Not very many people like winter training. By this time of year, the bike might even be the furthest thing from your mind. Some of us (okay maybe just me) like to think of "winter time" as "off-season" and "off-season" as "couch season." It's tempting. I know. But training in the winter pays off come springtime, while couch time is something you pay for come springtime. As beneficial as winter training is, it's still not always on most people's list of things they love to do. Kind of like taking your vitamins. You know it is good for you, but it's easy to put it off. Sure, we all have a friend that lives in Florida (Rob Link I'm looking at you) that loves riding in 80 degree weather,and loves telling you about the 80 degree weather, and hey, did you know it is 80 degrees in Florida right now? I digress. Or maybe you have a friend that relishes riding in the snow, and is completely unfazed by below freezing temps (that would be our resident Tom Hall, and you suck too). These types ride outside year round, and they love it, and great for them. But for most of us here in the Midwest winter training looks very different than summer training. But if the thought of being locked in the basement on a trainer for 6-10 hours a week sends you running for the hills, then that's okay too. The winter season is a great time to diversify your training so that you hit the road in spring time fresh and strong.
I like to think of my winter training as having multiple components, each serving a different purpose. Just like a multi-vitamin. You wouldn't take triple does of Vitamin A and call it good, you also don't want to devote all of your time to just one facet of training. By mixing and balancing the parts you never get bored, and your muscles are always challenged. In the summer you spend a high volume of your training in one position, doing one thing-outside riding. This can lead to overuse injuries, muscle imbalances, or even bad habits. By diversifying the winter program, you not only stave off these issues, you can also devote some time to correcting them. I give percentages so you can tweek the time devoted to your own schedule. If you train 5 hours a week, then the amount of time you spend in the gym will be different from someone devoting 10 hours a week to training. I'm currently logging between 7-10 hours most weeks, but it can vary a bit, and thats okay. Now is the time when you can be a little flexible.
Component 1- STRENGTH TRAINING. I spend about 30-45% of my training hours in the gym (3-4 hours). The great majority of that is devoted to building strength and power in the driving muscles used on the bike, the quads, hamstring, glutes, calves. I'm a big fan of multi-joint movement over isolation. For example, squats and dead lifts instead of quad extensions or hamstring curls. I also do a lot of box jumps to build power and quick snap. Dan taught me to do box jumps with one minute on, one minute off- and try to do three or four sets. Don't neglect core and back strength to help you transfer power into the pedals. This is one of the things that cyclists often neglect, and then after an hour on the road we are complaining about how our back hurts. Work on it now! If it's been a long time since you've lifted, start SLOW. But do start, because adding strength to your muscles pays off in a huge way.
Component 2- TRAINER TIME. You thought this wouldn't be here? Well it is. But because we are looking quality not quantity, this component makes up about 30-50% of my total training time (3-5+ hours). It's important! The trainer is incredibly efficient way to train. it allows you to specify each workout to your needs, and here you can correct a few of those bad habits I mentioned by working on specific skills- LIKE A NICE FLUID PEDAL STROKE!!! One legged spins, high cadence intervals, small chain ring sprint efforts. If you are a gear masher I'm looking at you. Also on the trainer you can make your efforts mach your weakness. Do you fade and peter out before your reach the top of climbs? The trainer gives you the perfect time to focus on maintaining your power for 1,3, or even 5 minutes. And all that strength you are going to gain in the gym? On the trainer your muscles learn how to recruit those muscle fibers for cycling. Don't like to train at home alone? Who does?! Take spin class at The Wheel- the classes are progressive and meant to tackle all of the facets of cycling- from power to cadence to endurance.
Component 3- RIDING OUTSIDE. We all know how the Midwest can be... one minute its freezing, and the next minutes it's 50 degrees out. When these shining opportunities come around, jump on them and get outside and ride your bike for real. I try to do this once a week so I know how hard it can be (2 hours+). Look at the weather and your schedule at the beginning of the week to see what your best chance will be, but don't be afraid to ride on a sunny but very cold day if the weather doesn't cooperate. As great as the trainer is, it is not quite the same. The road pushes back, the hills can surprise you, and the wind... well you know about the wind! If you haven't ridden outside in a while, you will be in for quite a surprise, and probably not a pleasant one. Your trainer doesn't have as much resistance as you think, and handling skills deteriorate quickly. There's also a lot to be said for the mental toughness you earn from riding 3 hours in cold weather on a windy day. So get on the road once a week. More if you can. Yes, your baby will get dirty. Wipe her down after every nasty ride.
Component 4- CROSS-TRAINING. This can be anything from yoga to running. As winter moves to spring I start to refocus on cycling and do less cross-training. But a break from the bike is still okay, even necessary. If you've missed a chance at a decent weather day because it is too dark, then go for run. Saddle sores? Try a run instead of your normal spin. Fighting off a cold? Skip the hard training sessions and go to yoga. Tight legs? Yoga is the answer, my friend. Mountain biking is great in the winter, even with a little snow on the ground, and it usually feels warmer in the woods without the wind.
Treat your body good this winter. Diversify your training and hit the ground running come spring time. And take your vitamins!