I recently purchased the annual license to Trainerroad and I present to you this Trainerroad review!
Every review I write contains this disclosure statement (maybe not the early ones but I do note how I came on the goods/service). I purchased the Trainerroad license with my own money and did so at the urging or request of no one. Further, I have no vested interest in Trainerroad and no one I know has any financial stake in Trainerroad. In short, expect my honest opinion.
The Offseason Blues
Over the last three winters I have taken two distinct approaches to training for the upcoming bike season. They range from not training at all through spending six-eight hours per week training in the home, in the local YMCA spin class, in a local bike shop, and in fitness centers. The results of such training were easy to see in terms of both my skiing and cycling.
The problem I have with these classes is they were either not enough, too singly focused on intensity, or too sporadic/random to be of serious help. Don’t get me wrong, the difference between training and no training is as large as that between oatmeal and Doritos. When I train I ski like a boss all day long and when I do not my legs give up after a few runs. When I train I can at least ride my bike with some speed and good form and when I don’t train my cycling clearly suffers.
However, I’ve done enough living to know that time on the trainer is precious. I have been around cycling enough to know if you want to go from good to great you need to train methodically and consistently. Hence I started to turn to a training application such as Zwift, The Sufferfest, and Trainerroad.
After researching the options, the differences distilled into three main points:
- For a social game like atmosphere go with Zwift.
I signed up and found Zwift to effortlessly connect to my devices and I was nearly immediately drawn into it for a 25K ride in Wattopia. Zwift does a good job of getting your competitive juices going with the presence of other riders. This keeps you going hard, perhaps too hard.
- For a mix of solid training and built in entertainment go with The Sufferfest
I tried to get The Sufferfest going but I found it is only compatible with Ant+ devices, my heart rate monitoring is done in BLE+. So it was no go for me. Too bad, I am really drawn to their fitness assessment that considers your entire power spectrum.
- For training period go with Trainerroad
So I took the dive and signed up and paid for Trainerroad. I started off with a few workouts looking for some low intensity workouts and ones with varying power levels. I liked it, Trainerroad also provides form coaching and each ride discusses topics such as powering through the entire pedal stroke, knee alignment, form sprints, and speed endurance. I like this, the drills along with the focus on power help to keep you from clockwatching. In addition, we all can work on improving these basic techniques.
More on Trainerroad
Trainerorad fell into the middle of setup difficulty range. I needed to get a very specific BLE USB dongle for my little laptop to be able to connect my heart rate monitor to Trainerroad. So I went to Amazon did a search and randomly selected the incorrect dongle — an Ant+ dongle. So, I was able to connect my power meter without trouble but I was not able to connect my heart rate meter. I tried again, this time selecting another incorrect bluetooth dongle. So the third time I carefully read and followed the instructions. I was then able to get all of my devices talking to each other! The lesson I learned is the required dongle is very specific and only available from the specific vendors linked to by Trainerroad. Don’t waste your time on Amazon.
So I finally felt confident about starting a training program. Here there is much choice but in general this time of the year we should be working on our base fitness. They offer a variety of base programs for traditional cyclists and triathletes. Furthermore, each track comes in in three volume levels — low, mid, and high volume. I was setup for the sweet spot mid-volume and changed my mind and selected the traditional base mid-volume plan. The difference is the sweet spot plan has more workouts with higher intensity factors and less total time as well I believe. Trainerroad recommends most go with the sweet spot option and only those with grand aspirations and serious time go with the traditional plans. I don’t have grand aspirations, but I’ve read others recount how building in a solid aerobic base helped them go from hanging on to dishing out.
My plan has me training four sessions/week and my current block ranges from 1-¼ to 2 hours per session. The pattern is week 1 starts with a 20 minute FTP test on Tuesday, workouts on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. The following three weeks the 20 minute FTP test is a regular workout. The workouts will be longer on the weekend and shorter during the week. Intensities are not too bad, but Trainerroad knows how to load the legs up.
Trainerroad incorporates skill and form drills during the workout. I find this is important and distracts you from clock watching and keeps things from getting monotonous. My favorite drill thus far is the form sprint. These are ten second segments looking for you to spin the pedals with control as fast as you are able to do with good form. They suggest you get out of the saddle spin up to your maximum cadence and then after a few seconds settle back into the saddle and spin out the remainder of the time at that cadence. Nevermind the power but spin crazy (but in control).
I’ve found I’ve been able to pick up my max cadence from the 120s into repeatable maximums into the 130s. The best part is I don’t find myself with the urge to wildly rock the bike at all. I’m directing my energy though the pedals and that also is safe as I have less chance of rocking into someone. The form isn’t perfect I have a lot of bounce in my hips and I’m making conscious decisions to back off of the speed to focus on making my pedaling quieter. I’m told rollers can help with that.
Other drills include speed endurance segments where they ask you to raise your cadence 2-3 rpm above your comfortable spin rate. Also single leg focus where they ask you to focus on one leg or the other smoothly applying power 12 hours per stroke (as in one full rotation)! I am getting the hang of that, I like the terminology they use to describe the leg action. Most descriptions I have read will say to act like you are throwing the knee over your handlebars. Trainerroad describes it as a light kick at the top of the stroke and a light pull at the bottom. When I am doing that I definitely notice more power per rotation. Also the action does seem to help quiet my pedaling form — in the form sprints I really focus on that kick and pull.
After the completion of block one I moved right into block two. Each training block commences with a 20 minute ramp FTP test. The test I took at the start block two with showed a 2.5% increase in FTP over the block one test. Interestingly enough, this result may understate my actual improvement. I am currently on a borrowed saddle while my regular saddle is away for repair and the the day of the test the loaner saddle was a bit too high. The result was I was most likely having greater deadspots at the bottom of my pedal strokes.
Notice in my Golden Cheetah ride comparison charts the differences. First I go longer on the second test than the first. More importantly my heart rate (middle chart) is consistently lower than it is on the first test. In short the use of Trainerroad is indeed increasing my efficiency!
There are other subtle and non-objective clues as to Trainerroad’s efficacy. Namely, the legs are maintaining (at least, increasing I think) their size and definition! I also am seeing veins pop to the surface when I am training. Yeah, somewhat vain, but those looks we crave as cyclists are not just “skin deep” they indicate increased function!
Trainerroad — A word on their 20 minute ramp FTP test
Quite a surprise. Trainerroad employs a 20 minute stair test to determine one’s FTP. I performed three one-hour road FTP tests this summer and tested out at 245, 235, and 242 watts. My Trainerroad test was performed maybe two months after my last on-the-road test and lo and behold it worked out to 242 watts. So, I have confidence their ramp test tracks closely to my actual FTP.
However, the true test is the road test but it will be a few months until I can perform a genuine road FTP test.
One Thing I Don’t LIke
This may actually be another case of me not reading the directions, but Trainerroad makes it hard to get your data after the ride is done. I could not find a download for the file on Trainerroad and the download from Strava was incomplete. Fortunately, I have a free account with Trainingpeaks and there they provide the full data file. Training Peaks offers up the full data file but it is gzipped, so you will need to get a utility to do that (unless you are on a Mac or Linux system which both have gunzip utilities by default).
I also believe their calendar interface needs a bit of tweaking. I find it hard to navigate often overshooting the day I want to zero in on. Typically using the arrow key allows one to slowly scroll up and down but that is not the case with the calendar. I find I can only scroll by using the scroll bar (perhaps using a real mouse will help instead of the mousepad).
Trainerroad — Final Word
If you are looking for a bike training application I suggest Trainerroad. It was not too hard to setup and offers solid training plans and choice to fit your needs and schedule.