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TrainerRoad training software review

20 Mar 2019

TrainerRoad is a polished training software option that provides an efficient, data-driven way to train indoors

Cyclist Rating: 
• Evidence-based strategy • Workout variety • Structured training plans
• Not as immersive as competitors

The development of interactive smart trainers has given rise to several training software that helps individuals train effectively indoors. TrainerRoad is one of the most widely used (along with Zwift and Sufferfest) and is anchored on power measurement, with which it structures interval-based workouts and broader training plans.

TrainerRoad is not limited to only those able to afford a smart trainer or power meter - it has a ‘VirtualPower’ estimate calculation - however, I found in order to get the most accurate data and therefore make most efficient use the software power measurement in some form is recommended.

Current research unequivocally suggests that progressive, structured, interval-based training is the most efficient way to improve fitness so each TrainerRoad session and plan is based around this method.

See the training software at TrainerRoad

Individual sessions can be chosen Á la carte from a database of over 1000 workouts, developed by Chad Timmerman and his team. Timmerman is a former racer and Level 1 USA Cycling coach with years of experience in structured training.

However, TrainerRoad’s main advantage is its structured workout options. The software’s database contains over 100 plans, each around 6-8 weeks in length and discipline-specific, claiming to cater for anyone: from triathletes to track-cyclists, sportive riders to GC contenders.

They also divide up to target different areas of cycling fitness. Generally speaking, there are three types of plan: base, which focuses on sub-threshold work; build, which looks to improve that threshold; and speciality, which fine-tunes certain components of fitness specific to a goal or event.

TrainerRoad gives the option to tailor each plan by volume dependent upon the individual’s time commitments and lifestyle: low (around 3-4 hours per week), medium (roughly 6-8 hours) and high (10-12 hours).

Commencing this review at the start of winter, I opted for the base plan at low volume which worked out as three sessions a week: two at one hour long and one at 90 minutes.

The first step in any TrainerRoad plan is to complete a functional threshold power test so that the software could automatically scale every workout in my plan to my personal fitness level.

TrainerRoad has multiple types of test but recommends a new addition, its ramp test. TrainerRoad’s communication director, Jonathan Lee, says that although more painful towards the end of it, generally it is easier to complete.

‘Also it doesn’t rely on pacing, which can undo more traditional tests like the 1x20 minutes and 2x8 minute protocols and lead to inaccurate reflections of an individual’s fitness level,’ he says.

The test incrementally increases the trainer’s resistance until the individual can hold the power requirement no longer. In line with TrainerRoad’s advice, I did find the test easier to complete - I found 3-4 minutes of extreme discomfort easier to manage than the 20 minutes constant discomfort I’ve been used to in previous fitness tests.

Lee says by making the test less of a source of dread, individuals are more likely to be motivated to test regularly, improving the pertinence (and therefore efficacy) of the training plans.

Once my baseline was established my plan was scaled to suit and I could view the 6-weeks worth of sessions in TrainerRoad’s calendar. There is a useful option to import the workouts into other calendars, so you can adjust workout occasions depending on your commitments.

I was unable to train in a consistent pattern so I found the ability to drag and drop workouts in a pick’n’mix fashion very useful.

Each TrainerRoad session is made up of intervals of work broken up with periods of rest and the sessions are generally 60-90 minutes in length and assigned a ‘TSS’ or ‘Training Stress Score’, dependent on difficulty. Within each plan, TSS gradually increases week-on-week, with TrainerRoad saying this progressively stimulates training adaptation.

The general pattern for the workouts I completed were intervals of 6-12 minutes at around 90% of my functional threshold power. Each workout is accompanied by a dialogue of instructional and motivational information that I found helpful to relieve the monotony of prolonged, sub-threshold efforts.

They usually pertained to pedalling form and sometimes the benefits a particular type of training was likely to achieve - no matter the subject I found them to be informative and helpful.

The end of a plan includes a deload week (workouts with low TSS) to promote recovery before the commencement of the next plan, the first ramp-test workout of which acting as a way to chart fitness improvements.

The TrainerRoad calendar provides the option to oversee and assess training history, making it visually engaging and simple to track improvements over time.

Provided you have the means to assess power on your bike, TrainerRoad is now able to estimate TSS based on the power data of outside rides too, which can then be incorporated into a rider’s plan.

I found this to be a neat feature that helped me keep in line with TrainerRoad’s plan outline - when and when not to supplement my external riding with additional trainer-based sessions.

My consistent, structured efforts over the colder months have yielded some modest results that have been tangible in my recent road-rides - I have at least maintained, if not improved, my fitness, which is an unusual position for me to find myself in at this time of year.

Further, I noticed that my improvements were generally concurrent with the type of training I completed in the base training plan - I was better able to hold consistent efforts and my average power for a given ride was closer to my normalised power value, indicating I am getting better at hold consistent levels of power, as opposed to making harder but more infrequent efforts

It is worth noting this effect could be compounded by a drop-off in anaerobic and peak power, again caused by TrainerRoad’s focus on training my aerobic power at the expense of those other two components, but generally, I think it was more of the former effect and less of the latter.

Given consistent organisation and planning, I see no reason why TrainerRoad couldn’t be employed throughout the year to supplement general riding. However the software is definitely one for the more data-hungry and less-sociable riders amongst us - its numbers-based interface is informative but the experience is less immersive than, say, riding on Zwift.

See the training software at TrainerRoad

There is also much less scope to make the experience competitive too so it is worth bearing that in mind if you want to make your indoor riding experience similar to riding outdoors.

Given the overall experience though it would wrong to end this review pointing out my perception of TrainerRoad’s few shortcomings. It can’t and shouldn’t try to be all things to all riders - by the brand focusing its efforts where it has, it has carved a clear niche for itself within the indoor training market and in my opinion is the best option out there for structured, progressive training plans.

£11 per month

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