We got lucky this year. The sight of golden toned legs and short sleeved jerseys was common well into October, with November even starting out surprisingly mild!
As a result we all enjoyed a few extra weeks of comfortable miles in the saddle. A welcome extension of Summer, as Autumn came and went, in what felt like a matter of days.
Now December has imposed itself on us, it’s safe to say Winter is here. And it’s not going away any time soon. We’ve had nothing but gale-force winds and driving rain all week. Roads are now covered in debris from trees, and punctures are as common as cake at a cafe stop. I can tell you from experience these aren’t always fun conditions to ride your bike in.
Looking on my Strava it seems most of my friends have taken a liking to Zwift. A social-training website that’s just come out of beta. It allows you to hook your turbo up to the computer and ride with others across a virtual landscape. Where conditions are always perfect!
Folk have flocked to the service as a way of getting in the miles while staying warm and dry. Even Pro’s are using it almost daily. I can see the appeal, but how can we really get the most out of training this Winter? Is just sitting on the turbo for a few hours Zwifting with Ted King or Laurens Ten Dam enough?
“How I train this winter depends on my goals for the coming year.”
Why am I training?
Coming into Winter is certainly the time to be setting goals, and asking yourself “What do I want to achieve next year? Why am I training? What am I willing to sacrifice to improve on a bicycle? How many Hours can I train? And why do I want to train during that time? Do I just want to get fitter and lose some weight? Or am I going to be competitive?”
A question I had to find the answer to not long ago was;
Is this really what I want to do, and what’s most important to me right now?
I’m talking ‘serious’ training here. Not just going out for a cafe ride at the weekend. With a child on the way it became difficult to fully dedicate myself to a training schedule and for a while I was confused as to what exactly I wanted out of my cycling.
After careful consideration – and an internal struggle that left my brain feeling like the aftermath of a battlefield – I came to the conclusion that yes, racing next year and training hard over winter is as important to me as ever. As soon as the decision was made I felt a weight lifted, a focus set in, and drive and purpose return to my riding.
If I had decided losing weight and staying fit was my goal, I would simply ride my bike. As often or as little as I liked. But I would be sure I was having fun every second I spent in the saddle. That’s really all the training you need if you aren’t competitive. Setting ambitious goals that take more sacrifice or effort than you’re will to give can quickly lead to demotivation. It’s supposed to be fun! (Something I forget at times when things get tough).
But I will be competing next year, and so I then had to decide what kind of event(s) I’ll be targeting, and when these occur throughout the year. It’s possible of course to train for a number of disciplines simultaneously, especially if they are complimentary. Some races, however, are so specific you may need to make a tough call on how exactly you train, and what you take part in.
The races I’ve decided to do are complimentary, and all fall towards the start of the season, before my child is born. After the birth I will just have to play it by ear and see how life pans out! From February I will be doing hilly Time Trials and road races. The Time Trials are anywhere from 10 to 50 miles, and road races tend to fall somewhere in the region of 60 miles.
This will mean I can prepare well for both with a clever training structure.
My goal for the winter is to improve my Functional Threshold Power (FTP: the hardest I can ride for an hour in terms of watts) which will help with Time Trials, and also road racing. Especially if I’m in a breakaway!
I would also like to be more efficient, and improve my bike handling and confidence in corners and on descents.
I’ve said it recently and I’ll repeat myself again: There are no shortcuts in cycling.
The way I’m going to achieve this is by working hard, and doing a lot of miles on the road. I’ll also need a good mix of riding in my legs; Slow long miles with up to 5 or 6 hours in the saddle at a time, with faster tempo and threshold sessions, and even some vO2 Max work as we get closer to the start of the season too.
These could be seen as quite “old-school” methods compared to what I did last year. Rather than attempting to keep riding at a constantly high level on the turbo as before, I’ll be starting with broad base miles and becoming more specific the closer we get to the start of the season. I’m definitely not one of those that think base miles need to be done solely in zone 2, but I do think miles are always going to beat turbo sessions.
There are many ‘newer’ thoughts on how to train over winter. Including forgetting about base miles almost completely. The video below from GCN is an interesting watch and provides a quick insight into that way of thinking. Although they do provide a balanced view and can see the claimed benefits of both approaches: Miles or Turbo.
Miles are better than the turbo!
I can tell you right now. For me nothing is going to compare to riding my bike outside, on the road, for miles and hours at a time. I know this as a fact. It might be different for others, but personally if you’ve got the time to put in the hours I don’t completely agree that you can largely replace base miles and road riding with the turbo trainer.
What I also know is that finding enough time to put in those miles isn’t easy. I’m ‘lucky’ in that I have flexibility in my job and can ride my bike more often than most. That’s why I’m choosing to my training on the road this year. Unless the weather means just too dangerous to venture out.
You can absolutely keep fitness, and even improve over winter using a turbo trainer, you just have to be smart. Certainly smarter than I was! And that fitness comes with a disclaimer.
I want to use myself as an example of how not to train with the turbo / cutting down on base miles during winter.
How not to train on the turbo: A lesson learned from last winter
At the end of 2014 and start of 2015 I rode my bike almost exclusively in the garage. This came after a large block of ‘zone 2’ miles outdoors (long hours in the saddle ridden aerobically to create a ‘base’ fitness to later build on). And for a while my power improved.
It was a textbook taper, really.
