While I recently said that I haven’t spent a lot of time outdoors riding, I’ve still managed to keep a fairly regular schedule of riding indoors. Two or three visits a week into the pain cave, in various doses of intensity, length, or interval variation, have kept my cycling fitness relatively safe…and they’re always at least 20 minutes long, with most sessions in the 40-minute and 60-minute range on average.
I understand that for many people, spinning the cranks and sweating away profusely while going precisely 0 km/h is not exactly a good idea of “fun.” It does take a certain level of commitment (and perhaps a taste for masochism?) to commit to riding the turbo trainer regularly, but it all boils down to meaningful gains.
With recent circumstances drastically reducing my outdoor riding time, how on earth am I going to measure what sort of fitness gains I made whilst on the turbo trainer?
Simple: join another sport.
Perhaps this is news to most of my readers, but I am also an amateur badminton player. I’m no prodigy, but I have been playing since 2004 – albeit on and off. After two years off the court, during which I concentrated on cycling, I started whacking shuttlecocks again in November 2017. I’m currently in a doubles badminton tournament held by my office, where my partner and I have done well enough to land somewhere within the top four teams.
As far as contrasts go, I doubt you could do better than with badminton and cycling. Biomechanically speaking, road cycling is a very repetitive activity, one where your legs usually just move in one dimension. The rest of your body generally stays locked in position on the bike, which frees you from fighting the effects of gravity to support yourself.
Badminton, on the other hand, is a combination of footwork, explosive accelerations and decelerations, and controlled arm flailing, as you whack or bunt a shuttlecock in a number of ways using your racket. The high flight speeds and abrupt direction changes of a rally require you to cover as much of your side of the court within two or three strides, as you return the shuttlecock to your opponent’s court. This greatly works muscles road cycling would never bother with, such as the leg adductors and abductors in your groin and hips, which are responsible for opening and closing your legs sideways.
Given that the rest of your body can handle the demands of the game, badminton also rewards players with a big aerobic engine. Fortunately, all that time pedaling away on the turbo trainer paid off in that department. In all my olden days of playing badminton, I was susceptible to getting winded quite easily, even when I combined it with running (which I never really embraced all that much). Now, though, I could probably credit quite a bit of my showing at the tournament to good cardiovascular conditioning, which backs up my decent-if-incomplete skill set with a racket.
The operative phrase, however, is “given the rest of your body can handle” the game. Maybe it’s the seriousness of playing the elimination games of the tournament, or maybe it’s age catching up with me, but overuse of my forehand smash shot as my go-to weapon has rendered my right shoulder a continually sore joint. It takes most of the week to heal up to a somewhat decent state…only to get abused yet again come Friday afternoon in a vicious cycle. In that respect, recovering from bouts in the turbo trainer/pain cave is much quicker and takes way less actual post-activity pain tolerance!