Good entertainment is essential for indoor training success. In fact, the right choice of entertainment can boost your motivation and reduce your perceived effort, improving the quality of your workouts and leading to bigger results. TrainerRoad intentionally keeps things flexible and leaves the choice of entertainment up to you, so what’s the best option for your next workout?
Mental Bandwidth and Cognitive Load
To help pick the right entertainment, it’s useful to understand how your brain processes information during exercise.
Have you ever noticed that as workout intensity increases, it becomes more difficult to think deeply or do simple mental tasks like math? This is an illustration of the principle of cognitive load—the idea that your brain has limited mental bandwidth. As a workout’s intensity increases, so does the amount of conscious willpower required to maintain the desired power output, and studies show mentally demanding tasks can reduce performance by occupying too much cognitive load.
On the other hand, it doesn’t take as much mental energy to endure an effort at lower intensities. But while this means it’s easier to sustain complex thoughts, it also means your mind is free to wander if not adequately stimulated, and many athletes find the resulting boredom a serious impediment to quality training. Luckily, studies show good entertainment can reduce the rate of perceived exertion during easy workouts by as much as 10%.
Different Workouts, Different Entertainment
All of this to say, ideal entertainment varies from workout to workout. Easy sessions can benefit from movies, podcasts, or even books that keep your mind occupied. As intensity increases, the cognitive load required to follow a storyline can become a hindrance, and you’re better served with simpler forms of entertainment that only require passive attention. Let’s take a closer look at the different options and consider what workouts can benefit from each.
Did You Know About Minimal Mode?
- Minimal mode in the TrainerRoad desktop app lets you easily watch full-screen movies or tv shows with your workout in a small bar along the bottom edge of your screen. Click Here to learn more.
Our Favorite Entertainment by Workout Type
Books and Magazines
Best reserved for only the easiest workouts, books and magazines can be an effective way to entertain yourself during recovery and endurance rides. In fact, TrainerRoad head coach Chad Timmerman famously likes to brush up on the latest scientific research studies while on the trainer, but we aren’t exactly sure this is a great tactic for most athletes.
If you are going to read during your workouts, we recommend using a music stand or similar device to prop up your reading materials, so you can keep your hands on the bars. This lets you maintain a natural and even weight distribution and avoid sweating all over your book. Waterproof E-Readers and tablets can be a good option too, allowing you to enlarge text and convenient to prop up on a table next to your bike.
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Internet Browsing/ Social Media
Slightly less cognitively demanding than reading a book, browsing social media and chatting with your friends can be a surprisingly effective way to pass the time during easy to moderate workouts. But while flipping through cat photos and cycling memes can be fun, sweaty fingers can make it frustrating to type, and seeing an aggravating political post or email from work can rapidly sour your mood. Proceed with caution.
If you are going to browse the internet during your next ride, take a selfie and tag @trainerroad in your Instagram story. We love resharing what our athletes are up to!
TV And Movies
For workouts below FTP, there’s nothing quite as effective as a movie or TV show to make the time pass. This can be a particularly useful tactic during base training when lots of time at relatively low intensity offers a chance to catch up on a long show such as Game of Thrones.
If you decide to watch TV or movies during your next workout, waterproof, noise-canceling wireless headphones are indispensable. Make sure your screen is straight ahead at eye level or below—many wall-mounted TVs are mounted high enough to cause a stiff neck after a long workout.
It’s also useful to realize that some movies and TV shows are more mentally demanding than others. Complex plots can be great for long endurance rides, but during Sweet Spot workouts they can be frustratingly hard to follow. Shorter programs with less complicated storylines are a better option for tougher workouts; the author of this post personally uses episodes of Seinfeld for this purpose.
As with TV shows and Movies, podcasts require you to actively devote some of your attention to follow along. But unlike TV, podcasts lack a visual component and are thus a bit less cognitively demanding. This makes them potentially suitable for more intense efforts, but it may make them less helpful during very easy rides when additional distraction is desired.
Looking for podcast recommendations? We’re a little biased, but Ask a Cycling Coach and the Successful Athletes Podcast are two of our favorites, and we frequently hear from athletes who listen during their workouts!
Few things are as motivating as watching footage of bike races when you’re training to reach a podium. This is why race videos are so useful for tough workouts—whether filmed at a pro race or the local crit, race videos get your adrenaline flowing and can help push you through hard intervals. You can listen to your own music while watching them, and unlike in a real race, there’s no penalty for looking away or zoning out. Best of all, you may even be able to find footage from your goal event, allowing you to get a feel for the course from the comfort of your own home.
Unlike other sources of entertainment, we prefer racing footage exclusively for tougher workouts. That’s because getting yourself fired up can be counterproductive during easy workouts in which the goal isn’t to push yourself, but is instead to take it easy.
If there is one entertainment option to rule all others, it’s music. From the easiest recovery workout to the most intense Anaerobic intervals, music can help pass time and motivate you to finish. It’s also incredibly easy to use to your advantage—fast music can help you push through tough intervals, and slower songs can help you quickly calm and lower your heart rate during recovery periods.
Noise-canceling headphones are a must for the best experience, and if you really want to take things to the next level you can even make a Spotify playlist specifically curated for your workout (or check out one of ours!). But even if you’re just listening to a local radio station, the effects can be profound.
Last but not least, TrainerRoad Group Workouts are a fantastic option. During easy spins, they offer a great chance to socialize and connect with your friends; during tougher workouts, the camaraderie of training with others can serve as powerful motivation. You can listen to your own music during a Group Workout, lowering the volume to chat during easier intervals and turning it up for motivation when the watts increase.
Group workouts are available on the TrainerRoad Desktop app, and you can even take your next Ramp Test with your friends. They’re fun, they’re easy to set up, and they’re incredibly useful for helping you get faster. Try a group workout today!
Watch our podcast hosts take Group Ramp Tests
- Who got the biggest bump in their FTP? Click here to find out.