Turbo training: how to avoid making 9 common mistakes

Matt Sanderson, co-founder of Triathlon Coaching UK, explains how to avoid 9 common mistakes triathletes often make when turbo training....

Triathlete on a turbo trainer

1. Having no plan


When you head out on the road you’ll (hopefully!) have prepared a route, and you’ll know what pace you need to be riding at to fulfill that particular training session, be it a hilly endurance or a ride with specific intervals as part of the main set.

The same should apply to a turbo set. Make sure you set yourself a plan before you get on the turbo as often an athlete without a set plan is one that will cut the session short, or end up spending time neither working easy enough or hard enough, but somewhere in the middle. Time is precious as a triathlete, so make the most of every session.

2. Don’t use your road tyres on the turbo

Don’t be tempted to use the turbo to test your new set of race wheels and tyres; road tyres have less grip and will wear out very quickly if used on the turbo. Specific trainer tyres designed only for indoor use are essential, so invest in a pair and save your best kit for race day.

3. Don’t go all out – all the time

Many athletes think that a turbo session has to be made up of high intensity intervals or performed at threshold otherwise it’s not worth bothering. High intensity sessions are obviously going to benefit you by improving your strength and power, but once or twice a week is more than enough. Mix them up with purely aerobic sessions or run the risk of burning out or peaking too soon.

Try Matt’s 50mins high cadence turbo session

4. Not getting aero often enough

Just because you’re on the turbo doesn’t mean you can’t practise your race day pacing and position on the bike. Setting up your race bike (but not using your race wheels!) on the turbo is ideal for getting your body used to the different position you will adopt during a race. If you are planning on using clip-on aero bars or you have a TT bike, you need to be spending time on this bike in this position every week in the lead up to the season starting and throughout it.

For those planning to race on flat courses but live in hilly areas of the country the turbo is a really useful tool for holding the aero posture over a sustained period of time.

5. Wasting money on outdated or cheap kit

If you’re new to turbo training choosing a trainer can be a bit baffling. Cheaper, older spec trainers often aren’t worth the money. The turbo needs to have the capability to add enough resistance to make the sessions effective. During the winter months you’re potentially going to be spending several hours on the turbo trainer so choose wisely – look to pay £250+ for a basic, smart trainer and, if money’s no object, over £1,000 for an all-singing and dancing model.

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How to choose a turbo trainer

6. Boredom

Over the years I’ve lost count of how many people have told me they’ve ‘sacked off’ turbo sessions simply because they got bored. Getting bored is never an option if you’re out on the road, but it is a distinct possibility during a two-hour plus turbo session. Combat this by keeping yourself focused and motivated by listening to an audio book or compiling an energy boosting playlist, signing up to Zwift or, for low intensity endurance sessions, catching up on a box set of your favourite TV show.

7. Being a noisy neighbour

Turbo trainers can be pretty noisy so spare a thought for those around you when you decide on a place to set up your turbo. If you’re lucky enough to have a garage, head out there, and everyone should be happy, but you’ll need to keep the door open which brings me to this next mistake…

8. Overheating

Wherever you pitch up your turbo, always make sure there is adequate ventilation. After a brisk 10-minute warm-up chances are you’ll have built up a sweat and you’re only going to get warmer. Overheating will ruin your session so set up a fan or open the windows before your start; and if you set up in the garden – remember your sunscreen.

9. Not fuelling or hydrating

You must hydrate before, during and after every training session and the turbo is no exception. Making sure you’re well hydrated before you exercise will improve your performance, and you must replace all that sweat you lose during the session so always have at least one bottle within reach.

If you’re going longer, you may want to refuel with some flapjack or a banana or whichever food you’d eat on race day. Store them in your back pockets and practise taking them out and eating them while on the move so you’re a pro at doing so come race day.

Click here to read Matt’s 50mins high cadence turbo session

Matt Sanderson is a BTF Level 3 coach, NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist, Corrective Exercise Specialist, Sports Massage Therapist, Level 4 Personal Trainer and the co -founder of Triathlon Coaching UK (TCUK)


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Stay seated, stay focused and stay smooth with your pedal stroke during this high cadence set. Start with a low/moderate resistance for the first set. Increase the resistance slightly at the start of the second set and hold it there for the remainder of the main set. This session should challenge you more each set.

Warm up 10 minutes

1min at 80rpm, 1min at 85rpm, 1min at 90rpm, 1min at 95rpm, 1min at 100rpm, 1min at 80rpm, 6sec rev out – (spin your legs as fast as you can), 54sec 85-90rpm, 6sec rev out, 54sec at 85-90rpm, 2min at 80rpm

Main set 30 minutes

5 x 6 minutes each broken as:

1 min 40 sec at 90-95rpm, 20 sec at 110-120rpm,

1 min 40 sec at 95-100rpm, 20 sec at 110-120rpm

1 min 40 sec at 100-105rpm, 20 sec at 110-120rpm

Repeat 5 times using the 90-95rpm set as the ‘active recovery’.


Cool-down 10 minutes easy spin

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