For some of us, having a trainer at home is ideal. But is it the best option for everyone? We’re all different, so I’ve taken a look at the pro’s and con’s of trainers versus spin classes to help you figure out which is right for you this winter.
We all saw Mike’s recent article about his new love affair with Zwift, and the same romance is true for a lot of cyclists all around the world. My Strava feed is full of friends’ rides around Watopia or London or god knows where else.
Trainers obviously aren’t what they used to be. The new breed of smart trainers, headlined by the Wahoo Kickr and the Tacx Neo, turn a solo pain session into a social and competitive activity. There’s no more stuffing around with dials to change resistance or estimating your wattage based on a power curve, as smart trainers (especially when linked to software like Zwift) mimic real-world gradients and efforts, displaying your wattage, speed, cadence, and other info on your laptop screen in real-time.
You can join a group ride with the pro’s, organise a ride with your mates, or even try out for a World Tour spot, all from the comfort of your garage (or spare room, or lounge room, depending on how understanding your partner is!).
You can jump on whenever it suits you; perfect for people with hectic schedules or busy family lives. Looking after the kids tonight? Throw on a dvd to keep them entertained (I suggest Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist) and you’ll get some quality trainer time in. Need to be at work at 7am? Easy, make some cold brew the night before, and be ready to jump on the trainer at 5am.
The point here is that a trainer offers you the ultimate in versatility. You can train how you want, when you want, where you want. You can do your own specific sessions without worrying about what other people want to do.
This all sounds great. But it reminds me of something I head a few years ago about people who buy home gyms. They never end up using them because when you’re home you inevitably get distracted by TV, your partner, cooking dinner, feeding the chickens, and other tasks.
For a top of the line smart trainer you’re looking at the $1,200+ mark, as well as small monthly subscription fees for programs like Zwift. You can pick up basic smart trainers for around $700.
So what’s the other option for people that struggle with the drive to train at home? Introducing the spin class.
Spin classes aren’t what they used to be either, and they’re nothing like the RPM class your local gym offers. Melbourne alone has a number of brilliant facilities owned and run by cyclists. In the west there’s Art of Cycling, the north has The Spin Room, and the inner-east has my go-to, Cycle Collective. All of these studios use power to measure effort and to run the class, so you’re going to be on a Wattbike or similar, and yes you clip in and wear kit.
So what’s a spin class like in 2017? Typically each studio offers different types of class; hills, speed, all-round, and more. Generally 45 minutes to an hour long, you will work through different power zones based on your ability and fitness. Everyone in the class will be doing the same zones, but those zones will be different based on your grade (i.e. a zone 3 for level B might be 185-220 watts, but for A it might be 220-250 watts). To simulate climbs you’ll lower your cadence while maintaining a certain power zone.
The advantages of going to spin class? There’s no slacking off. Once you’re there, you’re there until the end. You’ve got a teacher designing the session and pushing you, so all you have to do is stare at your screen and make sure you hit your zones. You’re in a class with other people, so you can feed off that energy of everyone suffering together.
Some studios like Cycle Collective even have screens in the room that display the numbers for each bike, so you can see where you rank in the room. This is great if you’re training with a group of mates or if you just like to compete against the guy across the room that you’ve been judging since he walked in. (Oh, and for those wondering like I was about uploading to Strava? Yes, just take your Garmin in and sync it to the power meter on the bike and you can still get that all important Kudos!)
The obvious drawback is the class timetable and the fact you can’t just train whenever you like. Most studios are fairly affordable, with packages around $200 per month being a great investment into maintaining your winter fitness. Think about the cash you spend over winter on cleaning products for your bike, new tubes and tyres, and cold and flu tablets!
I asked NRS rider Kate Perry (also an instructor at Cycle Collective and high performance coach at FTP Coaching) for her thoughts on each training method.
“The great thing about where technology is taking cycling is that the possibilities are endless. The concept of sitting on a stationary bike is far less daunting than it used to be. Having spent too many hours to count on an indoor trainer, I have recently been introduced to the land of Zwift also! A skeptic at first, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the time passed!
I’m definitely not one to race all the other Zwifters, but replicating what would traditionally have been a handwritten interval session into Zwift using my Lemond and Power Meter means that I am chasing the numbers on the screen, rather than staring at my Garmin interface. Squeezing that little bit extra out of the last 5 seconds is a little easier when there is a carrot to chase!
As much as these programs are breaking down isolating barriers of training in your own home, there is still nothing quite like a group training session though. Having been instructing indoor cycling classes now for over a year at CC, I still find the classes super rewarding, and I’m the instructor! There is a real sense of community at CC, and I love how hard my class goers push themselves, whether the incentive is beating their own numbers, or trying to outsprint the guy on the other side of the room, everyone turns up for their own reason.
The great thing about these classes is that you have to pre-book, holding you accountable when that alarm goes off, with you less likely to push the snooze button! This includes myself! There is something contagious about being with a group of motivated individuals who turn up each week in the darkness of the early morning, to get a head start on their day. That is a feeling you definitely cannot replace, regardless of how whizz bang your trainer set-up is.”
So whether you’re training for cyclocross season, winter road racing, or simply trying to avoid losing your fitness over the wetter months, there is a training method to suit you; no excuses!