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Winter training for cyclists

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Winter training for cyclists ©Shutterstock

Road cyclists often have a long season and cover enormous distances. In October are the last major races for the pros and the first races in the new season start in January. For others, the season starts again in March. In this period, the preparations for the new season take place and the winter period  is also ideal to take part in cyclocross, MTB and track races.

The best way to train in the winter period is different for each individual. It is important to make a clear choice between the road season and the cyclocross-, MTB-, or track season. Physically, it is better not to compete all year round. It is possible, but you will not improve as much as you would with a proper periodization.

A rest period helps cyclists to get fit

A rest period after the road season is very important for a cyclist. At least two to three weeks without touching a bike ensures you that your body will be completely rested, small injuries healed, and you will be mentally fit again. You will start the new season fit, injury free,  and with a lot of motivation. When you roll from the road season into the cross season and again into the road season, the risk of overloading is very large and your performance level remains the same throughout the year.

For cyclists who don’t participate in competitions it is important to plan a rest period somewhere in the year. The winter is perfect for a rest period because the weather is often less and it will be dark early. For commuters who cycle to work this will be a bit more difficult.

The winter is ideal to work on your weight

The rest period can be important to work on your weight. If you want to lose weight you should burn more energy than you consume. When you do this during the season you will have less energy for training, so the effect of the training decreases.

On the other hand, a lot of cyclists should ensure that they don’t gain weight during the winter period. Often people train less in this period compared to the rest of the year,  and as a result they burn less energy. If your food consumption remains the same as during the season you will gain weight.

Preparations for the new season

After the rest period,  the preparations for the new season start. In this period you can improve your endurance base before you specifically train towards your goals. You can achieve this is by training a lot at a very low intensity. Obviously, this is not possible for everyone. In the evening it is dark early and the weather makes it hard to go out for long rides. Many cyclists therefore try to find something else.

Spinning classes, and participating in many cyclocross- and MTB races are less good choices for cyclists because the intensity is too high for the time of year. After all, you want to work on your endurance base for the next season. Occasionally a cyclocross or mountain bike race is absolutely no problem.

If you cannot train outside during the week, you can use an indoor trainer or spinning bike for a shorter workout and when possible a longer workout in the weekend or on a day off. Many people find these workouts terrible, but a lot of variation in the training makes it more bearable.

Try to limit these training sessions up to an hour, with a maximum of one and a half hours. Despite the low intensity, you can vary a lot with your heart rate, cadence, and even speed. After warming up you could do a number of sets from about 1 to 5 min and raise or lower your cadence,  or make up your own variation. At the bottom of this article you’ll find example of an indoor workout.

Strength Training for Cyclists

Besides the endurance training, the preparation period is also ideal to get some extra strength through weight training. You can do a strength training session on your bike or in a gym. Strength training with weights emphasizes the legs, but the rest of the body can also be trained.

Strength training causes an increase in muscle mass, but lowers the density of the mitochondria (energy factories of the muscle cells). In order to improve the cycling efficiency without lowering the VO2max and minimize weight gain, it is best to train for maximum strength. You can do two or three sessions a week with  4 sets of 4-6 repetitions at 85% of 1 RM for each exercise. Take at least 3-5 minutes rest between sets.

Coordination and core stability exercises also help you to become a more efficient cyclists and reduce the risk of injuries.

Strength training on the bike can be done at home on an indoor trainer and where possible also outside on the road. Depending on your level you could start with 5 to 10 reps of 2 to 5 min with a cadence of 40-60 RPM and a heart rate well below your anaerobic threshold, followed by 2 to 5 min rest with a cadence of 95. You can increase the number of sets or time gradually. In the examples below you will find an example of a strength training on the bike.

HIT (High Intensity Training) during the preparation period

If you're doing a lot of slow endurance workouts in the winter, your VO2max will decrease. You hardly train this part of your condition. Yet it is important to do lots of slow endurance training, because the physiological improvements help you to improve your performance during the harder sessions later in the season. By doing a High Intensity Training once every 10 days, your VO2max will declines less rapidly. The advantage of this is that your VO2max will reach its normal level sooner and you can make a step forward during the following season.

The purpose of a High Intensity Training is to give your body a stimulus. Workouts that are too hard impair your endurance base. You can stimulate the body through short intensive intervals, but also by a number of blocks on your threshold. 5-6 times 3-5 min (max 18-30 min per session) on your threshold with adequate rest between them is enough to stimulate the body.

An occasional cross, MTB, or track race/ride gives the body the same stimulus as a High Intensity Training. In that case, it makes no sense to do a High Intensity Training.

Trainings examples for the winter period

Indoor training Slow endurance, RPM 45 min

  • 10 min Warming up: Recovery zone
  • 5 x (2 min increase your RPM every set 1st 80, 2nd 85, 90, 95, 100; Slow endurance zone +
  • 2 min RPM of choice; Slow endurance zone)
  • 5 x (2 min RPM of choice; increase intensity every set Slow endurance zone, Fast endurance zone, Tempo zone, Fast endurance zone, Slow endurance zone)
  • 5 min Cooling down: Recovery zone

Indoor training Strength training, 50 min

  • 10 min Warming up: Recovery zone
  • 10 x (1,5 min 40-60 RPM heavy resistance; Tempo zone, under your threshold +
  • 2 min recovery RPM of choice; Recovery zone)
  • 5 min Cooling down: Recovery zone

High Intensity Training 110 min

  • 15 min Warming up: Recovery Zone
  • 20 min RPM of choice; Slow endurance zone
  • 5 x (4 min RPM> 90; Threshold zone +
  • 4 min recovery RPM of choice; Recovery zone, slow endurance zone)
  • 20 min RPM of choice; Slow endurance zone
  • 15 min Cooling down: Recovery Zone

Note, these are sample workouts! You are always responsible for your own health and safety!

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