For most of us the the winter is quite cold and some of it is going to be spent on the indoor trainer. Even though most of us all love riding our bikes outside, the indoor trainer can provide some really great workouts, since there are no real distractions. No cars, no wind, no hills, no dogs, all things that can get in the way of focused session are not a worry on the indoor trainer. Once you have committed yourself to the indoor trainer and doing some workouts on it, then what workouts should you do? There are two basic types of workouts that I prescribe to my athletes in the winter. Almost all of the workouts that my athletes do in the winter are some permutation of these two basic types: Cadence based and ‘Sweet Spot’. Cadence based workouts typically do not stress the cardiovascular system, but are more focused on improving the muscular system and can range from high rpm efforts emphasizing neuromuscular power to very slow rpm efforts emphasizing muscular strength. What is the purpose of cadence based workouts and why should you do them this winter? The higher cadence workouts help to ensure that you maintain your ability to quickly contract and relax your muscles over the winter, which is a very important skill in cycling. By training your neuromuscular power, you can help to keep that critical ability to quickly change your cadence throughout winter and also enhance it. The indoor workouts for these are relatively simple and can also easily be done outside. One of my favorites is just simply one minute fast pedaling intervals, where you pedal over 110rpm for one minute and then pedal at your self-selected (normal) cadence for a minute and then repeat. This is a great ‘leg burner’, but does not get the heart rate too high and therefore push your training into more an anaerobic zone. On the other side of the coin, lower cadence workouts are also great to do in the winter because they can enhance your muscular strength, which can help you to sprint with more peak wattages and also help you to push a bigger gear into the wind, in a time trial or up a steep climb. Muscular strength workouts are based around hard, but short intervals done in the biggest gear you can manage at a low rpm. Many people have long believed the myth that riding for hours in a big gear at a slow rpm will increase their muscular strength and consequently make them more ‘powerful’. However, this only makes you good at riding in a big gear at slow rpm’s! Riding at 50rpm for hours on end is just not creating enough muscular stress in order to strengthen the muscles. You can think of this analogy: If you are trying to bench press in a weight room 200lbs, then you need to start at 150lbs and build up to it with low reps, high sets and the most weight you can lift. You have to use heavier and heavier weights to stress the muscle in order for it adapt. Now, if you lifted 100lbs, but one million times, you would never adapt to lift 200lbs one time. This is similar in this ‘big gear’ myth in that when you are pedaling at 50rpm for hours on end, it’s just like lifting 100lbs for a million reps. While 100lbs (metaphorically speaking) is more than your normal pedaling force of 80lbs, it’s just not enough stress on the muscles to get them to strengthen. In order to increase your muscular strength on the bike, then you need to do hard, short bursts of effort in a big gear. For example, put your chain in the 53:12 gear and slow down to about 8-10mph, then while you stay seated, tighten your abdominals, grip your handlebars tightly and then with all your force, turn that gear over until you reach 80rpm. Once you have reached 80rpm, then the amount of force you are putting on the cranks has reduced to a point at which it’s just not enough stress to create muscular strength improvements. You should plan on doing about twenty of these power bursts in a session in order to create enough of an overload to achieve some benefits.
The second type of training that I prescribe to my athletes in the winter is called ‘Sweet Spot’ training (SST). When you ride just below your functional threshold power (FTP), approximately 88-93% of your FTP, you are said to be riding in your ‘Sweet Spot’. Why is it called the ‘sweet spot’? Well, if you examine the graphic below in Figure 1, you can see that when you are in this area of intensity, the level of physiological strain (read-amount of pain!) is relatively low, while the maximum duration (read-time) that you can stay in this area is quite high. As well, you can see that your increase in FTP is greatest in this area, so training in your ‘sweet spot’ really gives you a tremendous ‘bang for your buck’.
When you do SST, start out with 15-30 minute efforts and gradually build up to 60-120 minute efforts if you can. These efforts are not easy ones, but you will get a tremendous cardiovascular benefit from doing them this winter. Make sure to do at least one to two sessions per week like this and you’ll see a big difference in your FTP come February.
Cross-training is another key to winter success that I believe in. One of the most important cross-training exercises you can do this winter is some type of core abdominal exercises combined with stretching. A Pilates or yoga class can really help you to develop some strong abdominals which in turn help you to transfer energy from your upper body into your legs and also help to protect your back from injury as well. A yoga class can help lengthen your muscles to put more suppleness in your muscles and also help to prevent injury. If you can, take a class a week or do a video, and that will be enough to make a difference.
For cardio-vascular work, I recommend doing some mountain biking, hiking, trail running, roller blading and also cross-country skiing if you have the snow! Just keep it fun and not too intense, as cross-training is supposed to enhance your cycling and not cause injury or major cardiovascular stress. One caution about starting a new exercise ... take it easy for the first 2 weeks. I once had a client that was very fit, and decided to just go out and run 10 miles in the first day of cross-training. Needless to say, he was barely able to walk for the next two weeks and inadvertently pulled a muscle which forced him to take three weeks off completely. So, just be careful and break yourself in slowly when you start doing a new exercise. Cross-training is great to do in the off-season, since we don’t really move our muscles in multiple planes on the bicycle, and it provides some great muscular and cardiovascular stimulus.
