Improving Technique with Rollers

A great series of questions from a Cycling in Alignment listener came through recently regarding improving technique by using the rollers. @colbypearce, lots of great questions to help someone get started planning their sessions. How would you approach this to help an athlete come up with the right session(s) and know that they are doing them correctly to see improvement?

  1. To improve your technique by using rollers, what do you do?

  2. What does the session look like?

  3. How do you know if you are doing it right?

  4. What do you need to focus on?

  5. Can you give a series of workouts around technique on rollers?

Coach Ryan

This is a great idea! @colbypearce please educate the untalented in the skills and joys of riding rollers. Maybe this a video topic? My request would be to make it available to all.

The only things I can educate anyone on with regard to riding rollers are:

  1. How to bounce my shoulders between each door jamb like a tennis ball. It probably looks like I’m in a roller derby by myself.

  2. How to fall off the rollers sprawled across the garage floor while remaining attached to the bike! I’m glad I have enough upper body mass to have avoided a broken collarbone. Kind of a tree falling question… If one happen to fall off the rollers and no one is there to see it; did it happen? :thinking:

@ThermalDoc do you have any words of wisdom? Or anyone else for that matter?

1 Like

Hi @ryan thanks for posting these questions. As you probably know, I am a huge fan of rollers. There are lots of “old school” things about bike racing we can be done with, but rollers are one that we ought to hang on to in my opinion. I will go so far as to say: if you can’t ride rollers, you aren’t a proper cyclist.

  1. First, just ride them a lot! To progress your roller workouts, focus on cadence. I suggest extended periods at 100 rpm to begin [10-30 min blocks, in Z2 power is a good starting place] and further progressions might include 3 x 10 min Z3 at 110rpm average. Advanced would be 15-30 min of work at 120 rpm with bursts of very high cadence. Very skilled riders can ride for 10 second seated sprints at 150 - 180rpm; a select few can break 200rpm. Push yourself, but don’t fall off!

For additional technique challenges, you can ride with one hand, no hands, and one leg unclipped. Some riders can stand up, out of the saddle, on rollers. This is an advanced technique and if you try it, you might fall off. You have been warned!

I am a huge fan of narcissism during indoor training. I like to set up a full length mirror in front of the rollers. This way, I can look forward, not down all the time. I observe my knee tracking, my hip stability, my shoulder posture, breathing pattern, and my head motion.

You can also practice riding the rollers covering one eye with a hand. Notice if there is a big difference when you cover your dominant vs. non- dominant eye.

Disclaimer: any time you do stuff like this, you can fall off your rollers. Ideally, they are set up around soft objects like couches, and not around hard objects like coffee tables. Also, avoid hard wood floors, if you clip out when you start to fall over and your cleat slides, you can easily pull a groin. Put down a yoga matt for traction. If you are really going to push things, or you are really nervous, surround yourself with couches and wear a helmet. Or, put your rollers in a doorway, right at your shoulders. This will help “bounce you back on”.

My first choice for rollers are Inside Ride. They are amazing. You can’t go wrong with Kreitler either. I trained every winter on Kreitlers with a Killer Headwind attachment. I did all my intervals on this set up, year after year. I very rarely ride the trainer.

  1. example session:

Warm up for 15-20 min, progressing to Z2 as ready. Target cadence = 100rpm.


reps: 6 - 9
duration: 30 sec
intensity: maximum, given cadence constraint
cadence: minimum 120rpm
recovery: 3 minutes
sets: 1

Finish with Z2 riding to warm down.

  1. You are doing it right if you feel one or more of the following: you are feeling more stable, your muscles feel supple after rollers sessions, you feel a sensation of “lightness” in your muscles on your road ride after rollers, you are improving, you are having fun.

  2. Mostly, cadence. If you have a resistant unit, you can use your rollers for intervals, just as you would do them on the trainer or on the road.

  3. Here is one example:

Recovery ride on rollers.

Focus on cadence, try to average at least 100rpm for the duration of the training.

Pace should be Z1 HR for the duration of the workout.

Focus on nasal breathing for the duration of this workout; mouth closed.

By using a full length mirror, riding posture and habits can be observed. Things to notice:

  • is sternum lined up over the top tube?
  • are knees tracking vertically, and over the center of the foot?
  • excessive motion in one or both hips?
  • is the nose over the stem?
  • is the head level?
  • does the bike lean to one side or another?

