incorporate 4-5 sprint efforts leaving 3-5 minutes between each effort. Recovery Rides Recovery is an important part of training, possibly the most important. Recovery is when the body is allowed to adapt to the training stress from harder workouts. It is important to incorporate recovery workouts into a training plan to prevent burnout. As noted above, the best recovery is a 45 minute ride at 40-55% of FTP. Cadence is important in recovery workouts and should be kept 5-10 rpm faster than what you would normally ride at (make sure to keep power down and try not to bounce). If you can’t spin quickly for the entire ride, try to do 2 or 3 easy fast spins lasting 20-30 seconds in length. Don’t ride any longer than an hour for recovery or you may risk detraining. If you have questions about this article or want to know how to incorporate these workouts into a training plan, email Coach Dempsey at To get more great articles like this sign up for our newsletter

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