The extreme weather of each season makes training outdoors difficult, and at times, impossible. That does not always make it easy to maintain a steady training schedule, but that’s the way it goes. Both the cold temperatures of winter and precipitation can, in their own way, affect training outdoors. So, with seasonal limitations from Mother Nature in mind, you must keep realistic weekly goals, cross train with other activities, and ride outdoors when you can.
When temperatures are between 10-30F for most of the winter, and especially when there is precipitation along with those temperatures, indoor trainers provide the only option at times. Cycling indoors is different than riding outside, so logging a ton of hours inside often can be a tough task to accomplish.
If you need to spend time on the indoor trainer often, through any season of the year, you must accept the fact that it will be difficult to log the same amount of weekly hours as you do when you can ride on a more consistent basis outside. This is especially true for those who deal with extremely cold temperatures, heavy snowfall, and severe wind and rain. It can be a bad thing to go too hard for too long, too soon inside. Spending too much time on the indoor trainer can lead to mental burnout and possibly overtraining of specific groups of muscles. So keeping most indoor spins between 60-90 minutes for the first 4-6 weeks would be wise. As you build a good base of fitness and stronger, more specific indoor trainer adaptations, logging longer 1.5 – 2.5 hour plus rides indoors can be done. It is always wise to listen to your body – both physically and mentally – to know how far you can push your limits, and that is especially true while working out indoors.
Cross training can play a key role at times through the year. Cross country skiing, running and strength training are the top cross training choices for most endurance cyclists. Like riding indoors, it is always best to build a base of endurance and strength while cross training for at least 4-6 weeks before you start to work with higher intensities. That allows the specific muscles to adapt to each specific movement whether you are running, XC Skiing, or hiking. Keep in mind that it is wise to spend most of your time working aerobically, while cross training through your off season and through the winter months. The more aerobic endurance and strength you can build during your base seasons, the more you will be able to handle the higher intensities during the spring and summer months.
In addition, cross training activities will allow you to add more weekly hours to your training schedule, providing you with a higher level of overall weekly training stress. This will not only help you build more aerobic endurance, it will help you to feel good mentally about your volume of training. Cross training also creates a more balanced muscle by working muscle groups that you do not normally work when focused on cycling alone. This will help prevent injury and allow for greater gains in cycling strength.
Riding outdoors through the winter months is not for everyone, but it is the best way to work the most specific groups of muscles for cycling. There are limitations however; the snow, ice, and temperatures will make it hard to exert yourself at higher intensities and for longer durations. But even with those limitations you can still work good muscle force and endurance through the winter, just not at the same capacity as you can in the spring, summer and fall. Dressing appropriately will also help you get the most out of each cold, blistery winter day.
While training through the winter, when you are limited to how much time you can spend outside, combining a little of everything, from indoors to outside is how you can get the most out of the time of year. The more focused you are at working a proper training intensity, for all activities, the more you will get out of each workout. Working hard through the winter will prep you for the longer base and build miles once the weather breaks. Keep a realistic mindset through the winter and keep focused on your main goals for the year. That will allow you to stay motivated, and make greater overall gains in strength and endurance through the winter.
Mike Schultz, CSCS