Have you noticed how there is only one way of training through winter and yet it's a different way according to where you come across it ?
Based on a quick review of bike magazines and online experts, self appointed or otherwise, here are some possible options that you MUST be doing, apparently;
1. Interval training. Retreat to the bike cave and play the same Sufferfest video over and over until your sweat actually erodes an irrigation channel beneath the turbo.
2. Ignore the modern world and do what you you always have done anyway, wielding Fausto Coppi's truth-deflecting soundbite "Ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike" as a kind of talisman against any kind of scientific approach.
3. Get really fat and unfit and endure the worst April of riding since…well, last April.
4. Only ride in Zone 2 because that is 'Base training' which everyone says you should do.
With the exception of not riding there's validity to all of these approaches. How's that for sitting on the fence ? Less feebly, you'll need to look at what you are aiming to achieve once you emerge from the cold, wet season and enter the brighter, warmer, wet season.
The first approach, interval training, if it's done carefully, works well if you want to keep a high level of fitness, create one in the first place, or if you are aiming at taking part in short duration events - this would include most road races below E, 1, 2 categories.
It's powerful ju-ju however and care needs to be taken that you don't max out the frequency (a couple of times a week is probably plenty for most people), the intensity (sprint work is the icing, not the cake) or the number of weeks you do this for. If your entire winter is spent with the DVD of "Smash Your Head Against The Wall Because All Pain Is Good" the chances are you will emerge into what optimists refer to as summer bug-eyed and feral and hating everything to do with cycling.
Periodisation is the term coaches use at this juncture: do the right thing at the right time and have that determined by what you aim to do with that fitness.
Just riding your bike and hoping things will work out is actually a good approach for a specific type of rider.
Just riding your bike and hoping things will work out is actually a good approach for a specific type of rider. None of us got into this to train, we ride because we like it. For some people a structured approach to riding kills the enjoyment. Sometimes riders can improve just by doing more riding of any kind.
I find that a very large proportion of my clients, when we first get them to make meaningful analyses of their rides, have spent their cycling hours going quite hard all the time: Zone 3, or Tempo. Hard enough to feel you're not slacking, not so hard it hurts. For Sportive riders this is not a bad approach for much of a training schedule but it does ensure that's about the only way you can ride effectively. It also limits your potential for improvement. For racers this is a terrible approach because it doesn't reflect what happens within a race. As with the pain cave tribe, judicious use of that approach and a mixture of different types of training are likely to make your winter more enjoyable and your summer more successful.
Base training is a term loaned from periodisation models and comes to us from the world of professional cycling. Although there are a variety of aspects to Base training it's typified by a lot of Endurance rides, multiple hours in Zones 1 and 2. Bear in mind where it comes from when you consider if it is right for you. Are you likely to be doing 5 hour races ? Are you able to train for multiple hours a day on multiple days a week ? If your answers are both 'no' then congratulations, you get to avoid doing 4 hour rides in January with no feeling below your knees.
Doing a small amount of short endurance rides is like warming up those January feet by running a hot bath 30 seconds at a time over several hours. If you are limited with training time or if you are only taking part in shorter events then higher intensity training is more likely be beneficial. Also, riders in their late 40s and 50s, and onwards, start losing the top end quickly. Train it to retain it.
Just about everybody who isn't a novice can use some Zone 5 ('very hard') work once a week. Work periods of 1-6 minutes with equal rest, total work duration of no more than 15 minutes. Once a week is great for fitness, twice a week is good as you start to get towards short duration races. Three times a week, tiger, means you recover really, really well. Or pretend you do.
Sportive riders can use those Zone 5 intervals but have them gradually give way to threshold (Zone 4) intervals of 8 to 20 minutes with a quarter the duration of rest. 2-3 reps is good, once or twice a week. Definitely a good thing to add into longer rides also. The closer you get towards events the more Zone 3 work you want to do, and for longer.
If you are doing long races for which Base training is required well, you've probably already come back from Spain with hundreds of kilometres in your legs and Fabio Aru's Facebook friend acceptance. Time for some harder work: see above.
- Mike Edwards
Mike Edwards runs Bibo Bike Coaching and is currently using Zone 5 efforts solely to keep his feet warm this month.