I had decreased the volume and upped the intensity of my training. A turbo workout would last no more than an hour and be predominantly at Threshold or above. The aim was to improve my FTP, reduce the ‘junk’ miles and keep myself fresh.
A sound theory, but in practice it just wasn’t sustainable. At least not at the intensity I progressed the workouts to. I was training on the turbo at least twice a week. The sessions were always tough, usually ridden at or above Threshold for most of the time. I was stressing my body with disgustingly difficult workouts, often completing intervals at vO2 Max until exhaustion. However, the lack of miles meant my aerobic fitness and ability to cope with these workouts was on the decline. There’s a fine line between progression and pushing it too far. I was unaware at the time just how much damage I was doing to my training. I could only think “I need to progress. Workouts must get harder. I have to dig deeper. I must try harder”.
Something had to give.
Let me explain what’s going on in this graph. The blue line is essentially how fit I am, this is called Chronic Training Load (CTL). The yellow line is how ‘fresh’ I should feel based on the training I’ve done recently. This is known as Training Stress Balance (TSB). The higher the yellow line, the ‘fresher’ I should be feeling.
You can see that at the start of this graph, around October 2014 I was fit.
There’s a peak on the 1st November when I did an 88 mile zone 2 ride and then a steady decline as I swapped road miles for turbo sessions until the end of December.
I went from averaging around 12 hours per week to more like 7.
Over Christmas my fitness starts to climb again thanks to the Rapha Festive 500. Which after completing I returned to the turbo again for my training. The schedule was Tuesday and Thursday on the Turbo trainer. Saturday on the road doing zone 2 miles, and Sunday was usually an hours recovery spin in the local lanes.
If you look at the graph you’ll notice I should’ve been feeling pretty fresh most of the time. Here’s the thing though; As the weeks passed my fitness began to drop, and so did my ability to cope with the stress of training. All the while the difficulty and intensity of the workouts increased. Gradually at first – and then in an almost dramatic implosion – the only thing that plummeted lower than my power numbers was my morale.
Before winter turbo training
311w avg for 20min / 5.58wkg
After 6 months turbo training
293w avg for 20min / 5.3wkg
After 6 months training on the road
325w avg for 20min / 5.8wkg
My diet at the time wasn’t great either. I relied way too much on carbohydrate, and also restricted my calories. I wrote about that a lot this year, so check out the training archives if you’re interested in that stuff!
- You’re actually riding your bike. Which feels a lot different on the road than turbo. Efforts done on the road will feel like the ones you do during competition.
- Improved bike handling.
- Riding outside in bad weather makes you tough.
- Varied and interesting scenery.
- Riding your bike is fun! (mostly).
- You can ride in very specific training zones.
- You can ride in all weather.
- Big bang for your buck if you’re short on time.
- Minimal bike maintenance needed to train.
To put it simply; Yes, the turbo is one way to improve, progress, and keep fit during the cold months.
I just wasn’t clever with my training. It’s not just how and when I was ‘riding’, but diet and recovery too. I would’ve been stronger and better on my bike if I had trained outside when possible and only used the turbo as back-up if the weather was just too appalling to even consider going out. It would’ve been wise also to stop calorie counting and to just focus on eating well balanced meals. As I’ve said time-and-time-again this year.
What will I be doing this winter?
I’ll be riding my bike as much as I can of course!
The thought of more turbo work in the garage does not appeal in the slightest. I’d rather go out in 30mph winds and
heavy torrential rain. In doing so I’ve challenged myself mentally as well as physically, I’ve had many opportunities to improve bike handling as I avoid potholes whilst wrestling to keep the bike in a straight line (the wind pushed me about like a ragdoll today!), and I also had a varied workout at natures discretion.
I enjoyed High cadence and big gears on the way out with a tailwind. Then endured little gears and low-grinding cadence for strength work into the headwind home! And you can be sure that lunch and a brew when you get home taste even better after 3 hours of that than an hour in the garage.
Five things I will be doing through to the start of race season include:
1. Embracing the weather
One of the first things I wrote about on here was a post called “What gets me out the door when the weather is poor“. Riding outside is fun, it means you’re committed, and is going to make you stronger mentally as well as physically. I intend to fully embrace the bad weather.
Every shit day is an opportunity to show you’re tougher than the competition. But lets be honest: It’s all about the Strava Kudos ;-).
2. Strength work
This doesn’t just mean going to the gym or doing a few squats. There are other, more fun ways to get strong. One of my favourites is Bouldering. I try to do it twice a week on rest or easy days, but it also makes for a good second session. There’s not much better for getting a strong core than climbing! On top of that I’ll be doing squats and wall chairs regularly.
3. Lots of miles
If you’ve got this far I’m going to assume you know why I’ve said this! You can’t argue with the results I achieved from riding on the road. And FTP was only half the story. My power improved right across the board.
Miles are great, but they’re even better if you have a structure and goal. A plan in place for every ride, and also every block of training (I usually see a lasting four weeks). Winter is a fantastic opportunity to address and work on weaknesses. I’ll be doing cadence drills, riding to specific training zones, out of the saddle, and sprint work, amongst a lot of other things!
5. Eating clean
It’s difficult, especially around Christmas. I indulged a little too much during my off season and I paid the price in KG. I’ve written tons about nutrition during this year, but for me cutting down the carbs and increasing healthy fats and protein was the single best change I made to improve my training.
What’s everyone else doing?
Well, I’ve laid out my plans. I’m interested to know how others train in preparation for the season ahead?