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Winter Training: It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Words by Team Cycles on 06/12/2021 09:23:47

WINTER TRAINING

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

It’s that time of year again! Short daylight hours. Cold weather. The race or challenge season feels like a million miles away. You have all the time in the world right? Well, next season might feel like a long time away but now is the time to take action and follow a plan if you want to be in your best shape when it counts! Winter is when the magic happens, and you lay the solid foundations for top riding performance next year.

KNOW WHERE YOU ARE

It is very important to understand a rider’s training history and current state of conditioning. This can be done by a coach through a full training history review, or by an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. As an example, a rider may have a strong high end ability, but little endurance to hold that ability up. (Think of a sprinter; they still have to reach the end of the race to be able to put in that winning effort). Or a rider may have very good long range endurance, but they lack higher level strength and power to launch breaks or attacks. If you are serious about improving your cycling performance, consider working with a qualified coach who can help make those assessments. When you know where you are, it’s much easier to get to where you are going! Winter is a great time to do this.

A rider with many years under their belt will have a more developed aerobic system than someone new to cycling. Those riders will have different training requirements but regardless of the rider’s current fitness, winter base training should work on the same three basic abilities, regardless of the rider’s conditioning. (More on the advanced abilities in a later blog).

Top tip: Understand what type of rider you are. Identify your strengths, weaknesses, and your goals

Kit

WHAT ARE THE BASE ABILITIES?

Aerobic endurance

Our bodies run on two main energy systems; the aerobic system (which must have an ongoing supply of oxygen to function as well as fats, carbohydrates, and some proteins) and the anaerobic system (which functions without oxygen and runs on carbohydrates and, for very short periods of time, creatine phosphate). I’m sure we’ve all experienced the anaerobic system before; gasping for air, lungs and legs burning! You may be able to go fast for a short period of time but it won’t be long till you have to slow down!

Note however, that this is a sliding scale; we don’t turn the aerobic system off and then turn the anaerobic system on; there are all the shades in between. This is an important aspect to grasp, as the two energy systems are completely connected and complimentary.

In the winter, we are primarily interested in developing our aerobic systems and I’ll explain why: cycling of all types requires a strong aerobic engine. The much revered functional threshold power, (the power output where there is a balance between lactic production and combustion over a given duration of time) is the effort level at which lactic production is greatly accelerated, (well, it’s actually hydrogen ions that produce the burning but that is another story). This can also be referred to as lactic turnpoint 2.

However, as endurance athletes, lactic turnpoint 1 is actually what we most want to develop in winter. The interesting thing is that turnpoint 1 and turnpoint 2 are connected; by raising our lower aerobic and sub-threshold abilities, turnpoint 1 AND 2 rise, and we provide the building blocks for the higher level outputs. Yes, we can get relatively fast in a few weeks with high intensity work, (save it for when it counts!) but the height of a building is determined by the strength of its foundations; we reach a higher more robust peak with those solid foundations in place. Too much high intensity in the winter and the building will likely collapse early season.

Crucially we are also conditioning our bodies to utilise fat as its primary fuel source; ride too hard in the winter, rely too much on glycogen and glucose, and we miss this vital aspect of conditioning. This ability to spare our glycogen stores means we can ride longer and more energy efficiently.

Top tip: Performance improvement is about conditioning energy systems; this takes time and patience.

Winter Banner

Image Credit: @richrothwellcycling

Strength

Early winter is a good time to introduce strength work both on and off the bike. There are many advantages to incorporating strength work into your routine:

  • The development of muscles that are specifically used when cycling, and to raise force production.
  • To develop core stability, which in turn supports more effective power application.
  • To help prevent injury by strengthening connective tissues and addressing muscle imbalances.

Strength work can be done in a gym or at home. The beauty of strength training for cycling is that many exercises can be done in the house, without much or any special equipment. Think in terms of press-ups, planks, squats, lunges and glute bridges. Strength training does not need to be time consuming; two 45 minute sessions a week is plenty at this time of year, and if that is a push, a few press ups or similar every other day will give a very good strength return.

On the bike, low cadence high force pedal drills are a great way to develop leg strength that is of course absolutely specific to cycling. If you struggle with steep roads or trails, this is a great ability to work on in the winter!

Flexibility is key for cyclists, even more so for those who spend substantial work time sitting at desks, driving, as well as those who spend many hours on their bikes in a fixed position. Yoga moves are a superb counter to the issues that can develop from the forward hunched position we spend most time in when cycling.

Top tip: make your strength training functional for your type of cycling; get advice on program development if you are unsure.

Skill

If all that sounds a bit serious, winter is a great time to have some fun and develop your skills! Whether you ride on or off-road, there are loads of good reasons to up your skill levels in the winter.

  • You never know what the weather will be like in the UK ‘summer’. Roads and trails can be wet and slippery then too!
  • If you can ride with skill in the winter, it’s going to feel easier, and you’ll be better practiced, when (if!) the conditions are better in the summer.
  • Skills work does not always require high intensity effort so it sits well with the aerobic base building principles outlined above.

Wahoo

Image Credit: Wahoo Fitness

If you are a road rider, get out in a bunch and practice group riding. Or perhaps do some gravel or mountain bike riding? This definitely builds bike handling skills that you can transfer back to the road.

If you are an off-road rider, it can be great fun steering your bike over slippery tree roots and through slippery mud. Summer will feel like a doddle!

Of course, many people enjoy indoor training (check out Team Cycles superb range of Wahoo indoor systems) and there are great benefits from training indoors, but it’s definitely a good idea to keep those skills levels topped up. Even indoors, it’s possible to work on cycling skills; for example the development of your pedal stroke. You may have all the power in the world, but it’s wasted if you can’t apply it effectively and efficiently!

Top tip: try to ride with riders more skilful than yourself; you will pick up good habits!

Winter sounds better already!

Winter should not be viewed as that nasty bit, whilst we wait for the warmer months. Winter is THE time to make your most important gains. Once you set yourself goals and targets, (be it racing or personal) and break down the months, suddenly Spring does not seem so far away!

Rich Rothwell is a coach for Transition Cycle Coaching