Here is a great question that comes up from time to time on many forums and blogs.
“Should trainer miles count?”
Here is where it get’s fun. My initial response was “Gang, Miles are Miles.” Then the conversation really picked up steam. I stayed out of it because I have a very strong opinion about logging data and reporting on data especially when it has to do with cycling performance. So I thought I would think it over a couple of days before responding.
First thing first, what is a mile? A mile is nothing more than a unit of measurement of how far one has traveled. One of the argument’s posed was that since you were not going from point A to point B then the miles should not count! While the bike maybe locked in or rolling along on a set of rollers you are still putting in miles. The wheel turns, the sensor picks up each revolution of the wheel and the sensors data is sent to a bike computer in real time and potentially stored for later retrieval and analysis regardless if you are on the road or trainer.
I train both competitive and recreational cyclists that want to make big improvements in their fitness so that they can reach their cycling and fitness goals. I schedule similar workouts for both groups of athletes. Some of these workouts should be done on the road and some should be done only on a trainer.
Not all miles are created equal…
I will relent on one aspect of this debate. All miles are not created equal. When riding on the open road you should be more alert, using lots of smaller muscles to balance your self, shifting body position and dealing with weather, various distractions and obstacles. While locked in on a trainer you should be even more focused on form, breathing and work intervals. While training on rollers focus must be heightened along with form and cadence.
So will any cyclist see less of an improvement by putting in the same amount miles on a trainer vs. the road? Absolutely not! There are so many factors to take into consideration that it can make your head spin. I already mentioned things like terrain, weather and obstacles but the big gotcha is repeatability and control. We as cyclists have very little control over the many factors when training and riding out doors. Sometimes this will lead to a very positive training result but it can also lead to negative training results and injury depending on the required training.
For instance there are work outs that I have athletes do that require several back to back all out efforts, technique drills and training that require long sustained efforts. These workouts in most cases should only be done in a safe and controlled environment. I also coach athletes that live in cities where they cannot find a road with out traffic lights or they have so many hills or no hills. This means one thing; we must simulate real life conditions into their trainer sessions.
I will say that no one should ever think that a top performance completed on rollers or trainer will ever be translated to the open road. If I can average 30 MPH on a set of rollers for 30-60 minutes this will not translate into a 30 MPH average on a 20K or 40K Time Trial outdoors. Depending on road terrain and weather conditions I would be impressed if the same athlete held better than 23 MPH average during a Time Trial.
So why even bother with a trainer or rollers if the results will not be the same?
Back to the same response as before: Athletes today need the flexibility to train when and where they want and as often as they want. This is where the trainer comes in. In the case of an athlete who doesn’t have the right road’s available to them to work on their climbing or time trialing then we must move them indoors.
I also saw where many of the cyclists responding to this question were stating that they kept their trainer miles separate from their road miles. This is fine I guess but while I have shown that there is a difference I don’t see the purpose of doing this. While I do make demands of my athletes to log every performance detail they can I am also a realist. There is only so much time in the day to log miles.
Have a great ride indoors or outdoors,