Hope these help.


Hi @Schils glad you survived your fall! Definitely something we want to avoid.

  1. sounds like you are doing it right. You may look like you are in a roller derby, but as long as you aren’t falling off, the door jamb is doing it’s job. This is a good way for beginners to learn.

  2. I don’t teach people how to fall off…I teach them how to stay on :wink: see my comments above on couches, helmets and yoga matts. As for your forest question, I didn’t see it …

That said, one more important point: make sure the length of your rollers is correct. The distance between the rollers is adjustable and if it is not right for your bike, it will be much harder to keep your balance. You want the front roller to be about 20-30mm in front of your front axle. If the roller is directly below your axle, or behind it, things will be much more difficult. Also if it is more than about 30mm, it will also be harder to stay upright. This is a rule of thumb, so play with it a little. Also make sure your tires are pumped - it is harder to stay upright when you have lower pressure. 59psi is great for gravel or mixed surfaces but it sucks on rollers. go to 90 or 100psi depending on tire width and max pressure if you are on tubeless [don’t exceed maximum for your rim type].

And great idea on the video, stay tuned!

Much as tech as improved for indoor training, for me nothing beats rollers for indoor riding. Riding is just so much more natural and realistic with them, whereas I get really bored on static trainers. You also can’t cheat with bad technique and throw your body all over just to gain a few watts, so it’s a great tool for learning how to lay down power without a really tense upper body. I think it’s a great transfer to the road. I can do pretty much any indoor workout on the rollers short of full standup sprints or tabata type efforts where I’m going for a breakthrough and utter exhaustion.

I’ve been using the TruTrainer rollers for about 8 years now and feel that they’re totally top of the class. They’ve got a massive amount of weight (about 50 lbs for the whole setup) so there’s tons of inertia to them. From about 30 kmh it’s about 15 s or so to roll down to a stop. They’ve got lots of options like a front fork mount for when you really don’t trust yourself to stay upright (i.e., standing sprints and exhaustive tabatas). Their new “Smart Load” rear roller option turns the system into smart rollers, so you can ride seamlessly on Zwift and elsewhere.

As for tricks, I’m no Ruby Isaac but I can stand up for long stretches as needed. Again, firm but relaxed grip and upper body is key. Like @colbypearce suggests I’ll often do cadence drills on them and emphasize high cadences, again forcing you to pedal well while having a relaxed upper body. I can ride one-handed but haven’t progressed to no-handed. I actually don’t have my rollers anywhere near a door frame, and just have a tall barstool to one side for emergency support. My next goal for a trick is to be more comfortable riding with my left hand off the bars, as I tend to always favour right hand off the bars on the rollers and on the road.

The mirror is a great idea. Another way to focus on smooth pedalling is to strive to have the roller band connecting the front and middle drums stay as smooth as possible. You’ll see it slap up and all around if you’re pedaling squares.

Stephen Cheung

Great thread (@Colby thanks for pointing it out to me recently). I don’t have the time/inclination to do roller sessions on their own, but I’m thinking about incorporating them either before or after a road session. @Colby any thoughts on which would be better? I guess doing them before can be a useful warmup and I’d be more likely to ride with (relatively) good technique. Otoh doing them when I get back in might be a bigger challenge to do them with good form, but perhaps ultimately more beneficial if it means I could have better form at the end of a race (asuming we get to do any of those soon)?

Based on @colbypearce’s suggestions, I checked my roller length and it was ~60 mm in front of the axle. I fixed that to 20 mm in front and life was much more stable. I still had a few wobbles; but, the cognitive load was lower. I could even take a drink without having to lean against a solid object with the opposite shoulder. It will be a while before I intentionally try any tricks while riding the rollers though.

Also, @colbypearce didn’t mention this. Just like outside, the faster the wheels are moving; the more stable the bike. Gyroscopic effect and such! Its science man…

Edit: I forgot to add. I know the potential cause list is long but…
I felt the bike surging/bouncing on the rollers at times. Suggestions with regard to causes or things to consider while riding would be greatly appreciated.

Agreed. The faster you go, the easier it is to maintain your balance on rollers. This is counter intuitive to a rider when they are learning but it is essential advice.