I figured I’d hate Troy Jacobson’s indoor workout tapes. I don’t need a coach to plan my training or exhort me to greater efforts. Even though Jacobson — a cycling, running, multisports coach — has been creating Spinerval indoor workouts since 1992, I’m plenty capable of figuring out what I need to do.
Well, yes. But after suffering through several of Coach Troy’s indoor workouts, I found that I got a perverse enjoyment out of hammering along to his idea of fun. The time went faster, the workouts were well designed and the music made it easier to keep my cadence up.
I tried two of the 16 Cycling Spinervals workouts — Have Mercy and Big Gear Strength. New workouts are introduced regularly. You can also get audio tapes to use while watching anything else on TV (with the volume off) or just the sleet rattling the window.
don’t let the teaser on the box intimidate you. It says “120 minutes of suffering” and the company rates this workout a perfect 10 in degree of difficulty. But you determine how hard you want to go during any specific exercise. So the same tape can be used for a fairly mellow workout or you can crank yourself blind.
Have Mercy is two hours long, plenty of time to hurt yourself on inclement-weather weekends. it’s a real grind to finish the whole thing if you work hard. (As a general rule, an hour on the trainer is worth about 90 minutes outside because indoors there’s not nearly as much freewheeling or soft pedaling.)
This tape’s individual drills are cobbled together from previous tapes. That’s no problem except that it’s slightly jarring to have riders on trainers in an outdoor setting for one drill and in a gym for the next.
Big Gear Strength
I also tried Big Gear Strength because my racing focus these days is time trials. One-leg pedaling drills and out-of-saddle efforts predominate in this workout, which is given a 9.3 degree of difficulty.
None of the drills is more than five minutes, a drawback for time trialists, century riders and those who want to hammer at the front of club rides when spring comes.
Aren’t longer efforts a primary reason for building big-gear strength? Many coaches now advocate them. They prescribe about 20 minutes of tempo riding in a large gear at a relatively slow cadence to build strength and aerobic fitness. But such efforts are mentally taxing on an indoor trainer, so Jacobson is probably wise to avoid making people do them. After all, you can always stop this tape and insert your own 20-minute tempo segment.
For true TT devotees, Spinervals offers two other tapes, Time Trial Special and Totally Time Trial. Presumably, these will put your motor at the red line for extended stretches.
First, measuring intensity is a problem in both workouts. For riders with their bikes on indoor trainers, Jacobson suggests gear ratios. But trainer resistances differ, so a 53×15-tooth gear doesn’t always require the same effort. And a novice rider might have to work far too hard in a 53×15 while an elite rider would be merely warming up.
For riders on spinning bikes, Jacobson suggests a simplified rating of perceived exertion — setting resistance to require efforts ranging from 1 (easy) to 5 (hard). But these numbers are completely subjective. Better would be heart rate recommendations or a standard system of perceived exertion.
Second, warm-ups are short, usually five minutes. You can warm up longer, of course — and you’d better. Five minutes isn’t enough to prepare for the next effort: 3 sprints of 30 seconds each. This is a format that Jacobson uses in most workouts.
Third, that music. it’s fast-paced elevator music, generic and uninspired. It has a useful beat for fast pedaling, but U2 and the Stones are not in danger.
Despite these drawbacks, I liked riding to Jacobson’s exhortations and found his workouts to be effectively designed. If you’re stuck on your nowhere bike for several months each winter, Coach Troy may rescue you from a lengthy descent into boredom-induced madness.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.