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Trail Trailer Workouts -- a Review by Bruce

At the time of this review, there are four Trail Trainer DVDs. These are workout DVDs to use on your trainer. Each video features a famous Utah trail with continuous footage from the rider's point of view. Workouts vary in length and have different exercise emphasis.

The DVDs reviewed in the article are Wasatch Crest, Gooseberry Mesa, Corner Canyon, Bearclaw Poppy.

I guess I should tell you about my qualifications as a reviewer. I own and use over 20 trainer DVDs, and I've published one myself (Biking Power, shot on the Wasatch Crest). During December through February, I average 150 basement trainer miles per week.

Each DVD comes in a standard plastic case. A card insert gives a description of the workout and shows a map of the trail.

Gooseberry Mesa Trail Trainer, fresh out of the shrink-wrap.

The trail map helps you to visualize the overall layout of the course as you ride along to the DVD. Including the map is a great idea, but (small quibble) it could be better.

The map would be more useful if the trail segments were identified. Another suggestion would be to show where on the trail the various exercise intervals are occurring.

Map of the ride for the Corner Canyon video.

On the DVD, "coaching" (the vocal track telling you what to do) can be turned off. You'll still be able to follow the workout through the display on the "dashboard."

Another option is "subtitles" which puts the text of the vocal track in the middle of the screen. I guess this is useful if you have to ride with the sound off. But I found the subtitles got in the way of the scenery, which is the whole point of exercising to a point-of-view trail video.

Ready to start the video. "Ride by yourself" turns off the vocal track, leaving only music.

The "dashboard" display is the same on all workouts. The upper bar shows:
 - time remaining in workout
 - time remaining in current activity
 - current activity
 - pitch (angle of the bike on the trail)
 - effort level
The bottom bar shows the elevation profile, with exercise intervals displayed in red. As you complete the workout, a gray bar advances over the portion of the workout you've completed.

Dashboard display as we begin the Corner Canyon intervals.

As mentioned, these videos are 100% down-the-trail view. Continuous "rider's eye" perspective has some advantages and disadvantages when compared to the standard "sweating in a gym" trainer DVD. (Or my own Biking Power DVD, which shows the rider from trailside, with cutaways to shifters, pedals, etc.)

Advantages are:
 - maintains motivation and interest level
 - helps with "visualization" which can increase riding skill
 - reminds you what you're training for
 - when done right, allows skills and core work

Wide-angle view from my bike handlebars. I'm about 8 feet away.

The disadvantages of filming a continuous trail ride and turning it into a workout are:
 - for the newbie, instructions may be harder to follow (no view of cyclist)
 - harder to assess progress, when compared to standardized interval sets
 - lacks the "social element" of filmed group workouts
 - the terrain may not match the current activity

You'll need to decide whether you're the "motivated loner" for whom these trail-riding sessions are fun, motivating training -- or perhaps you're a social roadie who can only work out if other people are doing it with you. The style of workout you buy should make YOU enjoy working out with it.

My little red streak roadie, with over 16000 miles on her, including Lotoja.

Now, on to the videos themselves.
The Corner Canyon Trail Trainer DVD features intervals in Draper's Corner Canyon.. The workout is a quick ride with spin-ups, one-leg pedaling, then intervals on the climb, then a "skills set" on the way down. The route is up Corner Canyon to Canyon Hollow, north on the dirt road and down Ghost Falls back to Canyon Hollow, then over to lower Rush and down Creekview.

This is a fairly short workout at 45 minutes. After a warm-up, the spin-up and one-leg drills get your "alternate muscles" recruited before the intervals start.

There are four climbing intervals starting at 4 min at 70% effort and ending with 90 seconds at 100%. The two-minute recovery between intervals was perfect. Overall, the interval set wasn't as brutal as I'm used to, but it was enough.

The descent is a "skills set" pedaling at moderate effort. Watch the trees fly by in the turns and practice weighting the bike to pretend you're making the turn.

This DVD can't compare to the Wasatch Crest or Gooseberry for scenery, but the point-of-view DVD footage is still motivating.

The dashboard display at the bottom of the screen is useful, showing where you are in the overall workout and the individual exercise.

All of the sound tracks for these DVDs tend to be the typical aggressive semi-atonal techno with sound-sampling. Just like most modern riding DVDs. It's Not What I Grew Up With, but it didn't annoy me.

This DVD is a good choice for intervals training.

The Wasatch Crest DVD has terrific picture quality. With a 60-inch plasma 8 feet away, the trail views seemed real and motivating. The continuous rider's point-of-view actually works well. I was prepared to dislike a constant video stream without changing viewpoints. But the rider's-eye flow engaged me, kept my head up and my eyes on the screen despite the long (90 minute) session.

