- - How to Plan Your Winter Training and When to Begin

How to Plan Your Winter Training and When to Begin

article by Aaron Buggle

A successful start to your winter training starts before you finish your current season. Experience from over 10 long and arduous winters has taught me the importance of forward planning, setting goals and organizing my winter before it even begins.

Not doing this and beginning your winter without a plan, is the start of what’s been dubbed as ‘ the headless chicken phenomenon’.

In other words riding around aimlessly and leaving a whole heap of adaptations on the table in the process. There is a process of planning and organization that makes your winter far more beneficial in terms of cost benefit.

You see when you make solid plans you’ve given a rider something to aim for; something to challenge his skills against; something to measure his progress with, and something that gives purpose to his investment of effort, time and money.

All this by making a simple plan.

Before You End Your Season

You need to have your winter break scheduled; yes you need those dates nailed down in my opinion.

Too bad if you’re reading this too late!

I always take two weeks (personal preference) in October that is followed by some cross training for another 2 weeks and normal practice resumes on November 1st.

A mistake a lot riders make is that they start organizing everything after their couple of weeks rest and then it turns into a month or more of faffing about trying to get started when in fact, you’re ready to get going.

Make It A Proper Rest!

Your time off the bike should be physical and psychological down time –at least it shouldn’t have any cycling related stressors. This period off the bike will differ greatly depending on the rider and the season they’ve endured.

But the thing is there’s quite a bit to consider when you kick off your winter training.

Pretty quickly this stuff can get on top of you and it’s easy to get a bit stressed out, that’s why I suggest starting before you take your winter break.

I’ve my winter bike booked into the shop for its service, I’ll book a performance test for the first month back riding so I have my baseline. There’s also nutrition and strength and conditioning to consider – perhaps they’re the stone unturned for you and you want to try implementing them this year.

Well, the start of the winter is the time to do it.

That’s all before you even start making new goals for next year and most importantly before you start periodising and planning the training you’ll need to do to take you there.

If you get as much of this stuff organized as you can before your break, believe me, you’ll be more relaxed, and as a result  your transition back into training will be all the more smoother.

It also means your time off the bike is a proper physical and psychological rest – the whole idea of the winter break in the first place.

Making a Plan & Setting Targets

  • What is it that your winter training is aiming to improve?
  • What events are you aiming for?
  • What is your bull’s-eye?
  • When should you peak?
  • What is the best sequence of training to get you in the best shape of your life for that key event?

The answers to these questions are crucial to answer before you even clip in and start your winter training.

Most riders don’t reap the rewards of a good winter because they don’t know what it is they are trying to improve – this needs to be clearly set out every time you go out on a winter ride.

The dividing up of these periods is referred to as ‘periodisation’.

Starting Point

I’d start this whole process by accessing the season that’s just passed when it’s fresh in your mind.

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t?
  • Did your training methods have the desired effect?
  • What factors limited your performance in events?

Be specific, was it that you just couldn’t finish well, was it your endurance or perhaps it was those short steep hills?

Get it all down on paper and for god sake if you didn’t improve following last winters efforts don’t do the same thing again – that’s insane.

The next step is to identify your goals for next season.

I’ve made balls of this for many years – picking goals that seemed like the right ones to choose on paper…

It’s super important to pick events that really ignite something within.

That said picking out events from the calendar is only the crust of goal setting.

This is where the real coaching begins. The fitness variables that need to be trained to elicit the adaptations required to take you to your goal need to be systematically planned into your programme – not trained by chance!

This is what’s known within coaching circles as ‘periodization’.


In coaching we sometimes refer to the annual cycle of the year as the ‘macro training cycle’, and the different phases of training within the periodisation plan as ‘meso training cycles’.

These will normally be a preparation phase, a base phase, a build phase, a specific phase, a race phase and a taper phase.

Within each of these phases we adjust the zonal training load to stimulate the different physiological systems in the best combination and sequence.

The structure of the plan will depend on the physiological demands of your particular event and the timing.

For example, the annual periodisation plan would differ greatly between a rider aiming for a January cyclocross championship, a time-triallist aiming for a June 10-mile TT championship, and a sportive rider working towards a top performance at the Etape du Tour in July.

However, the principles will be the same for each and planning should work backwards from your particular goals.

It is not possible for us to maintain optimum shape all year round, so we must aim to hit peak performance levels at pre-determined times.

If you are aiming for performance it is vital to understand that you can’t stay in top shape for very long periods – you have to ‘peak’ to reach your optimum fitness.

However, that peak can only be short lived, and you can only achieve it two or three times per year. The reason for this is that your body just wouldn’t stand up to the training stress which the peaking involves.

It is not an accident that Chris Froome arrives at the Tour de France in the very best shape.

With this in mind you should ideally target two or three ‘A-priority’ goals during the course of the competitive season, separated perhaps by four to six weeks. You can also include ‘B-priority’ events which are important for the athlete but which can serve as strategic importance in your build-up to key events.

Anyway I hope this has put a light under your arse in reference to planning your winter.

It should be the first step in anything you are willing to give so much of your time to!

Otherwise it’s like an archer with no target…  you need to put the right plan and target in place if he’s going to hit the bull’s-eye!




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