The Invention of Resistance Training

My view alternated between the television in front of me and the wood floor beneath me, which was covered with my sweat in a puddle roughly the size and shape of a bed pillow. I was convinced that my legs had never burned so terribly in all my time on the bicycle.

In reality, they probably had, but because I was riding a trainer, I’d been freed of the need to watch my line, to make sure I stayed on the wheel of the rider in front of me or to consider things like shifting, turning or how much of the race was yet unfinished. As a result, my mind had little else to focus on than my suffering.

That’s where the VHS cassette I was watching was supposed to make a difference. Spinervals was produced by Cyclops as an accessory to the trainers they sold. It was a roughly 40 minute workout with the sort of interval training that makes most cyclists reconsider their desire to race.

Winter has always been the test of a cyclist’s mettle. Riders are faced with few choices, none especially easy. There’s the option of wearing all the clothes and riding outside, but there are times when conditions make that impossible. Snow and ice can do that. Inside is the obvious alternative, and while that has become a good deal more entertaining thanks to Zwift and products from companies like Tacx, in 1994, VHS cassettes were how we got through multi-hour trainer rides.

The Spinervals tape was entertaining in part because instead of watching pros in a race for which I knew the outcome, this was a roomful of pro cyclists and triathletes, on trainers, dripping with sweat, just like I was.

Ah, misery loves company, doncha know?

My setup was remarkably similar to this Kissena rider’s. The wind trainer in question was designed by Speedplay founder Richard Bryne.

Coach Troy (Jacobson, the mastermind of the devilish workout) took the assembled athletes through various intervals, which culminated with a very long, very hard effort before a bunch of sweaty high fives.

Just one problem: When the interval ended, the resistance to my pedaling didn’t ease. Naturally, the first thing I did was look down at my feet. I suppose I did that because it’s easier to look down than to look behind, where all the action is really taking place. But look behind I finally did.

The rear tire pressed against the couch. I had pedaled so hard and sweated so much that the trainer had crept backward and I was going so hard that I never noticed that the distance between the TV and me had grown. I took a moment to get off my bike and find my balance (I’d just finished the hardest interval I’d ridden in at least four months) and then slid the trainer away from the couch.

I’d injured the couch. Or, more properly, the bike’s rear wheel had injured the couch. There was black streak a good 6 inches long. It started light at the top and bottom and grew progressively darker until, in the center, slightly blackened yellow foam peeked through a hole in the fabric.

I had burned a hole in the fabric. What sort of wattage is required to burn a hole in a cotton twill cushion cover I don’t know, because back then only people like Greg LeMond had power meters.

At the time I was married to a partner who I knew was going to be quite upset about that. It was the sort of infraction she’d never forget. As this was pre-Interwebz, I’m not sure how I pulled it off, but I managed to locate, order and pay for a new cushion cover before she arrived home from her errands.

That’s not to say I averted disaster. Disaster just needed to catch up.

Once I’d ensured my survival with lots of quick talking and pleas of professional duty (I was reviewing the tape for a magazine), I went back to the living room and considered getting back on the bike to finally give my legs a cool down—my long-since-stopped-sweating legs. Yeah, those.

I looked down at the rear tire of my bike. It looked pristine—clean and glossy black—with none of the grayish white mold release, which collects in crevices. It wasn’t that clean the day I bought it.

The next time I decided to do the Spinervals workout—something that became part of my winter training for my remaining years in New England—I placed the trainer much closer to the TV.

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