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Cyclingnews' Winter Training Series: Part 4
Maintaining fitness, increasing strength and relieving boredom over the winter.
Come wintertime, for the average working-class hero - a.ka. the weekend warrior - motivation is often the biggest hurdle to maintaining one's fitness on the bike. In Part 4 of Cyclingnews' Winter Training Series, Ric Stern from cyclecoach.com lends his tips on how to get you through the chilly season.
For everyone in the northern hemisphere it's wintertime: that means dark dull nights, crappy weather, muddy, slippy roads covered in leaves, and a good chance to put your feet up and rest. Did you read the last bit correctly?
You did, but you don't think I really believe that do you? Good! While many people think the off-season is a great time to put their feet up and rest, or just indulge in very light training, the simple fact is that with vastly reduced activity or complete rest, you will de-train rapidly and become unfit.
You've spent most of the year working hard, putting in long hours on the bike, sacrificing 'bad' foods to keep your weight down, and done your utmost to get as fit as possible. Surely, that affords you a good rest period; those long training hours must keep your fitness for quite a while, right?
Actually, studies looking at training and de-training find significant losses in aerobic fitness (such as VO2 max, oxidative enzymes and fuel substrate utilisation) in just three weeks. In fact, some studies show significant decreases in just seven days. Fitness is hard to gain and easy to lose.
What can you do to maintain fitness? Well the obvious answer is to keep training. However, for many people, the off-season will mean a reduced volume and/or intensity of training. Primarily, this may be because of a need to commit to other more important parts of life (family, work, etc.) or because of poor weather.
As a coach, I never suggest that a rider should go training in the dark, after work, as it can be dangerous. Therefore, for many people, this will mean riding an indoor trainer and/or rollers during the week, and outdoors at the weekend, but what about other options?
If you're a road racer or a time trialler, perhaps you want a mental break from riding on the road. There's a great choice of cross training you could do to maintain or improve fitness. In no particular order, these would be mountain, cyclo-cross, and track racing/riding. These are the most specific, and indeed the best forms of cross training for a cyclist.
What about other sports?
There's a wealth of sports that can be completed nowadays, from indoor soccer to working out in the gym. But, do these exercises help or increase cycling performance? The simple answer is: it depends! If you decided for whatever reason you were not going to cycle for X months of the year, then yes, these exercises would be good (any exercise is better than no exercise). On the other hand, if you have time to exercise and therefore do some cycling, then for the endurance racer, non-specific forms of cross training are not going to be beneficial, and may even be detrimental.
Many coaches recommend weight training during the off-season. Whilst, my views on weight training are generally well-known, in short, I don't feel that weight training will have a beneficial effect on cycling and is likely to be detrimental (assuming that weight training isn't the only exercise completed in the off-season). The reason why weights is unwarranted in endurance cycling is multifactorial:
If you wanted a break from cycling and wanted to participate in other sports, then any aerobic sport will be good; this would include running, cross country skiing, swimming and team/game sports such as soccer.
Stick to the bike
If you stick to the bike (as I'll be doing), the specific forms of cross training (e.g., MTB, track, etc.) will be great. The scope of training for these is, however, beyond this article.
If you use an indoor trainer and many do; then the following four exercises are all good:
If you ride indoors, you'll need towels or something similar to place on your bike to prevent the extra sweat from corroding or damaging your bike. A drink (I frequently use an energy-electrolyte drink), a cloth for wiping your face, and a mat to place under your bike to collect any dripping sweat. The room should be well ventilated and you should have a fan blowing over you to prevent you from overheating.
On a separate issue, modern cycle clothing is extremely good at keeping you warm in the winter, so try not to let the cold put you off too much!Ric Stern can be contacted by phone: +44 (0)1443 222718, email: email@example.com, or via his web site: www.cyclecoach.com.