Winter Training

Winter Training

I enjoy the annual rhythm of the seasons. It encourages me to change my cycling and exercise, like a farmer rotating crops and leaving some fields fallow for a while.
The early months of the year remind me of preparing the soil and sowing that year’s crop. This means base training: long rides with friends at a moderate pace, along with stops in cafés to warm up. It’s a great way to get out of the city and escape the “blues” that winter in Seattle can bring.
As spring arrives, the first shoots of the plants poke through the soil. It’s a time to tend them to ensure they grow. On a bike, this means working on speed and endurance. At first, the intensity can be hard, but it’s also invigorating to get back into the swing of cycling. Randonneur brevets provide a great opportunity, as each ride is training for the next, longer one.
Summer is the time to harvest the fruits of all the labor. On a bike, this means those long rides in the mountains that I’ve yearned to do all year. The preparation pays dividends as we soar up mountain passes and ride through the night. This glorious season stretches into autumn, until the first snow closes the mountain passes.
Then comes the time to rest and recover. As it rains outside from October through December, I sit at my desk with a cup of hot chocolate and catch up on work. I try to get ahead so I can take off time next summer. Not riding “seriously” for a few months allows me to recharge my enthusiasm for cycling. It lets my body recover, and hopefully reach even greater heights next year.
During these rest months, I still ride for transportation and the occasional weekend jaunt with friends, but there are no efforts for speed or training. Rides rarely are more than 3 hours in duration.
This time off the bike does not mean that I don’t exercise at all! This is a good time for cross-training. I go running a few times a week. I enjoy this, and I like to think that it helps to maintain my bone density, since I run on steep trails. I also go to the gym and work on core strength, stretching, and building overall strength, mostly as a means to prevent cycling-related overuse injuries. Running and the gym make it fun to take some time off the bike. These other workouts ensure that I still work up a sweat a few times a week and enjoy the glow that comes with vigorous exercise.
Do you take time off your bike, and if yes, what do you do during the off-season?

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Comments (21)

  • azorch

    The gym for core and flexibility; rigorously paced hiking over uneven terrain is surprisingly effective at working those area that don’t tend to get flexed during the repetitive and circular motion of cycling. I’m considering a kettle routine also.

    December 20, 2012 at 6:55 am
  • Mags OI

    Living in the desert Southwest I pretty much get to ride year-round. Climate change means that when it does snow it subsequently melts pretty fast and the wait for the roads to clear is short. There are spans when the wind is just too fierce to even pretend to get out and ride. Riding is my training although long walks and day-hikes backpacking a 1.5 year-old certainly strengthen the core as well.

    December 20, 2012 at 7:39 am
    • Patrick Moore

      Oh, but Wind (with capital W — we had gusts to 50 yesterday) are great for “training”, and character-building, particularly if you ride mostly fixed. Personally, I hate training whether in a gym(n), on the road, or in a weight room, but, also living in the SW, I manage to ride almost all year, wind notwithstanding. Yesterday despite the wind I took a brief (11 mile) mostly dirt ride in our Bosque paralleling the Rio Grande. The wind was in the process of moving from S to NW, so I got a strong sidewind on the way out and great blasts of it in my face on the way home — deep in the hooks in a 38/24 (29″ wheels). Fortunately it wasn’t too cold: upper 30s.
      If I had my way, my cross “training” would include brisk walks with the dog (walking is the human exercise par excellence), though my dog has small tolerance for cold; and chopping wood. As it is, I don’t have a wood stove, so I do desultory calesthenics — yuk.

      December 20, 2012 at 11:26 am
  • Florent Carrière

    During autumn and winter I do some cyclo-cross/ offroad rides to improve my cardiovascular and my balance and abilities on the bike too. I’d also like to swim and run but these activities aren’t in my habits.
    Cyclo-cross especially is a good mix between ride and run activities and its relative short lenght allow to not freeze a long time … here in nothern France it’s a cultural winter sport !

