3 Best Winter Cycle Training Tips

Three great ways to make sure that bad weather doesn’t compromise your winter cycle training.

The winter is a great time to improve your cycling, because you can get into a consistent, structured training regime, without the distraction of races or events. But what happens if the weather gets too bad? What if there’s snow, heavy rain, ice or strong winds? How can you build your cycling fitness if the weather holds you back? In this blog we’ll provide three of the best winter cycling tips, to help you train through all conditions.

Tip 1. Reverse Periodisation

Most coaches will have you building a base of endurance throughout the winter, with regular long rides, particularly at the weekends. And then as you get nearer the Summer the focus will typically shift to higher intensity or race-specific workouts to prepare for your target events.

Reverse periodisation is where you flip that traditional model on its head. Your winter bike sessions are generally shorter – one hour or less – with a focus on high intensity or race-specific work.

Which means you do shorter workouts in winter, and then focus on building your endurance in the Spring and Summer when the weather is better.

From a practical perspective, it makes more sense. By doing shorter workouts in the winter, you can ride your indoor trainer on the worst days, without getting too bored.

With reverse periodisation you could spend your Winter improving your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). Your FTP is a measure of your current best power output for 1-hour in a time-trial situation. It is the gold standard measure of cycling performance.

How to test your FTP (My Pro Coach Blog Post)

For example, your aim might be to increase your FTP by 20 watts between December and April. The good news is that you can achieve this without doing big long weekend rides in crappy weather. Especially if you follow a structured training plan.

Let’s imagine you increased your FTP from 200 to 220 Watts. That means you’d be able to ride at a given power output for less effort than you used to. It also means you can ride further or faster than previously for a given effort. In other words, you’d boost your speed and endurance.

So why don’t we all do reverse periodisation then? Author and Coach, Joe Friel has written a good blog about Reverse Periodisation, and he makes an important point:

“The closer in time you get to the A-priority race you’re training for, the more like the race your training should become. Doing just the opposite – making your workouts more unlike the race as you approach it – would be counterproductive. You’d go to the start line having done few workouts like the race.”

For this reason, Reverse Periodisation works well if you’re training for long events, involving a ride of three hours or longer. Because in the lead up to your event, the weather will hopefully be good enough for you to do those 3- to 5-hour training rides that mimic the demands of race day.

Whereas if you’re training for shorter events, you could end up doing as Joe Friel suggested above. Getting to the start line without having done much high intensity or race-specific work in the last few months.

Also, Reverse Periodisation works best when your target event is mid or late Summer. If your target event is in early Spring, then you won’t have the luxury of waiting until Summer to do your long rides.

Tip 2. Multiple Rides

If you’re really keen to train effectively, another way to tackle your long winter rides is to break them into two shorter rides. For example, you might do two 90-minute rides in one day, instead of a 3-hour ride.

There are several benefits to this:

⁃ Two shorter rides can be mentally easier than one long one.
⁃ You spend more time riding in fresh, dry clothing.
⁃ You get to recover in between rides.

There are downsides of course. Like the extra time you waste getting dressed and showered. And the additional clothes you need to wash.

But it’s a workable solution that people do use, including professional cyclists when they’re training in colder climates.

It’s not as effective from a confidence or race-readiness point of view as doing one longer ride. But if you’re desperate to boost your endurance in bad weather, it’s still an option.

If you don’t fancy doing two rides per day (which is understandable) there is another option to consider.

Tip 3. Ride Indoors With Zwift

Zwift is a virtual cycling platform that enables you to ride indoors, in the company of other virtual cyclists from around the world. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to riding with your buddies, without having to leave the warmth of your house.

Picture

Zwift virtual cycling

You have several riding options. You can choose to ride freely around Zwift’s beautiful landscapes, taking your own sweet time.

You might find yourself riding up a snowy Alpine road, through a glass tunnel underneath the ocean or descending switchbacks from a fiery volcano. You’ll overtake and be overtaken by other riders – people just like you, sat in their spare rooms in places like Tokyo, Tucson and Turin.

Once you’re used to riding around, you can get a bit more adventurous. For example, there are structured workouts you can follow, where the instructions come up on your screen while you’re riding around the virtual world.

Best of all, you have the Zwift organised group rides. They start every 15 minutes or so, and anyone can join in. You could do a 4-hour endurance ride, an interval session or a Time Trial. Either way, it makes indoor cycling far more fun. It certainly beats staring at a wall.

If you’re following one of our Training Peaks training plans, you can export your workouts to Zwift. It’s like having a coach beside you while you ride.

What You Need For Zwift

To use Zwift you’ll need a computer or tablet, ideally less than 5-years old. It should have Bluetooth or ANT+ wireless connectivity. If not, you can buy an inexpensive USB adaptor that takes care of connectivity.

Your bike OR your indoor trainer must also have power measurement of some sort – in Watts. And Bluetooth or ANT+ wireless connectivity.

Zwift hardware requirements

How to use Zwift for beginners (YouTube video by Global Cycling Network)

Conclusion

Riding your bike throughout winter can be hard but there are ways to improve the situation. None of them are perfect, so you just need to do your best to find solutions like the ones suggested above.

Don’t risk injury or accidents by riding outside in bad weather. The potential downsides outweigh the small upsides. You’re better off training consistently indoors and getting to Spring in one piece.

Remember there are thousands and thousands of people in the same position as you, so don’t feel like you have some unfair disadvantage. Be grateful for options like Zwift, which didn’t exist five or 10 years ago.

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Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)
Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)

Phil is a recognised expert in the field, having featured on many endurance sports publications. He founded MyProCoach in 2010 to sell premium training plans complete with email coach support for triathlons, duathlons, running & cycling.

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