Winter Training and Four Ways to Stay Focused
Jack Rees from Ribble Pro Cycling takes a look at the infamous winter training and prescribes four ways to keep going when the days get shorter and the temperature drops.
What is Winter Training?
The Australians call it ‘offy’, the French say ‘intersaison’, in the UK it’s just the off-season. In times past, riders would put their bike away in October and pick it up again in January.
As little as 2,000km were required to be “in shape”, even for the pro’s – ahead of the traditional season opener in France, the Tour of the Med… oh, how things change.
Since the early 2000’s the off-season has been getting shorter and the season longer, for both amateurs and for pros. With the northern/southern hemisphere overlap, it is possible to race in each of the year’s twelve months.
Ribble Pro Cycling
Within our team, each rider takes an individualised approach towards winter. Most take a short break from cycling in the late autumn, disconnect and put the bike away. For the riders, this is as much a mental break as a physical one and is well-deserved at the end of a long and demanding season.
Following that break, which typically lasts between seven and fourteen days, the riders begin riding. Autumnal October and November is a brilliant time to ride a bike, a good long sleeve jersey is the only real adjustment required and rather than focused sessions, training shifts to just riding, with the simple goal being to log some steady miles and build a foundation for the harder work to come.
In early December we have our first full team meeting, as with any assembly of fifteen competitive athletes, there is always an element of testing each other and trying to find the weak link. Ego’s aside, this offers a valuable opportunity for riders to gauge their fitness against their peers and head into the festive period understanding the areas that need a bit more work. Typically, our riders cover between 300 and 700km each week throughout winter and in excess of triple the old 2,000km adage before they pin a number on for the first time.
Why should you commit to a winter of training as an amateur or recreational cyclist?
Looking at winter as the key, uninterrupted period to improve your cycling fitness is the best approach for a cyclist of any level. Whether your targets lie simply in increasing fitness and enjoyment; a particular challenge, ride or sportive; or competitive racing – not letting go of that condition and fitness you have worked to build through the summer months and continuing to ride your bike during the winter will pay dividends when spring rolls around.
Winter training will give you a broader foundation to develop a deeper level of fitness. There is a big social element to winter riding, go out with friends, find a local group and just enjoy time on the bike. With Zwift, the development of indoor training tools, turbo trainers and fantastic lights, you really can keep riding and maximise whatever cycling time you have available, and come the summer you’ll be happy you did.
How can you get the most from winter?
1. Ride with purpose
Shorter days ultimately equals less riding time so it becomes even more important to maximise the time you have available to both ride or train.
Utilising your time and working across all zones is the most efficient way to elicit improvements in fitness. The premise of the traditional aerobic base winter training is that accumulating a large volume of work at a low to moderate intensity will result in a number of positive adaptations including processing more fat and carbohydrate – the problem as an endurance athlete you will be habituated to a certain volume of weekly training – probably because that is the time you have available. Training the same number of weekly hours, albeit at lower intensities, produces a lower overall workload (or training stress), as a result it won’t stimulate your aerobic system enough to provide adaptation – or fitness improvements.
To HIT or not to HIT
The best approach for winter uses a mix of training intensities and work across all zones, don’t be afraid to include some shorter, high-intensity efforts or time spent riding at, or above your threshold.
2. Look After Your Bike
As a trend, the winters are becoming more stable with lesser extreme conditions, but even so, winter is hard on whatever bike you choose to ride.
With the advent of many different types of mudguards, many riders choose to make some subtle changes to the bike they use throughout the summer months.
New Winter Training Bike
Some riders choose a specific winter bike such as the Ribble Audax, these bikes are somewhat of an institution within the UK equipped mudguards (and flaps!) and go well towards preserving that expensive carbon bike.
For most of the riders, they choose the former rather than the latter and adapt their summer bike, mainly so they can replicate the position they race on. As many of them train solo or with small groups they don’t have to worry about giving someone a face full of mud! I’ve put together some of the key ways you can follow this option:
- Wash the bike with a hose after every ride ensuring any road grime and salt is washed away.
- Give the bike a full clean including a drive chain degrease once a week.
- Fit some more hardwearing tires. We swap out our normal Vittoria Corsa G+ for the Rubinio Graphene.
- Add an ass saver or rear mudguards to stop spray going onto your chamois.
For more information on cleaning your bike check out our bike cleaning blog here!
3. Wear the Right Clothing
Riding in consistently colder and potentially damper weather requires a more considered approach when it comes to clothing. The two best pieces of advice I could give are:
- Layering – multiple layers provide options, rather than a single heavier jacket, opt for multiple layers then you can always add or take away depending on the temperature. With the creation of the waterproof/windproof jersey, it has completely changed the cycling clothing market and with it the best option for cold weather riding. For me anything from 0-5 degrees I would use a long sleeve based layer, a fleece lined long sleeved jersey and a waterproof/windproof jersey on top of that. Combined with a rain cape or gillet in my back pocket I am covered for almost all eventualities in each ride or training session.
- Look after your extremities – If you can keep your head, hands and feet warm, training in cold temperatures will be much more enjoyable. A skull cap, neckwarmer and merino socks are all staple pieces during the winter months. Have a range of glove options ranging from lightweight through to full neoprene and select whichever is best suited to that day’s weather.
4. Considered Nutrition
You do burn slightly more calories when it’s cold, your metabolic rate increases to warm your body, you also don’t have the same hydration cues, you’re not dripping with sweat and you don’t feel overheated. It means your nutrition becomes something you need to consider more.
The winter training period is a great time to try out different sports nutrition products and get a real understanding of what you like and what suits your body the best. Some basic nutritional rules of thumb to consider:
– Aim for 500ml of liquid per hour of riding
– For any ride over two hours in duration aim to eat around 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour
– If you are backing up training days, consume 20-40g of protein either via your post-ride meal or with a supplement
Winter training or off-season training is for all cyclists, regardless of age, gender, goal or discipline. There are so many tools out there that can aid your riding and make even the coldest day’s great ones on the bike. My four lasting pieces of advice would be:
- Ride with a goal, whether that be duration, distance, watts or heart rate
- Look after your bike
- Layer your clothing, and invest in technical garments
- Fuel for the ride
But most of all have fun!