7 Ways To Make Indoor Training More Comfortable
Indoor training is a fantastic way to improve your training consistency, no matter where you live. As an avid fan of indoor training, I believe everyone with goals in cycling or triathlon should do some of their training indoors, and have that option available at all times.
One common complaint about indoor training is that riding the trainer is not comfortable. (The other major complaint is that it's boring... more on that in the next blog post). Fortunately, there are many things you can do to make your indoor training nearly as comfortable (and eventually as enjoyable) as your outdoor rides.
Here are some things you can do ranging from totally free up to those that require more investment in your trainer setup.
Wear Your BEST Bibs
It's common for people to wear old bibs or buy less expensive bibs for indoor training. We want our good-looking stuff when we're outside with our friends where looking pro matters!
That's a mistake.
The trainer is a static riding environment; you tend to move in the saddle quite a bit less, which means cheap bibs or worn chamois will cause increased discomfort in the form of chafing, saddle sores, and just plain old pressure on your butt.
The answer is to wear your BEST bibs on the trainer. Your nether regions will thank you!
It's pretty common to have bibs that work well on the trainer that you don't like as much outside. Experiment with this, but don't be afraid to wear the good stuff for your next climb up Alpe d'Zwift.
Elevate Your Front Wheel
When we ride outside, the air pressure from the relative wind we create while moving presses our bodies back and provides some support for our weight. This lessens the pressure on our hands while we ride.
Indoors, you're not moving, so you don't get that effect of the air pressure. In order to reduce the pressure on your hands and upper body, the answer is to elevate your front wheel several inches off the ground. This shifts the weight off your hands and more on your sit bones/saddle.
You can do this with a front wheel block like this one from Kurt Kinetic or this simple one. I used the Kurt Kinetic block for years because it had multiple height options so you could find what felt best to you. I liked the highest option for my indoor riding on my road bike but would drop the front end down a little bit on my time trial bike. You can also just use an old book or two under your front tire. I recommend electrical engineering textbooks because they serve no other useful purpose.
It also helps to keep your front tire properly inflated to the pressure you ride on the road. This will provide better support for the front end of your bike and provide you with a more supple and comfortable ride.
Use a High-Quality Trainer Mat (or Rubberized Floor Tiles)
Outside, your bike moves freely underneath you, even while you sit. This little bit of motion relieves constant pressure on your hands and sit bones, which makes your riding experience more comfortable outside.
Inside, there are a couple of ways to achieve this. The first and least expensive is a good, thick trainer mat or rubberized flooring tiles under your trainer setup. A good trainer mat not only protects your flooring from your trainer, bike, sweat, and dripping bottles, it also provides a little bit of "rocking" motion to your trainer and reduces vibration which can be annoying for neighbors and roommates. You can combine this with rubber "feet" on your trainer which allows the trainer to move a little bit, increasing comfort.
This is the trainer mat I have and it has lasted me six years. Rubber floor tiles common to workout areas and gyms also work well. No matter where your trainer is setup, a good trainer mat is a great investment.
Invest in Your Cooling Setup
TL;DR: check out my YouTube video on this topic!
The primary limiter to indoor performance relative to the outside is cooling. Outside, you get a tremendous amount of airflow over your entire body, which evaporates sweat and provides exceptional skin cooling.
Inside, without fans, you have little to no airflow. As you heat up and sweat, you form a "bubble" of increased heat and humidity around you, which increases your perceived exertion and limits your ability to do work. You're also not removing sweat through evaporative cooling, so your body must redirect blood flow to your skin (thus away from your muscles) in order to remove heat. This further limits your ability to do work inside.
Even if you have a climate-controlled space with air conditioning, you are still unnecessarily limiting your performance if you lack adequate airflow. IT'S ALL ABOUT AIRFLOW!
The solution? Fans. More fans. If you have one, get a second one. If you have two in front of you, consider a third one on your back. I personally run three fans, two Lasko Pro Performance blower fans in the front and to the side on my torso, and a third smaller Stanley blower fan on my back. What a difference the third fan makes... strongly recommended! (Shop around for these, prices seem to vary by $20 from time to time and vendor to vendor.)
Another option is to increase airflow in your space naturally. I train in my garage; my trainer is next to a set of doors in the back of the garage. I can crack open my garage door, open the doors next to the trainer and get crossflow which coupled with my fans makes my cooling setup exceptional.
Bottom line: If you're dripping sweat during your trainer workouts, you are unnecessarily limiting your performance!
Some people use a different bike on the trainer than they ride outside. This is certainly more convenient, but often times fits between bikes are different. If you have a dedicated "trainer bike", I recommend updating your fit specifically to riding the trainer to make it more comfortable. Ideally, this position is the same as what you ride outside, but most importantly it should be mechanically sound to prevent injury and comfortable to allow you to do quality rides indoors.
Aerodynamics are obviously unimportant inside, but you don't want a substantially different position than what you're going to ride or race outside, assuming that's your primary ride mode.
If you specialize in e-sports racing or only ride inside, then the most comfortable and upright fit that allows you to generate the most power will be advantageous to you.
Splurge on a Rocker Plate
As mentioned in the trainer mat section, subtle movement of the bike and trainer helps relieve constant pressure and makes your ride more comfortable. The next level of this movement is a rocker plate. This is a board set up on gimbles or cushioned supports which allows free movement of the bike and trainer as a unit, greatly improving the ride feel indoors. In addition to being more comfortable, this also makes it possible to do better standing efforts indoors, whereas a static trainer is challenging and can be dangerous to do standing efforts.
Rocker plates range from homemade to fairly simple side-to-side motion to fully integrated motion side-to-side and forwards and backward. I bought the Saris MP1 when it was on a super sale in 2022 and have enjoyed the added motion and comfort it provides.
If you're looking for maximum "road feel", rollers may be for you. A set of drums on which you put your complete bike, rollers allow you to ride almost exactly like you can on the road.
A word of caution, rollers have a steep learning curve and you need to invest space in your house to learn how to ride them. Many people recommend starting in a doorway, or at minimum having a wall or chair next to you so you can support yourself while you start spinning and stabilize.
There are "smart" rollers out for sale out there, but the resistance and user-friendliness still pale in comparison to modern direct-drive smart trainers like the Zwift Hub at the lower end, and the Tacx Neo 2 or Wahoo Kickr at the high end.