Cyclists in the northern hemisphere now exist in the world of winter. While not quite Arctic in its severity (well not for most of us), winter provides some distinct challenges when it comes to getting and staying fit. The hard earned miles in the summer sun can seem an age away and fitness wastes no time leaving your legs. Plus the memory of your last unpleasant toil into a 20mph headwind wondering if your nose will be frostbitten and whether it’s all right that you lost the feeling in your right foot twenty minutes ago doesn’t help. All in all, getting out of the house can be a bit tricky…
So for as much our own pleasure as yours (quite a few in the office commute and we all want to be in the best possible shape for the spring) we thought a series of blogs tackling the icy issues of winter would come in handy. In later blog-isodes we’ll also take a look at winter proofing your bike, packing your bike when heading to the sun, and some handy tips on kit that we know works. If there’s anything else you’d like us to talk about then just let us know by writing a comment at the bottom of the page!
In the winter, very few of us are going to be able to spend as many hours out on the bike as in the summer, therefore what time you do have must be maximised. We talked about this in our Winter Training – Have your cake and eat it blog, maximising your time on and off the bike makes sense so here are a few ideas:
A lot of people, pro’s included, use the winter to base train. However most of us (me anyway) are a million miles from being a pro. So instead how about using the winter to work on your top speed, endurance and climbing. If you’ve spent the summer out doing long sportives and centuries, your base level of fitness will be pretty decent, but these rides aren’t so good for your top speed or strength. Use the naturally shorter (thanks to daylight hours and the temperature) winter rides to your advantage by increasing the intensity of your ride. There are several ways of doing this, for example; simple steps like taking longer turns at the front and moving between groups will help you feel the burn.
A good method of working on strength and power is to ride at tempo: Warm up, then ride just below your threshold (or ‘at tempo’) for twenty minutes consistently (consistency is important) and then warm down. Your threshold (or tempo) is the highest intensity you can maintain consistently for the twenty minute period. There are several ways of finding your threshold: If you have a power meter, try riding flat out for twenty minutes, check your average power and your threshold should be round about 90-95% of that; if you have a heart meter, that can be used in a similar manner too. Threshold can be judged well also by perceived effort with some practice – ride just below the maximum intensity you think you can maintain for twenty minutes. This work out can be integrated in to your ride or, if the weather is really foul (or very snowy like here at the moment), you can do it on the turbo inside.
Lance Armstrong famously spent winters training in the Alps – even when the passes were closed by snowfall he would ride as far up as possible before riding back down again. Why? Because he was there riding it when others were either putting in time base training, or resting in the off-season. It gave Armstrong the physical and mental edge to know that while everyone else was off in the sun or relaxing he was suffering to get one over. While mere mortals like you or I are unlikely to be riding in the Tour de France, the same mental and physical strength will help your riding whether it be with your mates or in a sportive. Consider rides with big height gains even if the distance is relatively short, the constant resistance of a long climb leaves no place for your legs to hide.
Don’t stop reading. Yes, I have mentioned the dreaded g-y-m word, but they do have their place. Winter is an ideal time to do some strength and conditioning work in the gym, gym work can really improve upper body and back strength helping protect you from injury. Weight training, if done properly, can be an excellent way of strengthening your body to prepare for the rigours of the season ahead. With correct guidance and coaching free weights (olympic bar, dumb bells etc.) training is extremely beneficial by focusing on muscle tone, strength, balance and core strength.
Whether you pretend you’re being chased by a bear or not (it gives it a certain edge), running is pretty good for a quick training hit during the winter. Consider off-road running as well, away from cars and on slightly more forgiving ground. Don’t forget if you’re just starting, grade your runs – don’t set out on a 5 miler because you’ll suffer and run the risk of injuries. Check out the new Adidas running range and the Pearl Izumi running range at PBK.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, off-road is not a dirty word! It’s a dirty activity, but there is something quite lovely about getting out in the filth. It’ll sharpen your bike handling skills, all that slip sliding around will make summer riding seem simple and you haven’t got to worry about traffic or salt from the roads damaging your bike. If you’re a die hard drop bar enthusiast check out cyclocross racing for your winter fix – it’s fast, furious and fairly brutal! You’ll definitely feel the benefit come spring. Just remember if you’re going out with some friendly mountain bikers they love their cafe stops – cake can buy you friends.