Most of my top tips really focus on your health and well-being through the winter months. Consistency of training is key to success, so a lot of these tips are aimed at reducing your chances of being off your bike for any length of time.
1. Stay focussed on your own goals
It’s all too easy to look at what training other riders are doing and think you need to be doing as much as them. Stay focussed on your own goals and the training plan you or your coach has devised. You don’t know when other riders are aiming to peak, what their goals are or whether they are doing too much and will end up burned out before their season even starts. You will know how much training you can fit into your lifestyle and how your body copes with the training you do, so listen to your body and remain focussed on yourself and your goals.
2. Layer Up
“There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.” Well, this is partly true as I would never advise people to cycle in dangerous conditions, like ice or strong winds. It really is vital that you keep warm on your winter training rides though. Getting too cold can really knock your immune system, and the last thing you want is to catch something that will cost you a week or more time off the bike. Quality over quantity in your clothing choices: invest in some good quality winter cycling kit that will keep you warm without needing to be bulky. If you layer up, then that not only keeps you warmer, but there is the ability to remove layers or add layers as the temperature changes during your ride: as you get warmer as your work harder, say on a climb, and then cool down as you descend a long hill.
3. Don’t risk riding in bad weather
It’s never worth the risk of riding outdoors if the weather conditions are dangerous, for example: it’s icy, foggy or strong winds. Having an accident puts more than just your training at risk, so hit the indoor trainer and save your outdoor ride for another day. There are so many options for motivation for indoor training now, there’s no need to risk outdoor training in dangerous weather.
4. Maintain your bike
It’s not only your own physical shape with illness and injuries that will keep you off the bike, your bike itself also needs to be well maintained. Any mechanicals could see you stranded on a bike ride, not only costing you valuable training time, but also may see your training steed out of action until you can get it fixed. Winter weather is hard on your bike components, constantly getting wet and dirty, and also salty grit on the roads when it is cold add to the wear and tear of the bike. Ideally, clean your bike off after every ride, thoroughly dry the chain and chainrings and apply lube. This will ensure your bike stays rideable and save you money on needing to replace worn parts so often.
5. Train smart
Have a training plan and avoid just going out and clocking up as many miles as possible. Having a training plan will build structure to your training, break up the monotony of just riding long endurance rides all the time, will build in some rest days and mean that you are not worn out mentally and physically before the season even starts.
6. Boost your immunity
The winter is the time of year when more colds and bugs are flying around. It’s also the time when you may be asking your body to be doing longer rides in colder weather, which can really tax the body. So now is the time to really focus on boosting your immunity. This involves eating a well-balanced diet and taking on plenty of fluids, and you may even seek advice from a nutritionist to accomplish this. Perhaps you might need to take supplements, in particular vitamin D, with the daylight hours being so much shorter than the summer. Vitally important to your immune system is getting enough sleep, rest and recovery. So make sure you get at least 7 hours sleep a night and build in your rest days to your training week.
7. No need to be at race weight in the winter
During the winter and the off-season is no time to be focussing heavily on your target race weight. Being too lean may actually compromise your immune system in the colder weather as the body works harder to keep warm. It’s also mentally draining to try and keep to your race weight, so give yourself a break from the strict diet, fuel yourself appropriately for your training, so that you can re-focus on targeting your race weight when it gets closer to the race season.
8. Focus on your rest and recovery
The off-season is the time for your body and mind to recover physically and mentally from the trials of the race season. Use the off-season to take a break and then start to build your endurance base miles. It’s all-too-easy to get swept along with how great you feel at the end of the race season, but it’s really important to reduce the intensity of your sessions now, to ensure that you are physically and mentally refreshed and ready to target the next season.
9. Find some cycling buddies with similar goals to you
Cycling can be a very lonely sport if you train by yourself all the time. Use the off-season to ride in a group and make your cycling a social activity. Not only does this pass the time for long endurance rides and boost your mental health in a time when the winter blues kick in, but it also is safer to be out with others and you can keep working on your group riding skills. Find yourself a similar matched group to train with, who ride similar speeds and have similar goals to you. Avoid the temptation to race each other on your rides, enjoy the company of others while you are building your endurance base miles. Enjoy these group rides because all too quickly you will be back to harder intensity rides and interval training, most likely solo to ensure you can complete the training session goals.
10. Strength and conditioning
Winter is a great time to add strength and conditioning work outs to your training. Every type of rider in any discipline can benefit from a targeted strength and conditioning schedule. Also, never underestimate the importance of stretching; yoga and Pilates are also great to compliment your training. All these sessions that improve your overall strength and flexibility aid in injury prevention. The less time you spend injured, the more time you can train consistently, and consistency in training is the key to success.
Jason Streather is a BC Level 3 Coach @ pdqcyclecoaching