How to build your Winter Training Plan.
Updated: Jan 16
Winter training can be a bit of a minefield with so much conflicting advice out there, so what should we be doing over the winter months to be ready for the coming year's adventures? We've teamed up Richard Lang (ex-pro with Rapha-Condor) and Founder of Spoked to give you some tips about how to maximise your winter training.
Over to you Rich...
"Winter cycling training is not like other times of the year. Unless you’re a fan of cyclocross or hillclimbing, you’re probably already into your off-season already. This means your next race or event isn’t until the weather gets a bit warmer later in the year, and also means you’ll have plenty of time to prepare.
It's long been held that base training and endurance sessions (riding a huge amount of miles at low intensity) were the best thing to do over 10 or 12 weeks of winter. But that myth has been busted, many times over, unless you have the same amount of time to train as the professionals do, this isn’t how you can get the most from your time on your bike, it isn't the best way to increase your fitness over the dark and gloomy months.
So what is the best way to train throughout winter?
Fixed training plans
Unlikely to be the best way.
There's a huge amount of fixed training plans out there on the internet all with different hours a week needed. You can download them from British Cycling, subscribe through Training Peaks, try Trainer Road, buy Chris Carmichael's book, The Time Crunched Cyclist. The you've got training plans on the turbo trainer apps - Zwift, Bkool. The list goes on, hey, you can also bury yourself in the internet and try and devise your own plan.
You'll need to think about intensity, base miles, aerobic endurance training, anaerobic training, rides at threshold power, sweet spot, understanding your functional threshold power, your fitness, heart rate 🤯
The problem with any fixed plan is just that, it's fixed. If you can follow it to the letter then fine, it'll work for you. But if you can't, if you skip sessions, go too hard, not hard enough, don't get all the hours in, don't recover, over recover. It just won't work out.
And for most of us this is the reality; family, friends, jobs, commitments, emergencies. Sticking to a fixed plan is pretty much impossible.
What we need is flexibility, to properly weave your winter training plan into your hectic life, so you still get maximum benefit from the precious time you spend on the bike.
Goal setting/reflect on last season
Firstly, you should take some time to reflect on how your season went. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about results, but perhaps less tangible successes, like feeling more confident riding with your friends or in the bunch. Identify where you think you went wrong - perhaps you went into your last event underprepared, without much structured training, or because an illness threw you off-kilter. Whatever happened, it’s happened so now it’s time to look ahead to next year.
One thing we highly recommend is taking a short break from any training plan after a hard season or if you've been racing hard. Winter cycling training plans work best when you’ve had a little bit of time to hit that reset button and take some time off from intervals or worrying about your performance. Try a new activity, some weight training, some Yoga, go to a spin class, ride an indoor track. This is important if you want to head into winter with a fresh outlook and focus you’ll need for longer rides and increasing your performance.
When you train smart, you identify the priorities of your goals within your training plan, between High, Medium and Low. If you’re starting a new winter training plan, you’ll want to do the same thing. If you’re aiming to race, look at the calendar for next year and plot your performance goals and rank them in terms of importance.
Easily set your event priority within the plan builder process
To maximise your season and ensure you don’t burn yourself out, you've got to be realistic. It’s important to only focus on two or three high priority goals or events, and maybe three to four medium. You can generally do as many low priority events as you want. With a decent hierarchy to your goals your training plan can adjust and prioritise when you want to peak. It also means you’ll hit that sweet spot and get to your race or event fresh and not overtrained or fatigued from cumulative efforts. Gone are the traditional days of getting the calendar out and working back from your goal and figuring out workouts or training load yourself, with AI trainers such as Spoked they can do all this hard work for you.
The season is full of intensity and mental stress from your events. Winter cycling is a perfect time to dial back the intensity, keeping you fresh and ready for next year. But this doesn’t mean you should just be riding Zone 1 power all the time.
Rob Ellingworth, Racing Director at Ineos says: “Winter training is very important, but it’s not just about getting in the base miles – that is something a lot of people get wrong. At this time of year especially, it is important instead to be recharging."
Unless you’re a professional, squeezing base training for 25+ hours per week is going to be tricky, but fear not, you're not a Pro, there are better ways to train more suited to us normal folk with jobs and families.
If you can only manage five hours a week to train then your on the bike training can’t purely be low intensity base training. Otherwise, you won’t achieve enough stimulus to improve, there's simply not enough hours. To get around this you’ll need to ride some higher intensity sessions, you need to get that heart rate up. So if you can only ride four days, aim to have one day of threshold intensity per week - you'll feel progress over the winter.
If you can find more time training on the bike, if you can manage 10 hours + then the many of your training sessions per week can be endurance based, just with less intense efforts and threshold intervals as during summer or spring.
Cycling, Rest, and Recovery
Often missed is the importance of recovery, you need to factor recovery in.
Former Pro rider Liam Holohan says of recovery: “It’s the most important bit of training. So many go over the top with the training and just don’t recover from it — their form gets worse and it’s a vicious circle. They think they’re doing badly so they train harder and it only makes it worse.”
You don't actually get fitter or stronger when your cycling, the adaptation happens after, when you're off your bike, sat in front to the TV, in the bath, sleeping.
To get the most from your training load on the bike you need sufficient time to rest and recover between sessions. How long depends on how hard your workouts are, and how much fatigue you've built up over the weeks of training.
A good winter training plan will flex with you.
Winter training in bad weather
Bad weather is part and parcel of the British winter, it can scupper cycling, and we all know the forecasters can only get it right so often. Being flexible is a key part of a successful winter cycling training plan - whether that be shortening rides, or rescheduling longer rides where it’s too icy or too windy, or even taking the ride indoors and suffering it out on the smart trainer instead. No ride is worth risking breaking a bone or having a fall. This sort of setback can put you back months, so use your common sense when it comes to the winter weather.
Winter is a great time to incorporate more off-the-bike training, and focus on some of the imbalances or weaknesses you have. Whether this means incorporating a few strength training sessions into your winter training plan or core work a few times a week, finding a balance over winter will help you become a stronger cyclist, ready for spring.
Pick up the intensity approaching spring
Once spring starts to appear on the horizon and your first event is in sight, it’s time to pick up the intensity again in your winter cycling training plan. Although you’re unlikely to have been focussing on base fitness throughout winter unless you have all the hours in the world to play with, your intensity and amount of threshold intervals for example, should increase a few weeks before your first event. This will leave you primed for the efforts required in your chosen event or race needed for a good performance.
Importantly, if you find your winter cycling training hasn’t gone as well as you’d hoped, all is not lost. In this situation intensity is our friend.
Hopefully, these points will help you to plan your winter cycling training plan successfully and give you an idea of what to expect over the next few months in terms of your structured training and types of intervals and workouts you should be doing.
Finally, a shameless plug.....if you’re already a Spoked user, the programme will tailor your cycling training plan based on the goals and hours per week you have available. And if you’re not, get your 2023 off on the right pedal stroke by downloading the app today either on Google Play or the App Store and don't forget to use the free 60 day trial code VITX60 !"