It’s very tempting during the winter to simply batten down the hatches and retreat indoors. Turbo, treadmill and indoor pool – they all provide great training options, but they shouldn’t be used exclusively.
If you spend the winter bolted to a turbo, not only will your sanity and backside undoubtedly suffer, but so too will your bike-handling skills. You might develop a superb engine but throw in a few corners or tricky descents and those gains could easily turn into losses.
Running on a treadmill is quite simply a soul-sapping experience; the belt will always do some of the work for you, the never changing foot strike is a recipe for overuse injuries and air-conditioned gyms are a haven for colds and flu. Meanwhile, only a hardcore few would take on open-water swimming through the winter. Saying that, there are some heated outdoor pools that can give you a real mental boost.
So with a little forethought and preparation – choosing your clothing, kit, workouts, etc. – there’s no need to hibernate indoors this winter. Just heading outside, breathing in some crisp air and, most importantly, receiving some mood-enhancing daylight, will help see you through until spring. So, get up, get out and follow my tips below, and your enhanced mood, fitness and race results next season will be your reward!!
Winter-proof your bike
Mudguards can be the number one priority for enjoyable winter riding. Not only will they make you far more popular with your ride-mates, they’ll also help keep your backside and feet dry. They protect your bike from corrosive salt spray too, prolonging the life of your components and reducing the time you have to spend cleaning post-ride.
Full-length guards are best but, if you haven’t got the drillings or the clearance, there are clip-on options too, which still do a decent job. Get some alloy training wheels and fit some puncture-resistant wider (25-28mm) tyres for a more comfortable winter ride.
Hitting the trails, whether on a mountain bike or cross bike, is a great option, especially in snowy or icy conditions when the roads can be especially dangerous. For a good, even-paced winter workout, you’re not looking for technical trails, so converted railway lines (https://www.sustrans.org.uk/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIibu64tX75AIVBrDtCh1-FAFNEAAYASAAEgJgPPD_BwE) are ideal.
Trail centres are also a great option, with many having fast-draining all-weather surfaces. Blue and green-graded routes provide an excellent way to get solid winter bike miles in and many centres have a café to thaw out in afterwards. Check out Afan Argoed Forest (http://www.afanforestpark.co.uk/1866)
Aim to start your runs and rides feeling slightly cold to avoid sweating as you warm up, which will only chill you later on.
Adopt simple layering to stay comfortable. Start with a wicking base layer next to your skin; next is an insulating mid-layer such as a fleece; and finally is your wind- or waterproof shell. Add or remove layers to adapt to changing temperatures and as you warm up or cool down.
Look after your extremities
On the bike especially, pay particular attention to your hands, feet and head. Buy high-quality cycling-specific gloves and make sure they’re not too tight. Silk or merino liner gloves really up their warmth. Remember: to help stop the cold and wet getting in, jacket cuffs go over your gloves.
Waterproof overshoes are a must for winter riding, but also consider taping up drainage and ventilation holes in your shoes. Knee-length warm socks prevent cold calves and ankles, but not so thick as to make your shoes tight. Prevent water getting in by zipping your tights over the top of your overshoes. As for headgear, you’d be hard-pressed to beat a traditional Belgian-style winter beanie (to wear under your helmet) for keeping your head and ears toasty.
Try some trail running - easier on the joints, and it certainly helps mix your training up (and it's way better than slogging on the 'dreadmill'). You just need a reasonable pair of off-road run trainers, and you're away! Even enter a local cross-country run race to keep you motivated. You don't need spikes - your trail shoes will do. Some cross country events are as cheap as chips, and very local!!
Keep it constant
The best sessions for the winter are those that stick to a reasonably constant intensity or build progressively, as it’s easier to avoid the overheating and chilling effect that high-intensity intervals can cause. This doesn’t just limit you to slow single-pace workouts though…
Out and back run: Run 30mins out, sticking to Zones 1/2 and then turn around and retrace your route, picking up the pace to Tempo, Zone 3. How much quicker are you? Jog for 5-10mins to cool down.
Step-up pyramid run: Using a GPS to record distances, run 2.5km in Zones 1/2, 1.5km in Zone 3, 1km Zone 4, 2km Zone 3, 3km Zone 2, easing into Zone 1 for the final km.
Chain-gang ride: A winter club-cycling staple, where a chain of riders travel at a constant speed, taking turns as the front rider before dropping to the end of the chain. Great for fitness and group riding skills.
Sweet-spot intervals: The best bang-for-your-buck winter workout. Warm-up: 10mins through Zones 1 and 2. Ride: 2 x 15-20mins in upper Zone 3-mid Zone 4, with 5mins recovery in Zone 2. Spin home for 10mins to cool down.
Light up your life
It’s essential to ensure you can see and be seen when exercising in the winter months.
Reflective clothing and lights are a must, but:
Don’t be seduced by lumens: Beam pattern and quality is more important.
Look for a remote battery pack: It’ll take weight off your head and, by keeping the pack by your body, increase burn time in the cold.
Beware of cheap imports: They tend to fail frustratingly quickly. Spend a bit more on a reputable brand.
Don’t dazzle: If you’re running high-powered lights on the road, be considerate of oncoming traffic.
Be seen from the side: Many high-powered bike lights aren’t visible from the side, which is probably one of the most important requirements for rider safety. Fit some extra LEDs to remedy this.
Try something new (ok, this bit will be done indoors!)
Take up a new sport or pastime - indoor bouldering and climbing are great for strength and conditioning in a dynamic environment. Try a gym class to supplement your training - yoga and pilates are fantastic options to improve your conditioning during the winter period. Do your research - look at the various gym/leisure centres that are near your
There’s nothing better than getting home from a freezing cold run or ride and finding the house full of the smell of a hearty stew. A slow cooker is one of the most useful bits of kit you can own for a successful winter training campaign. Get organised, chuck everything in before you head out, battle the elements for a few hours and come home to a warming hug in a bowl!! Yum, yum!!
We all know that the winter period can be a difficult especially where motivation and training are concerned. Hopefully these tips can help and keep us motivated, and bring us into the spring fresh and ready to bring on a new focus! Hope these tips help!!