Five tips for successful winter training

Winter is almost upon us and many riders have finished for the season or are in the midst of returning to training after a break. Lots of people don’t know where to start and there are too many trends out there that overstate the effectiveness of weird sessions and fad diets. I’ve always been a fan of keeping things simple. We know that good volume at low intensities with a sprinkling of hard work will get you fit. This applies even to amateurs with limited training time. Here are five top tips for a successful winter of training.

Easy base miles work

It was an old myth in cycling that you should never use your big ring until after Christmas but this may have been a ploy from “big chainring” to sell more little rings – or maybe not. In any case, it is not complete rubbish. Research from the likes of Stephen Seiler and countless other examples since have shown that the most successful endurance athletes in the world do the majority of their training in low zone two (below 75% of their lactate threshold heart rate) and a small amount of very hard sessions – usually specific to the demands of their race. The thing seen across top athletes in various sports from many countries is that easy sessions are completed at a very low intensity.

One actionable tip from this is to do as little work as possible on the group ride or join a ride one group slower than you usually would. You should aim to spend as much time as possible in power or heart rate zones one and two.

Five tips for successful winter training

Protect your hard sessions

In-keeping with tip number one doing your easy sessions easy will protect your hard sessions by making sure you’re fresh for them. This will allow your hard sessions to be of a good quality. There’s no worse feeling than being too tired from your other training to do your most important session of the week. Plan around your hard training making sure your easy volume is completed easy enough for you to do your hard work at the correct intensity. Planning recovery days before and after these hard sessions can also make it easier to complete the session you have planned as well as paying particular attention to your diet – making sure you are well fuelled for these!

Invest in good winter kit

If you live in the UK, which most of you reading this will, five hour rides in the freezing wind and rain happen. Investing in some high quality winter kit, especially a good coat, some warm bib tights and some very thick waterproof overshoes will change your attitude to long rides in the cold. I suggest Spatz overshoes, DHB coat and Stolen Goat water resistant bib tights – these are my go to items when I’ve got a long ride in the cold. If it’s cold enough I’ll even don my thermal under helmet cap from GORE-TEX although it has to be chilly for this as it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing item.

Curating a good collection of overshoes, arm and leg warmers and gloves can also help you get the layers right when the weather is changeable. In October and March this is important as the temperature can be vastly different at the start of the ride than the end.

Don’t shy away from turbo sessions

The turbo trainer is not as hard as it used to be. Some of you reading this will remember the times of 40/20 intervals staring at the garage wall with a tape of 80s classics blasting. I don’t, I’m 23 and the first turbo I ever used was a direct drive smart turbo in 2017 but I am aware of how easy cyclists and triathletes have it these days. We should take advantage of this! We are lucky enough to have virtual cycling apps like Zwift and Ruvy, virtual steering and other contraptions which can make it all much more interesting. This means that it’s not unpleasant to do highly controlled hard sessions on the turbo.

A good session for winter is FTP over/unders. An example of this session would be a thirty minute warm up building from low zone 1 to upper zone 2 (50% to 75% of FTP). Then completing three lots of eight minute blocks that look like: Four times: 1 minute at 105% of FTP, 1 minute at 95% of FTP. In between these blocks take four minutes of rest. Over time, progress this up to five blocks of eight minutes, then make the blocks longer. Eventually you should reach 5 x 15 minute blocks with half block length easy spin between. A session like this each week, coupled with lots of nice easy volume and maybe a Zwift race or the local chaingang will have you on the start line of spring time trials and criteriums in great shape!

Keep on top of your maintenance

The winter can be harsh on our bodies and our bikes. By getting your bike serviced once every two-thousand miles, keeping your bike clean and visiting a physio once a month you will be able to keep on top of issues before they become serious. No one wants to be forced to do their long endurance ride indoors because of mechanicals and avoiding extended periods of time off the bike is the best way to avoid stagnation in training progression. Keeping on top of your maintenance is the ultimate way to stay consistent which is the most important factor in any training plan.

A winter of consistent volume with a sprinkling of intensity can do wonders for your fitness levels. By controlling your intense sessions on the turbo to make sure you’re as efficient as possible in making adaptations and staying on top of the maintenance of body and bike you’ll have a successful winter. Keeping warm with some quality kit will make sure you’re resistant to the elements. By insuring your bike on the sometimes slippery winter roads where spills are common you can keep safe in the wet and have the security that your kit is covered in the event of an accident!