(Disclaimer: Undergoing any change to a person’s fitness routine requires careful examination of an individual’s ability and preparedness to participate in the new routine/activity(s). Anyone who has not been involved in successful physical conditioning immediately prior to a change in activity or who has a history of health related problems or has questions regarding their physical ability to undertake a change in physical behavior should consult a qualified physician before undergoing such a change in behavior.)
Winter can be a tough time to ride, let alone train in Chicagoland. Still, if you didn’t train during the cold-weather months here, you could potentially be off the bike for five months. That is too long if you want to be a competitive athlete the rest of the year.
Winter training has several specific purposes including:
1. Full recovery from previous year
2. Establish goals for next year
3. Build strength, both muscular and connective tissue
4. Work on form, including pedal stroke and body position
5. Establish a base of endurance fitness for next year
In order to have a complete program you should have the following things available to you.
1. Access to resistance equipment (weights, therabands, etc.)
2. Indoor trainer (rollers or resistance trainer)
3. Cold weather clothing
If you have been training consistently throughout the 2009 season you want to take some time completely off of the bike during the beginning of the really bad weather. Two weeks off of the bike is the minimum, but you could take as long as four weeks completely off. That doesn’t mean that you should not be exercising during this time, just not on the bike.
Once you are rested from your previous season, you need to establish your goals for the next season. Establishing your goals will help you to know what specific things you need to work on during the winter to help you to reach your goals for the next season. For example, if your only goal is to ride a century in August, you will not need to do a lot of on-the-bike strength training in January. If your goals focus on track events, you will need to do more strength training over the winter. If you want to by flying fast for the early season races in March and April, you will need to establish a much bigger base during the winter months.
Ideally you will add in strength and weight-bearing exercise for 8-12 weeks. Cyclists get very strong in very specific ways, but that makes them susceptible to injury when moving in any way that isn’t pedaling a bike. Winter is the time of year to work on moving in those non-bike ways.
Using the indoor trainer (either rollers or resistance trainer) can be a great tool to work on proper pedaling and full-body riding technique. Working on this over the winter for at least 8 weeks will help tremendously during the entire next season.
Maintaining some aerobic and some anaerobic activity during the winter is important. This doesn’t have to be all on the bike. Some anaerobic work can come in the weight room, basketball court, or cross country ski trails.
If you make a good plan with a lot of fun and diverse activities for your cold-weather training, you can come out of the Midwest winter ready to have a great season on the bike when the warm temperatures return.
When I first started cycling somewhat seriously, I joined the local USCF team (long before USA Cycling was formed). I stopped in at the sponsoring shop and asked what the pace was for the weekend group rides. After hearing that the “A” group rode at 22-24 mph, I proceeded to go out and train on my own. I was convinced that I could not join the team ride until I could hold 22-24 mph on my own.
That is a huge mistake that many new riders make. The local group ride is a place where you learn how to ride. You should be able to control your bike in a safe manner (ride in a straight line, know how to shift and break safely, etc.), but once you can do this, you will learn a lot quickly by jumping into a “new rider friendly” team ride. If the group rides at 22-24 mph, you certainly don’t need to be able to do that speed on your own to stay with the group. The dynamics of drafting will allow you to go much faster with the group than you would on your own.
Talk to the group leaders before you set out on the ride so that they know what your ability level is and can give you any words of advice before you get going. A “new rider friendly” team ride will usually have a “no drop” policy for at least part of the ride. The other riders should also be looking to help out new riders in order to assist them with drafting and riding in a pace line.
Joining in on your first group ride can certainly be intimidating. With that in mind, however, get out there! Jumping in to the group riding experience can be one of the quickest ways to become a better rider.