- - Making Optimal Gains with Training This Winter

Making Optimal Gains with Training This Winter

article by A1 Coaching’s Aaron Buggle

It’s that time of the year when our minds need to turn to winter training.

It’s often said that “winners are made in the winter”’, so if you are seeking big improvements in your riding for next season, this article is for you.  We will discuss the advantages of increased training intensity for the time-crunched rider, and also the pitfalls of the traditional low intensity approach to winter training.

Cycling success does not require huge lifestyle sacrifices and changes

It is important for all of us to grasp that amateur cycling shouldn’t be about lifestyle redesign. We cycle for fun but enjoy the challenge of competition, fast sportives, or gran fondos. Through our dealings with our clients, we’re constantly taking into account our clients’ need to balance their training with family/work/educational commitments; this balance is achievable with proper planning and good coaching.

When this system is highly refined it’s possible to be a top domestic rider while working full time and having a family – if you follow the system, and take a structured approach to your winter training. Intensity is key to effective training.

Intensity vs. duration

In order for us to make a physiological adaptation – to get fitter – we need training stress. Training stress comes from the combination of duration and intensity of exercise. Some of us can ride 20 or more hours per week. However, for the vast majority of us, our weekly duration is much more limited – or should be for the sake of a more balanced lifestyle, and allowing us to maintain a good relationship with our families and employers.

Unfortunately, for many years duration has been touted as the key prescription for increased fitness levels. This tradition still persists in many circles and, on many Sunday spins during the winter, anyone who shows ambition to train at an intensity above zone 1 in the winter training period will be labeled and ridiculed as a ‘winter racer’, ‘December champion’, or similar.

It’s been ingrained into the cycling psyche that intensity and intervals are taboo in the winter. The prevailing wisdom is that if we introduce even a small amount of intensity into our winter training we will be mentally and physically fried by the middle of the upcoming season. An atmosphere of fear is introduced to shelter those who want to train in zone 1 all through the cold, wet, weather.

Many of the guys, who advocate the old school, low intensity approach, are the same guys you find in the car park after a cold, wet, 100km early season race/event trying to find a reason why they were dropped within the first lap. They believe that they performed their winter training the “right” way, but they are not seeing the results that were promised by the advocates of this low intensity approach. They have ridden much longer distances than this in training, why can they not complete it in a race? The answer is simple, their training lacked intensity, and their training volume was not sufficient to cause the adaptations promised by the traditional low intensity approach..

Science has debunked some traditional wisdoms

Some of the traditional wisdoms are based on assumptions that have now been debunked by science. Many of these “wisdoms” are also not relevant or applicable to the average time crunched rider with a job, family, or educational commitments

For example, tradition dictates that one must ride slowly for prolonged periods (‘long slow distance’) to develop mitochondria – the powerhouse of cells where energy is produced. The current research demonstrates that mitochondria production can be increased threefold by including more intensity in our training program. These adaptations can all be achieved without altering training volume, perfect for the time-constrained riders.

Therefore, when training time is limited – for example 8 hours per week– intensity is the variable we must focus on in order to manipulate weekly-accumulated training stress. This increased stress will lead to consistent improvement over time.

In other words, the added intensity compensates for the shortcoming in duration and trains differing aspects of our physiological systems. The improvements in your higher end power caused by this increase in intensity are also hugely specific to racing, while also improving your overall fitness.

In closing, with recent advances in training methodology, combined with a structured periodized approach to winter training, amateur cyclists can make huge improvements in their fitness, without having to completely redesign their lifestyle or sacrificing valuable time with their family.



A1 Coaching

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