Checklist for Winter Training

Winter training can be a time of dread for us northern hemisphere riders. Short, cold days, often wet and windy, at least here in the South West, make for pretty miserable riding conditions. The traditional way of Winter training, getting a 'grand in the bank' (1000 miles of endurance riding) before any intensity starts is outdated and certainly outmoded. Very long rides, week in week out in cold conditions, is demotivating, unpleasant, and runs the risk of encouraging colds and flu and hence time off the bike. It is counterproductive.

For experienced and competitive cyclists looking to take on demanding endurance events, or those looking to race, I like to start training around 24 weeks from the first race they want to target for a great result, and this often means starting training in November or December. All performance is built on a solid aerobic foundation and that means time in the saddle. So how do we build this aerobic fitness without having to ride 6 hour rides?

Firstly, for winter you need to get yourself geared up for outside rides and set up for indoor training in an environment that is motivating, and will keep you engaged. Today there are several software applications that make training inside more enjoyable. Zwift and Rouvy are two of my favourites, and our coached athletes can now automatically synchronise their Training Peaks workouts to them, to follow the workout on the screen. One note of caution. For structured workouts, built with power targets or ranges, you should turn the erg mode of your smart trainer OFF. Erg mode is great for simulating climbs and rides but it has some nasty unintended consequences for interval training of any kind.

Once you have yourself set up with a good indoor trainer, music, and cool software to keep you engaged, what type of training should you do to build this aerobic foundation without the long outside rides?

  1. Firstly, let me stress that unless you are one of those dedicated (read crazy!) athletes that can ride indoors for 3 hours+, then there is no substitute for a good 3hour endurance ride. This means that your training plan has to be flexible, if possible, so that you can ride when the weather is good. Duration is king but go when the weather is good.
  2. Focus your indoor cycling sessions initially on basic abilities.
    1. Short intervals at low cadence in a big gear, is a great resistance training session that starts to build muscular endurance.
    2. Short intervals at high cadence 100-120rpm+ in a medium gear, is a great technique training session that will slowly help improve your self selected cadence. Increasing cadence is still the single easiest improvement most amateur cyclist can make.
    3. Incorporate plenty of tempo workouts (on 2-4 days per week) with the focus on extending duration, not power. Build up slowly each session so that you are doing 45-90 minutes of tempo riding in a single workout, depending on your level of experience and event/race demand. This does not have to be steady state riding - incorporate some surges and bursts to mimic riding on the road and keep you more mentally engaged.
  3. Hit the gym. Work on improving sport specific functional strength, ideally under the supervision of a strength coach.
  4. Work on your weaknesses. For many it is the ability to work at high intensity that limits performance. I like to include some high intensity sessions from the second block of training, depending on the level of rider I am dealing with. Historically, high intensity was shunned in the winter training period as it was feared that riders would burn out too quickly. Whilst this can certainly be the case, the key is the dose of these workouts. This is where an experienced coach will be able to help you.
  5. Block training. Whilst rest and recovery are important, blocking together a few days of solid training can reap big rewards. The key is to slightly over reach to become adapted to riding on tired legs. Building up your resistance to fatigue is massively important and is largely overlooked by amateur riders, who focus more on increasing power and intensity. Longer tempo intervals, as highlighted above, will lay the foundations to enable you to push harder for longer. 3-4 days back to back muscular and endurance training, followed by 2 easy or rest days will test your resolve but deliver the goods! These are especially important when training for multi day stage races, and will also mean that you have a very solid aerobic base when it comes to stepping up to the harder sessions.

Here is your checklist for Winter Training:

  1. 3 hour endurance rides with tempo efforts up the hills as and when the weather allows for a safe and enjoyable ride.
  2. Plenty of short intervals focused on building muscular endurance and improving cadence.
  3. Plenty of tempo intervals focused on increasing duration, not power.
  4. Sport specific functional strength training in the gym.
  5. Work on your weaknesses and build in some hard efforts - one session per 7-10 days is fine at this stage.
  6. Block training - do 3-4 workouts back to back followed by 2 days easy for great results.

Above all, really try and be consistent with your training this winter. Little and often is much better than grabbing a long ride and then not riding for 4 days due to bad weather. If you can get 4 out of the 6 above nailed you will be well on your way to making 2019 your best year yet.

Rob Wakefield - Level 3 UK Cycling Coach, Certified Training Peaks Coach.