I am a fan of TrainerRoad. There, I have said it. Until last month I had never actually used the product, but:
- I had listened to the podcasts and I liked how the people who ran it seemed like genuine guys who cared.
- Although I did not agree with all their training methodology, I did see how it can be beneficial to a lot of athletes – specifically those who are time-crunched and people just getting into cycling.
- I knew of a lot of friends and club mate who had had great results using TrainerRoad.
After moving house last year, I managed to pull together my first proper indoor setup. A converted garage, plus a Wahoo Kickr and my old cyclocross bike set me up nicely for some structured training indoors.
I started training back in April (after an accident meant I couldn’t train for a few months) and I spent the first few months just doing unstructured training and smashing it on the nearby roads and hills. Doing that I managed to get my FTP from a ramp test implied 232w or 2.9w/kg to 318w or 4.3w/kg (318w and 4.3w/kg is the highest “official” FTP I have had, although I think I was much fitter in the 2019 season when I finished top 30 in RideLondon).
I ended this period of training by doing Kingston Wheelers Hill Climb on Leith Hill where I PB’ed on the hill and did my best power for both 4 minutes and 30 second, although I definitely chickened out in the middle of the race…
All of this brings us to the second week of September 2022, when I decided to sign up to TrainerRoad and give their 30 day money back guarantee a try. 20 dollars a month is not a lot to pay to add some structure to my training and maximize my potential performance given how much my “equivalent” hourly rate really is and the number of hours I spend training each month.
I really wanted to give their recommended training programme and their AI algorithms a try. So I signed up, entered my “A race” two races on 9th of October; namely Catford and Bec hill climbs. I entered them as “gravity” type races (according to https://www.trainerroad.com/forum/t/uk-hill-climbs-in-plan-builder/32477/2), followed TrainerRoad recommendation of high volume plan, and asked it to do its magic.
For people who don’t know Catford and Bec hill climbs take around 2 minutes each, so they are short sharp anaerobic/VO2 max efforts. Although you could argue 30 days is not enough for any “real endurance gains”, when the races are this short, I really expected some solid gains, especially combined with a taper.
I also sprinkled a couple of other races into the mix, including Brighton Mitre 5 min and 9 min hill climbs on the 8th October and Kings Cup Gravel race a couple of weeks before. The platform recommended 2 weeks of build and 2 weeks of speciality. It looked pretty hard with a lot of long interval sessions, some adding to 2 hours in length. It also included a “taper” to really enable me to peak for the races.
I had high hopes – I knew I couldn’t make a huge amount of gains around my 60 minute power in 4 weeks, but I really thought that so many intervals in 4 weeks are bound to sharpen up my top end, and I am guaranteed some power PB’s in my races or in the run up to them.
Actual Training Period
I have a fair bit of experience about training and recovery – having gone through the OUBC training plan, I roughly what it usually takes to become a good endurance athlete, so I am always “planning and optimising” – have I done enough quality this week? Should I do more Z1/Z2?
So it was great to switch my brain off, and just follow what the plan told me. It reduced my stress, and freed up a lot of brain power. I woke up, looked at my Wattson Blue score. If all was well, I would proceed as planned, and if my score was very low (anything in red or very low amber), I would try and move the session around to another day.
I tried to commit as much as possible to the plan – I accepted all but 1 of the adaptation recommendations and I think I “missed” or “moved around” maybe 2 or 3 sessions (correct me if I am wrong TrainerRoad). I also cut one session short to give myself more recovery for Kings Cup Gravel Race.
Overall, looking back, I found the sessions reasonably easy – I mean there is nothing easy about doing 2 hours on the trainer, and I had to work hard for a lot of the sessions, but I don’t think any of the sessions were very hard – I scored most of the sessions as moderate to hard.
I sometimes increased the intensity above the 100% level, by maybe 2-5%, but I never felt the need to reduce the intensity to get through the sessions.
Well – it wasn’t what I expected. In short I wouldn’t say it worked. I finished were I really expected to, i.e. nothing magical really happened thanks to TrainerRoad which wouldn’t have happened with my own training. I had 4 races in one weekend – I was way off my expected power for the first 3 races. The final race was slightly better but still no magic.
I did produce some power PB’s or got close to my all time best:
- Best 6 minute power up Box Hill week before my A race.
- 1 watt off my best 5 minute power, again up Box Hill (in the same effort)
- 8 watts off my best 2 minute power at Bec Hill Climb (4th race of the weekend)
However, put these into perspective with the fact that I did my best 4:30 power back on Leith Hill before the plan, and my best 30 second power a couple of weeks before that, and they start to look less interesting.
