Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gear Review: Bike Trainer DVDs: Spinervals and Carmichael Training Systems

Since I promised it in my last post, and I tried out my new DVD today, I figured I'd do the trainer DVD review. I have a pretty small collection, but hopefully this will help if anyone is looking for a good trainer workout.

Trainer DVDs are pretty useful for getting in a good bike trainer workout, since it can be difficult to push yourself on the trainer alone. It's far easier to push yourself with training partners or a coach yelling at you than solo. Even on a treadmill, you're unable to let up your effort unconsciously, something that can easily happen on a bike trainer. The bike trainer has a tendency to be somewhat boring, and things that you may do to pass the time (TV, videogames, book, etc) also cause you to dissociate and may cause you to drop the intensity. That's fine for easy days, but not so much for quality workouts. DVDs, on the other hand, force you to associate with the workout. Having the coach on the video yelling at you keeps your mind in the workout and the intensity up. Additionally, it's a structured workout with appropriate intensities and recovery, so if you're unsure of how to create a workout (or would just like some additional ideas), a trainer DVD might be a good idea.

There seem to be two major trainer DVD companies: Carmichael Training Systems and Spinervals. Carmichael Training Systems produces the Train Right series of DVDs, and is led by CTS CEO Chris Carmichael, best known as Lance Armstrong's coach, and the other CTS coaches. Spinervals is the brainchild of Coach Troy Jacobson, a former elite triathlete who is now the Head Endurance Sports Coach at Life Time Fitness and an official coach of Ironman.While there are other DVDs available (The Sufferfest and Bike-O-Vision come to mind), CTS Train Right and Spinervals seem to be the most popular companies, and they're the only DVDs I own as of now anyway.

First up, CTS Train Right:

CTS Train Right Criterium
CTS Train Right Criterium is a 60 minute trainer workout that is intended to "develop your VO2 system and improve your ability to handle the physiological demands of criterium racing." It is led by USA Cycling Coach of the Year Dean Golich. Unlike some of the later DVDs featured in this post, Criterium doesn't hurt right away. Instead, the first few repeats feel relatively easy, and the workout gets harder as it progresses and you begin to fatigue. As a runner, I tend to have trouble actually getting a VO2 max workout out of this, since cycling is not my primary sport, but the actual structure of the workout does have a lot in common with a 5K pace VO2 max track workout. Criterium gives you an effort level and recommended cadence meter and lets you determine the appropriate gear ratio. My biggest complaint about this DVD is the fact that Golich tends not to be very animated, and I generally prefer having someone yell at me while I'm on the trainer. He may be a great coach, but that's not my preferred coaching style. The music is also pretty bad, but it fades into the background and isn't really an important part of the workout.

CTS Train Right Race Simulation
CTS Train Right Race Simulation is a 60 minute trainer workout that intends to simulate race day intensities. It is led by James Herrera. This was the first trainer DVD I got (thanks Molly!) and is still one of my favorites. It's got a great warmup (the best I've seen so far), and then hits fast and hard with Power Intervals, which are super high intensity reps to build power and VO2 max. These are one of the few things that actually get me breathing (usually I just get a massive leg workout and my cardiovascular system breezes through). After that, you get hit with hill work that is meant to be a lower cadence, more muscular effort. Really, this video starts out hard and never really lets up, though I'd argue that the first half is tougher than the second half. Like Criterium, Race Simulation gives you an effort level and recommended cadence meter, and lets you determine the appropriate gear ratio. Herrera is a good workout leader, as he explains the purpose of each part of the workout and isn't afraid to yell at you. The music is kind of fun drum and bass type stuff that reflects how hard you should be working.

Now, on to Spinervals:
Spinervals 9.0 Have Mercy
Spinervals 9.0 Have Mercy is a 120 minute compilation workout of the hard intervals sets from Spinervals 1.0-8.0. This DVD is long and tough. It includes VO2 max work, lactate threshold work, hill training, cadence training, acceleration sets, and even some isometric off-the-bike squats. Depending on your strengths, you'll no doubt find some parts of the workout easier than others, but none of it is really "easy." Personally, I get somewhat of a break in the middle during the steady state training and suffer the most during the power intervals and acceleration sets. Thankfully, two hours go by faster than you'd think since the workout is broken up so well. Have Mercy gives you an effort level meter and a gearing for you to use, though as a runner with dinky runner quads, I tend to find myself sometimes modifying the gearing. Additionally, Coach Troy is a good coach to listen to, as he's upbeat and motivating. One last note: this is a pretty old-school DVD, and the music reflects it. There's some fun guitar stuff on here, but one of the recovery tunes sounds suspiciously like Kenny G, and several of the songs sound like they're out of 90's Sonic the Hedgehog video games. The music may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on whether it'll amuse you or annoy you. For the most part, I kind of like it (other than Kenny G, which just sort of sucks).

Spinervals 27.0 Threshold Test & Suffer Fest
Spinervals 27.0 Threshold Test & Suffer Fest is a 60 minute trainer workout described as "a great threshold building workout designed to boost your anaerobic threshold and sustainable power output for time trialing events including triathlons, this workout also functions as a repeatable 'field test' used by many prominent coaches and exercise physiologists to determine an athletes 'Functional Threshold', or that output of work (power) one can sustain on average over a 20 minute period." This is basically a tempo run on the bike trainer that you can use to test your lactate threshold. Jack Daniels describes a tempo run as a 20 minute workout at your LT pace, which is pretty much how I treated this workout. Additionally, there are some high intensity repeats before and after the 20 minute set. This workout is probably more useful with a power meter and heart rate monitor (I went solely on speed and cadence, and occasionally checked my heart rate manually during recovery). Threshold Test gives you an effort level meter and a recommended gear ratio range, though I adapted the gearing to get what I wanted out of the workout. Coach Troy is great on this DVD and keeps you focused through the long interval (actually to the point that I didn't notice the music at all, so I can't give you a report on it, other than it apparently faded into the background). I would also like to attempt this DVD without the high intensity stuff and repeating the 20 minute tempo twice at some point, to better simulate a running tempo run that I would perform on the road.


  1. Becki,

    I wanted to apologize for not following up with you after posting on my blog a while ago. I have an old VETTA training that I bought twenty years ago. It still works. I was cross-training with it in bad weather in the winters. I'd like to restart those workouts, but I need motivation. I also need to fix the wheel on the bike I put on the training. That new MACHINE looks nice and it helps to have some training videos too.

    When your next road race?


  2. Oops. I reread some of your earlier posts and it reminded me that you've been injured. I hope the new trainer helps a lot. I'm sure you'll be back on track before too long.

  3. Hi Ken. A DVD is definitely good for motivation, because it's a lot tougher to get motivated on a trainer in the basement than out on the road or track. I think it's a matter of finding a DVD with an instructor who matches your personal coaching style, and then figuring out what workouts he has that target the system you want to work. Beyond that, a bike computer (preferably with cadence) and/or a heart rate monitor is about all you need. A power meter might be nice if you have the money, but I've been doing find without one.


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