As the days get colder and your favorite routes ice over, you'll probably be hunting for a new way to get your training in. Putting in time during the off-season is a shortcut to coming out stronger next season. I consider my winter training to be just as important as spring & summer. Not only are you preventing winter weight gain, you're also expanding on cardiovascular gains from the past season. Here's my guide to winter training to prevent overtraining and burnout, while still getting the most out of being snowed it.
Winter is a tricky time. As it gets colder, your body tends to adapt slowly; a 60 degree day feels like it's freezing cold out during the fall, yet in the spring you'll be more than happy to break out the short sleeves once it hits 50. You start to dread leaving a warm house, tend to over-dress, and might be feeling the effects of some lingering injuries from the season. It's very easy to throw in the towel until springtime and starting over again next year. Here's how to find some balance this winter and come out riding stronger.
1. Take it easy: After a long season, you need to take some time off. This might mean a complete week off the bike, taking it easy and exploring some new areas at an easy pace, or some rides to the watering hole. You need to take some time, reflect on the season, and decide on some goals for next season and the winter. Research shows that goal-direction is beneficial for endurance performance and and be linked with increased performance (1). Use this time to review your Strava data, remember what went well throughout the season, where you struggled, and what hurdles you see in the next few months. Identifying potential barriers to your training will prevent you from raising a white flag later.
2. Switch it up: Training doesn't always have to be on a bike. Enjoy your favorite winter sport, go for a ski trip, or do some winter camping. Cross training is important not only to prevent burnout and repetitive use injuries, it also gives you a chance to work on other body systems, and is critical to keeping your bones strong. Cyclists may be at risk for osteoporosis due to the low-impact on our skeleton (2). Getting out and hiking, running, and other cross training provides our body the feedback and stress needed to maintain healthy bones that will be more resilient to crashes and strain in the spring. Just shoveling snow or building an igloo can count, throw on a heart rate monitor and turn your snow shoveling into an interval workout.
3. Get a trainer: Unless you live in Florida, you're going to want to trainer so you can stay inside on those harsh winter days. The "pain cave" is notorious for being boring, hot, and sweaty, but your indoor training doesn't have to be torture. There are a few things you need; Zwift, a big fan, and music. You can also throw in your favorite TV show or some professional cycling replays (I personally like watching soccer games on the trainer). Zwift is an online training tool that lets your link your bike to thousands of other riders around the world. You ride virtually in a beautifully designed course, complete with sprints, KOMs, and even organized group rides. Zwift keeps you entertained and if you're competitive at all, provides a great way to make training fun. Riding further unlocks new jerseys, bikes, and other gear. Zwift is currently free, but once out of Beta will be available as a subscription service. You do need an ANT+ USB Dongle to use zwift. Second, you'll need a big fan. Studies show that while training indoors, your core body temperature and heart rate both increase at higher rates than when compared to outdoor training, leading to increased fatigue and overestimation of physiologic exertion (3). Translation: providing cooling with a fan will provide some relief, make you more comfortable, and provide a better workout. Third item is your music. The effects of music on training appears to be more potent when used during self-paced exercise, like indoor spinning. A recent article studying women in a spinning class, showed music made a significant increase in perceived pleasure, and decreased the feeling of fatigue (4).
4. Get Outside: If you have the extra cash, a cyclocross bike is a great addition to the stable, and lets you get out and ride during the winter without worrying about your garage queen getting gunked up. Cyclocross is a fun, low-stress, high-yield way to train while still being able to get outside. You can also hit the local mountain bike trails, just keep the freeze/thaw cycle in mind and don't ride when the trail is wet. Be sure to grab the appropriate winter gear to stay warm. If a cross or mountain bike aren't in the budget, then take advantage of sunny winter days, which will melt off most of the snow and let you get some riding in before the sunsets and the cold sets back in.
5. Reward Yourself: Sitting on a trainer, or braving the cold can be tough. Make sure you're rewarding yourself for sticking to your training plan. Think about upgrading your groupset, a new wheelset, or maybe just some nice bartape. Grab a beer, maybe an extra Christmas cookie, it's the off-season, after all.
- McCormick, A., Meijen, C., & Marcora, S. (2015). Psychological Determinants of Whole-Body Endurance Performance. Sports Medicine, 45(7), 997-1015.
- Nagle, K. B., & Brooks, M. A. (2011). A Systematic Review of Bone Health in Cyclists.Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 3(3), 235-243.
- MIERAS, M. E., S. HEESCH, M. W., & SLIVKA, D. R. (2014). PHYSIOLOGICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL RESPONSES TO OUTDOOR VS. LABORATORY CYCLING. Journal Of Strength & Conditioning Research (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins), 28(8), 2324-2329.
- Shaulov, N., & Lufi, D. (2009). MUSIC AND LIGHT DURING INDOOR CYCLING.Perceptual & Motor Skills, 108(2), 597-607.