So how much of the performance can I actually credit to TrainerRoad? I am not sure – it certainly didn’t make me slower, but I don’t think it made me faster.
So what happened?
I probably made a couple of mistake that I should have known about – I overestimated the TSS from the Kings Cup Gravel race and under-estimated the TSS from warm up, etc around the races, but I would be very surprised if a couple of things like that impacted the plan significantly. I also went into the Ramp Test maybe slightly fatigued and so the FTP estimate was probably 7-10 watts too low, but again TrainerRoad had all my sessions from Strava – I don’t accept that as an excuse really.
I honestly think the sessions were just not hard enough – even though they were long, the intensity was not there despite the volume (until TrainerRoad, I dont think I had ever spent more than 70 minutes on the Trainer).
Even though the focus was on VO2max, I think a lot of the actual training was just below threshold – it just was not taxing enough. Also the regular 5-10 minutes recovery at 125 watts felt just too easy, and I couldn’t see how I could skip/reduce them mid-session.
Isn’t that the whole point? Don’t go too hard so that you can train the next day?
Yes! That’s what I thought – I completely trusted the programme, and so believed that was the plan – hit me hard, but not too hard, and I will respond by the end of the plan. But, I don’t think it worked.
What do other users think?
I chatted to a few friends and club mates who have been using TrainerRoad way longer than I have to find out what they think – here is some of the feedback I heard:
- “30 days is just not enough” – then why are you offering a 30 day money back guarantee, TrainerRoad? If a lot of your athletes think you need more time to see any gains, then what is the actual point? I genuinely feel the opportunity lost from not doing my own training.
- “30 days probably only works for people without any prior structure or consistency” – I definitely agree with that now given my experience!
- “The high volume plan seems too conservative” – again, an odd statement stated by several athletes – I am used to 8-10 hours of training a week, and regularly go to 15-16 hours, and obviously you had all my training for the past few years from Strava, so I am unclear why the high volume plan would be conservative.
- “I generally find I have to swap some of the sessions for stretch or breakthrough alternatives” – that’s weird – I wish it told me that before I started a session – “if you feel good, we suggest you do this session at 105% or we suggest this alternative”. I wanted to commit as much as possible to the plan and so on I felt doing so was going against the plan – clearly not how other TrainerRoad athletes see it.
- “I suggest doing low or mid volume and then adding your own sessions” – again this misses the point of committing to the plan.
- “TrainerRoad is good for getting you to do the work” – one of the team mates who is an insanely strong road racer suggested he doesn’t necessarily have higher FTP thanks to TrainerRoad, but he can hold a higher % of FTP for longer thanks to it. This sounds like TrainerRoad might really not be a good idea for the UK Hill Climbing scene.
I wish I had chatted to them beforehand!!
Would you still recommend TrainerRoad?
Yes, 100%. But 30 days is just not enough.
TrainerRoad, stop it with the 30 day money back guarantee, it just doesn’t make any sense for a lot of athletes that could benefit from your platform.
I am still hoping to do the National Hill Climb Championship at the end of October, but I am going to do my own sessions because I don’t trust TrainerRoad not to just drag its, and my feet along. I am going to get a bit of help from Tom Bell’s hill climb handbook (https://www.highnorth.co.uk/store/p/hill-climb-handbook) in the meantime.
I will probably come back to TrainerRoad in the new year, after I take my regular 2-3 months off the bike but follow the recommendations below.
Any final thoughts?
If you want to get faster by doing structured training, sign up to TrainerRoad, but:
- Do it for more than 30 days before you see the benefits, specially if you are experienced.
- Do it because it removes some of the stress from the planning.
- Don’t do the High Volume plan – do low/mid volume, and then do some of your own extra sessions as you see fit.
- On days you feel good (high Wattson Blue score), swap out the planned session for a stretch or breakthrough session.
- On days when you feel fatigued (low Wattson Blue score), move things around so you have a lower intensity session or a rest day.
- Oh, and listen to the TrainerRoad podcasts, they are awesome.
So it’s not quite a “tell me what to do” training plan, but it’s pretty close. Oh, and the app only crashed on me once, which is impressive to say the least.
10 October 2022
P.s. TrainerRoad, I wish you pulled in HRV and subjective metrics into the platform as an added dimension. I think it would have caught my lack of responsiveness to the training stimulus – happy to help there, do message me!