This is a long Tempo workout. The dashboard doesn't offer much here, because you're pedaling at a constant rate of effort while the trail flies at you. Riding instruction isn't a necessity with a Tempo type workout, but the commentary gave lots of riding pointers and it kept me engaged. You can turn it off so you only hear the music, which I did when I prolonged the cool-down by riding Scott's Bypass again with the coaching off.

As mentioned above, there's a "subtitles" option that you probably won't use. This may be helpful on DVDs with intervals and power workouts, or if for some reason you can't use the sound track. But for the tempo riding on the crest, I found the text annoying because it blocked my view of the awesome scenery. So after two minutes I went back to the menu, turned the subtitles off and restarted the video.

This DVD is a good choice for base miles or fat burning.
The Gooseberry Mesa DVD is a strength and core workout. The route follows Cattle Grate (South Rim) from the main parking to Hidden Canyon, then back via the North Rim. For a strength workout, it's moderately long at 70 minutes. The intent is that you use a big gear so your muscles are working hard against resistance during the entire circular stroke. As you grunt, you follow the visual cues on the trail to weight and un-weight handlebars, lean and move around on the bike.

For an old-hand Goose rider, it felt very natural to move forward and back, stand, pull and push on the handlebars in response to the rock. The camera aim was perfect to show the ledges and terrain coming to the front tire while showing the view down the trail. It was a fun workout.

The longest intervals are two 9-minute stretches. For me, this was too long for big-gear strength work. Youngsters may have another opinion. I was pushing big-ring, small-cog trying to stay above 240 watts (TT threshold for me is 265). The first interval, I faded badly at 5 minutes and had to take a soft-pedal break of 30 seconds. For the second 9-minute interval, I planned a 30-second recovery twice, breaking the 9 minutes into three 2-1/2 minute bursts. For the last minute of the last interval, I was able to stay above 350 watts, briefly reaching 400. That's the sort of muscle effort I was looking for, in a strength workout.
I found that the core work (handlebar weighting, lean, standing and moving back) in response to the terrain dropped the power output in my legs by 20 watts (about 10-15%) at maximal effort. One of the problems with trainer exercise is that it overbuilds isolated muscles and lets you slack your core. If you're doing the Goose Trail Trainer properly, you'll get that core and upper body work. BTW, you can't get the core/upper body work without pushing the big gear, so have your leg muscles recovered and ready.

There are two short off-the-bike squat sets in the middle of intervals. For me, these were actually a break. I usually do my squats with 20-pound dumbbells in each hand, so 20 quick squats at the side of the bike wasn't much work. My legs actually felt stronger and refreshed when I hopped back on.

One of the hazards of trying to develop "skills" for tech riding on a trainer is, the bike doesn't respond and move under you, so you'll learn bad habits. If you're already a tech rider, this won't be a problem with this video. After a winter with the stability of the trainer, you'll bobble a bit for the first back-on-the-rock mile, but overall the strength you develop from making tech moves while grunting on the trainer will be beneficial. For beginners, well, good luck.

This DVD is excellent as strength and core workout, although you may need to break up the longer intervals. It's very motivating and is my favorite among the Trail Trainer DVDs.
The Bearclaw Poppy DVD is a very short (20 minute) workout. The course follows Bearclaw from the north, with the warmup climbing to the Three Fingers of Death where the workout begins. From there, you fly down the Wash, over the Acid Drops (finishing with Clavicle Hill) and onto the Roller Coaster to Bloomington.

On this DVD, I ran into the disadvantage of "rider's view only." Not being able to see what my "coach" was doing, I wasn't sure if I was actually riding as I was supposed to. By the third time through, I'd defaulted into "standing bursts" where I'd stand and lean over the handlebars (pedaling like hell) on the uphills and plop to the seat and extend the arms for the drops.

I view the Bearclaw Trail Trainer as a nice choice when you have to get a "quickie" workout. The DVD can give you burst power and strengthen the core muscles that move you on the bike.

The cool-down is too short, but that's not a big problem. Because I like really long cool-downs, I usually restart the video and do the whole thing again at light effort as a cool-down.

Bearclaw is worthwhile to round out the series, but it wouldn't be the first of the Trail Trainer series I'd buy.

If you do trainer miles, seriously consider these DVDs. They will make you a stronger rider, while keeping your sanity as you pedal away inside the house. Your choice of which to get first would depend on your area of need:  Speed/Intervals (Corner Canyon), Aerobic/Fat Burning (Wasatch Crest), or Power/Core (Gooseberry). [ Go to Trail Trainer website ]

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