For a lot of cyclists, winter is a bleak time. Cold, wet, muddy, slippery, dark. It’s a time when many will just stick with a steady weekend club ride, resign to the turbo trainer, or hang the bike up entirely until the sun comes back out; getting faster and stronger just isn’t an option.
But winter doesn’t have to be a miserable time, and it’s definitely no excuse to cut back on training. Yes, it is cold and wet, and the daylight is limited, but there are also very few races, time trials, and sportives. For that reason, winter provides a fantastic opportunity to vary your training and try new methods and techniques that you wouldn’t dare starting in the summer for fear of DOMS, injury, or just having to sacrifice a regular training session. Doing so should not only ensure that you merely survive the winter, but you’ll probably come out of it a fitter cyclist, ready to smash next summer.
I’ve come up with a list of what I think are important activities to squeeze into your winter training schedule, with hopefully enough variety to make sure there’s something to do regardless of the weather. It’s a list of things that I’ll be making sure to fit into my training on a regular basis throughout the winter as part of my plan to take my cycling up a level, and get faster and stronger than ever for the new season.
There’s a very long list of reasons why strength training exercises should already be in your training schedule, but a lot of us put off getting started for fear of muscle soreness that may ruin an upcoming ride. In winter, when there aren’t any events and the sun never comes out, this is less of an issue.
One of the most important lessons I learnt from the hill climb season this year was that overall strength improvements were vital for stepping up my performance. Not just in the legs, but also in my core.
Strength training exercises will increase efficiency of power transfer to the bike, increase force output, help to protect you from injury, reduce body fat, increase bone density health, and make your cyclist body look a little less disproportionate.
The best part is, you can do it at home for free! I’ll be performing a simple circuit of body weight exercises a few times a week to get me into the habit. Press ups, crunches, squats, and planks. All you need is a bit of space and about 20 minutes, so there’s no excuse.
Stretching or Yoga
Sitting hunched over a bike for hours on end performing a very repetitive motion can understandably lead to some muscle twinges which, if left, could lead to injury. On top of that, the fact that your legs never fully extend or contract during the pedalling motion means that muscle shortening is a real thing.
Now is the time to get into a good habit of performing a regular set of stretches, or even signing up to a yoga class, in order to combat tightness and help to improve your flexibility. Doing so should allow you to more comfortably hold that aero position, whilst also reducing the likelihood of an injury.
Most gyms or village halls will have a yoga class that you can try, or if you’re anywhere near a Hotpod Yoga studio it’s definitely worth giving their introductory offer a go. Alternatively, there are loads of useful videos on Youtube.
If you’re going to brave the elements then group rides are absolutely vital in winter. There’s an increased feeling of camaraderie within the group, like a band of soldiers tackling the weather together, and it’s much easier to find humour and stay motivated when you’re riding with others. Nobody wants to be the first to give up and call for a lift when you’re all together. You’re not just training your body when you ride outdoors in the winter, but also your mental resilience. Race day might not always be in glorious sunshine and if you’ve been training through all conditions then you’ll have an advantage over those fair-weather riders.
It’s also significantly safer to ride with others if the conditions are potentially dangerous. Getting out and sticking with the long club rides are the perfect way of improving your aerobic engine over winter.
Start a Structured Indoor Training Plan
An indoor trainer can be really boring if you don’t have any session planned out, and it’s easy to just end up ambling around doing a few useless bursts and then getting off after 10 minutes. However, indoor trainers provide the perfect opportunity to add structure and quality to your training; there are no outside variables that can affect your power, so it’s just you, the pedals, and those metrics!
It’s also not all about expensive smart trainers and monthly subscriptions. Last year I followed the free Wattbike winter training plan, using a Wattbike in my local gym. You could also just get hold of a second hand regualar turbo and follow the GCN Youtube videos at your own pace. The key to success with turbo trainers is knowing exactly what you want to do before you get on it, and maintaining consistent training until you can get back out on the roads regularly.
My plan for this year is to follow a low volume plan from an online training app, to add some much needed consistency and variety to my training. It’ll also cut the time wasted in working out what session I want to do.
When the weather is absolutely diabolical and you just can’t bare to face the turbo, it might be worth trying something different. Running is my own preference for cross training. Despite being painful and slow, running is a great way of getting a quality workout in a short amount of time. In fact, mid-week lunch runs in winter are often the only time I get to see any daylight. It’s also a lot easier to avoid ice, and the weight bearing aspect helps contribute to a healthy bone mineral density.
Set your goals for the new year
Having something to aim towards is important for maintaining motivation and helps when planning out your training sessions. It gives purpose to the pain. Without having any goals your training is likely to lack the consistency and structure required to make improvements and you might end up plateauing.
Winter is the ideal time to set yourself some goals for the new year, because it will give you ample time to prepare to smash those goals in the new season. British Cycling has a super informative article on exactly how to set meaningful goals. I’ll also be making a post in the next few weeks to get my own goals down.
And if nothing else, just do something…
As I said, winter is all too often an excuse for people to hang the bike up until the sun comes out. And as tempting as film nights with wine and mince pies are, they’re ultimately going to make you slower and heavier, and have you back to square one in the new year.
Don’t let your good summer go to waste, and keep training to make your sure you’re faster and stronger than ever for next year.