Thursday, January 1, 2015

Pain Cave Setup with Wahoo Kickr and Trainer Road

In general, I'm an outdoor cat. I struggle with working out inside and will venture out even if the weather is marginal rather than roll along the miles on the treadmill or trainer.

But with all the indoor training technology that's available now, it almost becomes fun to work out indoors in what we call the 'Pain Cave'.

Two key technology upgrades are a powerful floor fan and a big screen TV in front of you. These alone can make the time on the trainer roll by a bit faster, and both are reasonably priced upgrades. Toss in an AppleTV (or FireTV) and you can now stream Netflix and other movies without having to route a cable to the room. If you're going to stream video, I highly recommend a decent wireless router (one that will push 5Ghz) and an upgrade to your Internet bandwidth.

But my latest upgrade this year is the addition of a Wahoo Kickr and an online subscription to Trainer Road.

If you're not familiar with the Wahoo Kickr, you need to check it out. It's a power based trainer that will transmit either Bluetooth or ANT+. It's got a substantive flywheel for that semi-road feel, and you pull your rear wheel to mount the bike - no more burning rubber smell in the house, plus you don't ruin tires. But it's real key feature is it's ability to operate in Erg mode. In short, Erg mode allows you (or another third party application) to tell the Kickr what power to operate at, and it will force you to remain at that power. Pedal faster, and there is less resistance, pedal slower - and pretty soon you'll be almost standing on the pedals to get them to turn (recall that power is a combination (specifically the 'dot product' if you want to get mathematical) of force and velocity. This means you can dial in say 175 Watts and then just pedal at a decent cadence. The Kickr does the work of keeping you honest - leaving you free to be distracted by the latest edition of Homeland, Cake Boss, or whatever keeps your mind occupied for the duration. If you're interested in a more detailed review of the Kickr, DC Rainmaker did a good one a while back.

Now, in and of itself, that's pretty cool. But it's only the start. The Kickr becomes the foundation for a whole high-tech training environment. My personal favorite addition is Trainer Road.

Trainer Road is a subscription based software that hosts a boatload of workouts to service just about every type of need you might have when you head into the pain cave. This includes workouts that are perfectly sync'd to The Sufferfest videos (one of my personal favorite cycling workout video libraries). This means you can open up Trainer Road (it runs as a small app on your desktop) and select one of the Sufferfest workouts ("A Very Dark Place" is one of my favorite videos to hate). You can run the workout as-is, or you can drag and drop the video (you have to purchase the video from The Sufferfest separately) into the Trainer Road app; and bazinga - you now are running a video that is perfectly sync'd to the workout with Trainer Road automatically adjusting the resistance of the Wahoo Kickr to keep you at the target power for each interval. If you don't think that's cool, then you haven't fully processed what I just said - or you're completely jaded on technology and you need to think back to a day when it took an hour to cook a baked potato.

Just a sampling of the Sufferfest library on Trainer Road

Workout opened and waiting for you to drop in the video.
Of course you're not just limited to Sufferfest videos. You could drop in any video to any workout to keep you mind off the suffering - or boredom (whatever the workout of the day calls for).

You can even stream video from something like Netflix and run Trainer Road as a simple dashboard to that video. Or you can use it as a stand-alone dashboard and just stare at that.

There's a bit of technology behind the scenes that's required to get this to all work seamlessly together. Here's the full configuration that supports what I've been talking about here so far:

A few notes on the above:
  • I use ANT+ because I had an ANT+ stick for my laptop and my cadence sensor only supports ANT+. However, the Kickr and Wahoo HR monitor (and others) support Bluetooth as well. You can also get cadence sensors (again from Wahoo or others) that support Bluetooth - so you could use all Bluetooth as an alternative. However, a specific version of Bluetooth is required and my laptop didn't support it native. So I would have had to get a special Bluetooth (BLED112) dongle - so I just went with what I have.
  • I keep my videos on a Networked Attached Storage (NAS) device to save space on the laptop, but you could run them directly on the laptop.
  • TrainerRoad automatically saves your workouts. But you can export them easily to GarminConnect or Golden Cheetah (which I use for post workout analysis). 
Here's the result. It's pretty exciting (to a geek) when you realize what's under the covers to make this happen and the fact that it all operates seamlessly once you've got it set up. (fyi - there's an AppleTV hanging on the wall vertically to the right and below the TV - but it's not used in this configuration).

Finally, note that this is just one of many possible configurations to use a Wahoo Kickr and even Trainer Road. When I'm just doing a simple ride, I might just fire up the Wahoo Fitness app on my phone, and manipulate the resistance manually. In that mode, I might just watch a movie via the AppleTV. The Wahoo Fitness App automatically syncs with GarminConnect when I'm done.

If you're using an iPhone or iPad (with either the Wahoo Fitness App or Trainer Road) you could Airplay it to the AppleTV instead of using a laptop and HDMI cable. 

And because Wahoo has an open API, there are a ton of other apps besides Trainer Road that you could integrate in a similar way. Strava Segments is one that lets you ride particular segments (that you or someone else created) and have the app auto adjust the resistance based on the segment profile. Want to ride a particular IM course? Well, if there's a Strava segment out there for it, you can train on it all winter long.

You can explore all the other apps and integrations out there. There are a lot of possibilities, including virtual training and racing apps and subscription videos.

I've been riding and experimenting with the Kickr and have been pretty pleased with how much more interesting it makes indoor training. It's worth it to get me through the winter - or at least to the next time I can head outside!

Side-bar: Training indoors is an excellent way to build cycling specific fitness. But in my experience, it's not cycling. I think of it as training the 'engine' - you still have to head outside to put it to use and integrate it into true cycling. It's not an either / or. You could certainly train exclusively indoors or outdoors all season, but IMHO, you'd be missing out on maximizing your potential if you ignored either part of the equation. So when it's nice - get outdoors, even if you have to bundle up a bit!