5 Tips for Setting Up an Effective Indoor Cycling Space

By Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach

Though we live for riding outdoors with the warm sun on our backs, at some point in the year we each find ourselves an indoor trainer in the basement, garage, or spare room. There’s no doubt you’re better off riding than sitting on the couch until the weather improves, but to maximize the benefits of your trainer time, it’s important to properly set up your indoor training space.

Step 1: Claim your space

I’ve noticed personally, and professionally as a coach, that people are more likely to get on the trainer when the environment is inviting and convenient. That means you should try to find a space where you can leave the majority of your indoor training equipment set up and ready to go at a moment’s notice. If you have to drag the trainer, TV, and bike from all over the house every time you want to ride, you’re not going to bother.

Step 2: Gather your gear

There are a few key items that make indoor training more comfortable, effective, and even enjoyable:

  1. Stationary cycling trainer (Kinetic Road Machine is my first choice)
  2. Front wheel block. Preferably, get one that allows for multiple wheel heights.
  3. Phone book. For some workouts, you may want to simulate your climbing position on the bike by raising the front wheel even higher. And you can call in your delivery order during a recovery period.
  4. Fan. One will work, two is even better.
  5. Entertainment device. Variations include a TV, VCR, DVD player, laptop, stereo, iPod, smartphone.
  6. Bar Stool. Perfect place to put the remote where you can still reach it.
  7. Towels. One small one for wiping your face, one bigger one to catch dripping sweat.
  8. Bicycle. The rest of the gear won’t do you much good without it. Make sure to put two full bottles in the cages.

Step 3: Evaluate the space

Putting your rear wheel in the trainer, your front wheel on the wheel block, and a towel under the space in between covers the basic necessities, but if you stop there indoor training is about as exciting as watching snow melt. To set up the most effective and inviting area, consider the space. You want some room in front of you to accommodate the TV and fan without leaving you feeling cramped or claustrophobic. You can do this, even in a small room, by putting your rear wheel pretty close to the wall.

Step 4: Set up your entertainment

Most people set their trainer up facing a screen so they can view training videos, television shows, sporting events, or footage of the Tour de France and other races. One key to riding in comfort and simulating your outdoor riding position is to position the screen low and at least six feet in front of your front wheel. If you're using a TV, that often means taking it off a stand, which allows you to watch while keeping your head, neck, and shoulders in the position you normally use outside. This is sometimes easier to accomplish using a tablet or laptop rather than a full-sized TV.

Place the bar stool next to your bike so you have a convenient place to put the remote control, an additional water bottle, and/or the towel you’re using to wipe your face.

Step 5: Crank up the fans

When you ride an indoor trainer in still air, even in a cool or cold room, you superheat a pocket of air immediately surrounding your body and then struggle to keep cool. Moving air is crucial for evaporating the sweat off your body and controlling core temperature; if you’re too hot, your performance suffers and you’re less likely to complete your workout.

If you’re using one fan, place it in front of you and off to the side at about the 10-11 or 1-2 o’clock positions. You want to direct the air so it flows over as much of your skin as possible, and from these positions you can get moving air on your face, chest, arms, shoulders, and legs. If you have a second fan, position it behind you so it’s blowing on your back; the big area not being hit from the fan in front.

More indoor trainer tips:

  1. Close the heater vents. When you’re in there generating a lot of heat and using fans to keep you cool, there’s nothing worse than having the furnace flood the room with more hot air.
  2. Don’t forget about the drops. If you live in a snowbound area where you’ll be riding the trainer for months at a time, remember to spend some time doing intervals in the drops. If you want to be able to ride powerfully in this position outdoors next spring, you have to spend some time riding in that position now.
  3. Crack a window. Some cold air from outside will help keep the room and your body cooler while you’re training.
  4. Consider wireless headphones. If you’re training at night, early in the morning, or in a house with thin walls, you can avoid cranking the volume on your TV by getting some wireless headphones. Then all your family will hear is the trainer… and your agony.
  5. Level the bike. Unless you’re purposely elevating your front wheel to simulate a climbing position, your bike should be level when it’s on the trainer. With a standard frame, you can check by putting a level on the top tube. With compact frames (sloping top tube), you can measure to make sure both hubs are equidistant from the floor. You should only have to do this once, as long as you’re able to leave the trainer and wheel block in place until your next indoor trainer ride.

Jim Rutberg is a Pro Coach for Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. (CTS) and co-author of several books with Chris Carmichael, including "The Time-Crunched Cyclist, 2nd Ed." and "The Time-Crunched Triathlete".

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