“The more we do, the more we can do.” – William Hazlitt
The off season – winter season – is the perfect time to built both the physiological and neuromuscular basis of a successful racing season come spring and summer. Without the distractions of races, time can be devoted to building a solid physiological base for a successful racing season. It is also the perfect time to improve two critical cycling skills needed for successful racing – cadence and pedaling technique.
The weather should not be a deterrent. It is easy to find alternatives to riding outdoors. When the weather is bad outside, doing the serious indoor training is easy!
Base Building – Aerobic Phase
Winter is the time to build mileage. After a recovery phase of 4 to 6 weeks, you should start your Base Building Phase. During the Base Building Phase your goals are to increase aerobic fitness, increase mileage:
- Build up base mileage and distance of long workouts.
Build up the distance of your long run, ride and swim gradually. The effort during this phase should be at a comfortable level. Usually, this is 80% or less of maximum effort. You need to include at least one long run every three weeks, one long ride on an alternate weekend. In the pool you should work on distance too. Gradually increase the length of your swim to 1.5 times the distance you’ll be racing (for sprint distances, for Half and full Ironman distances work up to race distance). These long swims should be done on alternate weekends from your long run and long ride.
For example – week 1 do a long run, week 2 do a long ride and week 3 do a long swim, week 4 start the cycle again.
During the week alternate medium distance runs, rides and swims with Active Recovery Days (or days off). It’s usually better to take an Active Recovery Day, than to take a day totally off. This would be a run of 1 to 3 miles at 60-65% effort (of maximum heart rate). A ride of about 30 minutes – an easy spin with friends. The swim should be less than 30 minutes.
The benefit of an Active Recovery Day over a day off is that if you increase the blood flow to muscles the waste and soreness will diminish faster than with total rest.
Winter presents training challenges. It’s difficult to get all of your mileage in with winter weather. Using a cycle trainer (or rollers or a stationary bike) and a treadmill, you should be able to train regardless of the weather. When using a cycle trainer (or rollers or a stationary bike) is a good opportunity to work on your pedal stroke (practice pedaling in circles) and your cadence. When using a treadmill set the incline to 1% to 2%. This will closely approximate the effort of running outdoors.
Adding Strength Training
After 4 weeks add a hill training session to your running and cycling workout. Start with about 4 repeats up a 6% to 9% hill. The hill should take you between 2 and 6 minutes to climb. During this workout, emphasize muscular effort instead of speed or spinning. When running hills focus on a high knee lift, a full leg extension (especially pushing off with your toes) and getting off the ground. Do not worry about getting up the hill fast. When cycling hills use a big gear and a slow cadence – 50 rpm is a good starting point. Use muscle power to get you up the hill, standing for as much of it as possible. The goals of this workout are:
- Build muscular strength.
- Build muscular strength, increase capillary beds, build mitochondria, and improve Lactate enzyme response.
- Raise Lactate Threshold.
The Base Phase should last a minimum of 12 weeks, longer if possible.
Off-Season Conditioning focuses on the Base Building – Aerobic Phase. You can add strength building activities during the winter too. Do not let the weather deter you from your training. Building a good base during the winter is the key to a successful Spring and Summer.
The focus should be on building weekly mileage and the distance of your long workout. Do not focus on speed. Track only distance or time, not speed. Plan workouts to cover a specific distance or a specific amount of time. Gradually build up the weekly total and the distance or time of your long workout.
Spinning classes are an excellent way to build your Base – Aerobic fitness. They are also a good way to work on the two critical skills – cadence and pedaling technique (pedaling in circles). But, be careful of spin classes. Most are not cycling specific. You should not use a stationary bike to build strength. Use it to build Base – Aerobic fitness and cycling techniques. Keep the resistance low – just enough to provide feel for the pedals. As you improve your technique – pedaling in circles and increased cadence – you can increase the resistance. You need just enough resistance so that you can apply pedal pressure to maintain a smooth technique.
Work on cadence and circles in Spinning classes.
Trainers are an excellent tool for winter training. The more control and information you get the better off you will be. It is important to be able to vary the resistance the trainer provides, without getting off your bike or stopping your workout. This will allow you to simulate riding outdoors. Add more resistance to simulate a hill, reduce the resistance to simulate riding flat terrain or down hill.
It is also important to know your cadence. Some high end trainers offer information about your pedal technique – differences between right and left pedal, variations in power throughout the pedal stroke.
Trainers come in wind, fluid and magnetic versions.
Rollers add the feel of riding outdoors – you are not attached to the rollers and must maintain your balance. The are for the expert rider.
Rollers come in simple – no control of resistance, to advanced – control over resistance.
Alternate workouts are great for the winter. When the weather is really bad and you have been riding your trainer for weeks, it’s great to go to the gym and lift weights. As long as you are working on your Base Building – Aerobic Phase, adding strength work is fine. Do not sacrifice your Base Building – Aerobic work for strength–weights. Doing weight work during the Winter will also not interfere with your rides and races.
Use only free weights or pulleys. Get directions on the use of the equipment before you begin. Always work with a partner – spotter.