The final component of a successful winter program is rest. It doesn’t sound like it’s that big of a deal, but too much training in the winter will make you a “January Star”. It is great to train hard in the winter, as that is the key to really pushing yourself to the next level for the coming year, but if you constantly train hard in the winter, then you’ll peak in January. The key to increasing your FTP this winter and making that your new ‘normal’ fitness level is that you only train intensely for two days in a row. After two intense days, give yourself a rest and then come back again to training. Every other week, make sure that you give yourself two days of easy training after two hard days, so that you can keep your battery charged. Your goal this winter is to never let your ‘batteries’ charge go below 97%. With two days of hard training, your battery will be a 97%, so a day off or day of easy training will allow it to re-charge back to 100%. That way you can balance hard training with proper rest, enter into the season fresh and strong, while at the same time you haven’t turned into one of those rides that wins all of the January rides!
These four components of winter training all combine successfully to ensure that you will create your best winter of training ever. A proper winter program will push up your FTP to the next level, maintain your ability to change cadences and arrive at the start of the season with a fresh mind and ready body for a strong and long season! Be sure to keep your focus this winter as the winter really is the time for you to rise to the next level and make this a breakthrough season!
Putting the winter miles in may be a clinch spouted out by the old school roadies (Clive) and beardy runners (Merv) but they may be right! By re-focusing a lot of your training time onto steady endurance work, you create the foundation of aerobic fitness that racing form is built on for the next season. Don’t neglect speed work entirely, though, otherwise that facet of your fitness will suffer. The odd fast session here and there will maintain the top end and keep you lively.
Here are three sessions of around 30 mins for you to try as part of your training program:-
1. A tempo workout at about 75% of your maximum heart rate (HRmax; or 55% MMP). This is to replicate the steady state but intense effort of a solo bike race. You should keep to a medium high gear for example, 53 x 15 stay seated and focus on rolling the gear round in a controlled manner without any body movement above the waist.
2. Long intervals of 4-5 mins each at about 85% of HRmax (or 65% MMP). These are hard and certainly require a positive frame of mind before starting. Use of different gears for example between 53 x 17-13 will allow you to vary cadence to achieve the desired percentage effort and you’ll begin to get a feeling for the optimum cadence you can sustain under pressure. Aim to do 3-5 efforts and begin with equal recovery periods. As you get fitter, reduce the recovery for example, 5 mins on, 3mins off.
3. Short intervals of 30-90secs, each at 90% of HRmax (or 75% MMP). This is hard but great for improved time trailing ability and resistance to short-term fatigue. It’s better to over gear (53 x 15 -12) in order to reach the desired percentage effort as quickly as possible. Aim for 3-5 efforts again but with a longer recovery period (4-5 mins) reducing it as fitness improves.
+ Provide the necessary fuel for the muscles.
+ Help repair muscle and tissue damage.
+ Replace lost electrolytes and other nutrients.
This means you should be aiming to get enough nutrients in your diet
to sustain you while cycling and to recover afterwards.
Your Cycling should feel easier as your fitness level increases.
Your recovery time should become shorter so you can ride again sooner.
General Cycling can burn up to 300 or more calories per hour which means you don’t need to worry too much about weight gain.
If you don’t consume enough nutrients, your performance will drop and immune system will weaken!
WHAT to EAT?
At least 60-70% of your food should be carbs.
You should eat potatoes, rice, porridge, pasta, bread and fruit are all high in carbohydrates.
Your body can easily convert Carbohydrates into Glycogen which is the primary energy source for your muscles; a depletion of Glycogen is the main cause of tiredness.
Fast and Slow Carbohydrates
There are different types of Carbs; fast (simple) and slow (complex). The simple carbs such as sugar are available as glycogen which are quicker than complex carbs like rice but are used up more quickly. You should aim for a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates with more emphasis on the complex.
You should consume fats, such as milk, yoghurt, butter, cheese & olive oil these will make an important contribution to your nutrition. They will aid glycogen production and storage.
Around 15-20% of your food should be fats. Avoid too much saturated and hydrogenated fats - Better to use vegetable oils like vegetable oil, sunflower oil or olive oil. Nuts, such as Almonds, Brazil nuts and Walnuts are high in beneficial oils. Avocado is high in monounsaturated fat and potassium. Olive oil is high in vitamin E. Extra virgin oils are the best of nutrients.
Proteins are important for tissue repair and also aid glycogen production and storage.
Beans, eggs, milk, cheese, nuts and vegetables are all easily-digested sources of protein. Incorporate small amounts of these into your meals. Meat provides protein, but is not so easily digested.
Vitamins, minerals, enzymes, bio-flavinoids and other micro-nutrients also have their parts to play in your nutrition. Eat a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables to keep your immune system healthy, maintain body functions and aid tissue repair. Cooking destroys some nutrients so if your meal comes with salad - eat it!
You must drink before you feel thirsty when cycling!
You will loose fluid both through sweating and breathing. The water bottle is a must so you can keep sipping - in very hot conditions you can drink up to a liter per hour. On a 5+ hour ride and on a hot day, a pinch of salt in your bottle can help maintain Sodium levels.
Even in the winter you lose fluid through your breath, so you still need to keep drinking on longer rides.
WHEN to EAT?
You need to load up with slow-burn carbs and fluids
A high carbohydrate breakfast will help to set you up for a day of cycling.
Load up with porridge, cereal, muesli, toast, honey, jam, bananas, fruit juice etc.
You can start your carbo-loading several days before a very long ride or a race.
Your stores of glycogen are limited and on longer rides (more than an hour or two) you will have to top them up. Individuals vary; you may need to nibble every hour or two to sustain your cycling effort and top up carbs at regular intervals. Carry food with you if necessary.
It’s very important to replenish your glycogen levels as soon as you can when you stop - especially when cycling long distance or on a multi-day ride. The body is most effective at replacing glycogen stores immediately after exercise. A high calorie drink is often the easiest way to get these post-exercise carbs down. Fruit juice or a sports drink as soon as you stop, followed by a large carb loaded meal as soon as you can!