Bike Trainer Workouts for Every Distance

By Mackenzie L. Havey

Mackenzie L. Havey

Bike Trainer Workouts for Every Distance

By Mackenzie L. Havey

Regardless of your climate circumstances and the race for which you’re aiming, spending some time in the saddle on the trainer will boost fitness and keep you focused.

“The trainer is not only a great substitute for riding outdoors, there are many times it is actually more effective for specific training than riding on the roads,” explains Coach Ken Welsh of Midwest Triathlon Coaching in Kansas City. “Since you can control your environment, you’re able to meet the goals of a workout much more closely than if you’re on the roads.”

For some triathletes, being able to hop on the trainer surrounded by the comforts of home is a nice change of pace. Most coaches recommend putting in a training DVD or past footage of races to keep you moving through the workout. “I like using motivating videos like old Tour de France coverage or last year’s NBC IRONMAN broadcast,” Welsh says. For hard workouts in particular, be sure what you are watching or listening to is upbeat and gets you pumped to ride, rather than distracting you. Figure out what helps to engage you in the task at hand and you’ll find time flies by.

Next time you get on the trainer, consider these workouts from USA Triathlon Certified Coaches. Notice that the intensities are expressed either by level of difficulty (easy, moderate, hard, all-out) and in revolutions per minute. RPMs give you a cadence at which to pedal and “easy,” “moderate,” “hard” and “all-out” signify load. The harder the workout is, the more load you are prescribed to handle, while maintaining adequate RPMs. For instance, when you are alternating between “hard” and “easy,” your load should change between those intervals. Try one or all of these workouts tailor-made for each triathlon distance.

Sprint Distance

Coach Carrie Slavinski of Brielle Performance Center in New Jersey: “This workout can be used as a ‘time trial’ at the beginning of your season to help you set your goals.  It also can be used as a gauge to see if your workouts are paying off and can be done about every 6 weeks to assess fitness and progress.”

  • Warm up for 15 minutes
  • Main set:
  • 20 minutes all-out
  • 5 minutes easy
  • 20 minutes all-out
  • 5 minutes easy
  • Cool down for 10 minutes

Olympic Distance

Coach Kathy Alfino, co-owner of Mile High Multisport, LLC in Highlands Ranch, Colo.: “This is one of my favorite workouts for athletes who suddenly find their time is limited. The main set is typically 20 minutes, but the beauty of it is you can really do whatever you have time for.”

  • Warm up for 10 minutes
  • Isolated leg drills: 60 seconds x 2 on each leg. Using a single leg, this should be difficult, but also smooth.
  • Main Set:
    • Super Spins: Alternate between 30 seconds hard and 30 seconds easy
    • Continue for 20 minutes. As you get stronger, increase the time.
    • Cool down for 5 minutes, moving from moderate intensity to easy.


Coach Christopher Schwartz of Northwoods Endurance, LLC in Laurium, Mich.: “I give this workout to my own athletes. It’s flexible so you can add or shorten some of the times to make for a longer or shorter workout.”

  • Warm up for 15 minutes
  • 5 minutes easy
  • 5 minutes moderate intensity
  • 5 minutes easy
  • Main Set 1 (Repeat twice)
    • 5 minutes easy working up to moderate intensity
    • 1 minute right leg only, maintaining a smooth, high cadence
    • 1 minute left leg only, maintaining a smooth, high cadence
    • 3 minutes easy
  • Main Set 2 (Repeat twice)
    • 5 minutes at moderate intensity
    • 1 minute at 85-90 RPMs
    • 1 minute easy
    • 1minute at 85-90 RPMs
    • 2 minutes easy
  • Cool down for 10 minutes easy

IRONMAN Distance

Coach Sally Drake of TrainingBible Coaching in Valley Park, Mo.: “For this leg strength session, warm up on the bike easy in Zone 1 or do an easy run and then spin. If you want a bonus, add a set of push-ups before the lunges.”

  • Warm up: Run easy for 20-30 minutes, spin 10 minutes
  • Main Set (Repeat 4-6 times)
    • 2 minutes gradually building to the highest load you can sustain at 70 RPMs
    • 1 minute easy
    • 2 minutes hard at 70 RPMs
    • 1 minute easy
    • 1 minute hard at 70 RPMs
    • 1 minute easy Get off bike and do walking lunges for 1 minute
    • 3 minutes easy spin
  • Cool down 10 minutes

About the Author

Mackenzie L. Havey

Mackenzie L. Havey is an IRONMAN triathlete, marathoner and author of the forthcoming book, "Mindful Running" (Bloomsbury Publishing, October 2017). She writes about endurance sports, fitness and outdoor adventure for a variety of publications, including Runner’s World, Triathlete, SELF,, OutsideOnline and Learn more at