Winter training can elicit varying levels of motivation for athletes. Some may eagerly view it as a time to log a solid foundation for the racing season to come. Others may view it more as a bandaid they must rip off in order to get to the racing season. However you view winter training, it must be done in order to perform to the best of your abilities come Spring and Summer racing.
Winter training does not have to be boring, nor does it have to be 2 x 20 minutes at steady tempo effort repeatedly week after week. In fact, let’s turn that idea on its head. Base season since the beginning of time has been seen simply as logging big volume days in order to build a large base to taper off come race season. These large volume days are typically performed at “base” intensity, or sometimes mixed in with a few tempo efforts. This type of rationale stems from the idea that your body needs this foundation to handle the intensity that is to come later on, but is that true?
In order for the standard base season philosophy to work, you would need to be logging a minimum of 16 hours to upwards of 25 hours per week on the bike to build that large foundation. That is possible for some individuals, and mostly professional cyclists, but not for everyone.
If you find yourself in the category of a fixed amount of training time (as most of us do) then it is likely that making the switch from base season miles to incorporating high-intensity efforts can help improve your riding come spring. If you spent 10-12 hours per week on the bike riding at a relatively steady intensity, by the time March comes around, you are likely to feel a decrease in fitness than prior to winter miles! Your fitness increases when you subject your body to new stress. Your body will take on the load, break down, and build back up again stronger than prior. If you find that you are only able to get out on the weekends for that big mileage day and add in two one hour sessions mid-week, then potentially steady miles are not going to cut it for you this time around.
What kind of sessions should you try to do in the off-season then? Try to incorporate sessions that will test your systems with some high-intensity efforts. Not all of your efforts need to be full gas, and it is important to make sure that your efforts during this time are manageable. Another key ingredient is to ensure you are getting proper rest and recovery to prevent cumulative fatigue under the workload.
Finally, an additional training method that many may not currently partake in but should consider is neuromuscular training. Cycling can be forgiving and allow inefficient pedal strokes to still be strong and powerful, but it can only take you so far. One aspect of cycling that separates elite cyclists from amateur cyclists is their ability to produce efficient pedal strokes, even under fatigue. Practicing your pedal stroke at varying efforts will produce a smoother motion, and more importantly the same or even greater power with less effort. Incorporating cadence builds, cadence holds, or quick sprint efforts you can teach your body to communicate properly (intramuscularly) in order to produce these smooth pedal strokes!
Here are some suggested types of workouts for winter training:
If looking to perform an aerobic session: these generally are sessions that stay below your FTP for the majority of the ride. We like to recommend endurance sessions that also include tempo efforts in as well:
- 8 x 2 min varying efforts from 95-105% FTP 1 minute recovery at 60% FTP
- Option to add in low cadence work, 50-65 RPM for the 2 min. efforts
If looking to work on endurance strength: incorporate the use of big gear/high torque efforts such as:
- 5 x 5 minutes at 80 – 90% FTP at 55-65 RPM
- 5 minutes recovery at 90+ RPM between efforts
Curious to try a neuromuscular session? Focus on keeping your core engaged and not bouncing on the saddle. When performing these efforts, it is best to be in one of your easiest gears to really get the leg speed going. These efforts are not to have a focus on power but on technique and leg speed!
- 60 min. ride that includes:
- 4-5 x 20-30 sec. cadence builds 5-7 min. recovery
If you are using The Sufferfest training app and are looking for some winter efforts then we suggest the following:
- Steady-state endurance sessions in the “Open” series (Open:15,:30,:40,:60, etc.)
- Endurance sessions with some Tempo efforts in them as well including Getting Away with It, The Way Out, To Get to the Other Side, and Cobbler.
Try these workouts and more for 14-days free.
Mac Cassin is the Chief Cycling Physiologist at Wahoo Sports Science. He holds a degree in Integrative Physiology from the University of Colorado-Boulder and has won multiple National Championships. The experience of juggling athletic goals with collegiate and career responsibilities has taught Mac that peak performance is achievable even for those who cannot focus exclusively on training. While concentrating on exercise physiology in an academic setting, Mac competed at the World Championships, Pan American Championships, and World Cups on both the road and track.