    December 20, 2012 at 7:53 am
  • Neil

    I used to do spinning classes through the winter, but I really felt like I was missing the point of seasonal variety. Now, I’m looking forward to a season of vigorous nordic skiing in nearby Gatineau Parc – Loads of fun, and good cross training to build core strength. Also, like you, I do a bit of running (for variety, and to maintain bone density).
    Looks like I should be able to get started on the skiing this weekend!

    December 20, 2012 at 9:08 am
  • Andy

    I realized that I love cycling for the ability to venture out farther and see new places, often with other people, and for me it has nothing to do with the exercise aspects. I tried to get into running last winter, but just didn’t have the desire to run for an hour or two around the same small radius from home. I’m not a fan of driving to places to go for a run (or ride) either, so like usual I’ll just stick to cycling year round. I got some great winter tights, wool bibs, wool jersey, a homemade brevet bag, and am more ready this year than ever to continue cycling through an upstate NY winter. It can be a challenge, but a fun one.

    December 20, 2012 at 9:21 am
  • Matthew J

    Chicago winters previously did not leave much choice in the matter. Snow, salt, ice, etc. meant at best short errand rides on the single speed.
    The last two winters have seen so little snow meaning I actually had to decide whether to take a break from the bike. Perhaps this will change in time, but my answer is no. In fact last new years’ day I put in 70 miles.
    Brave new world leads to new problems however. Best riding in the Chicago area is north south along Lake Michigan. The sun this time of the year is so low in the sky that no matter what time of the day riding south on a clear day is like riding into the sun set. Gets very hard on the eyes even with my best sun glasses.

    December 20, 2012 at 10:36 am
  • Franklyn Wu

    I do more spinning in the winter, especially when it’s really wet out–and we have a wet winter in the Bay Area this year. I still go out for rides, but not as long. My wife and I also do sport climbing indoor, and more of that during the winter months. We have a great gym in Berkeley, and I go bouldering 2-3 times a week. It’s great weight-bearing exercise that builds many other muscles on your body. The bouldering is accompanied by stretching, core exercises, and some moderate weight lifting.
    The brevet season starts in January, so cycling is not so far away.

    December 20, 2012 at 10:41 am
  • Melinda

    This time of year, my big decision is always between a weekend bike ride or a day on the ski slopes! It’s an easier decision if it’s raining, because that usually means snow in the mountains.
    I should probably do something with my arms sometime. I do a little yoga most days, but it’s obvious which half of me gets more of a workout.

    December 20, 2012 at 11:34 am
    • Zbyszek Kolendo

      Oh lucky you, rain or shine! I like this bit when you say rain in your place means snow in the mountains. So it is where I live except that the mounatins are the other end of my country. And even if it is smaller than any of your medium states, it still means taking a holiday to go there.
      Well done to live in a place like this -:)

      December 20, 2012 at 2:08 pm
      • Melinda

        I feel very lucky to live in Seattle, it’s true! The nearest ski area is about an hour from my house, by car, and there are other better ones within 2 hours’ drive or so. I rarely take a vacation to go ski!

        December 23, 2012 at 6:54 am
  • AndrewGills

    Great post. I must add a rest season to my year. Though the timing will differ because it’s our long hot summers that are tough where I live in the subtropics. Our winters are the best time for training

    December 20, 2012 at 12:40 pm
  • Steve

    I like snow riding (when there is actually snow here in Halifax, Nova Scotia) on a fixed gear. I used to do martial arts and play hockey, which kept me in great shape, but I now cant seem to find the time for those activities; work and a one year old son take most of my energy. I ran for a few Winters but recently I started to get pain in my left knee after just 10 minutes. Tried skipping rope a few times but that bothers my ankle and is boring. Weight lifting is even more boring to me.
    I just bought new shoes and I plan to try running again. Some more experienced runners who also cycle figure that my IT band is tight and is the cause of the knee problem. My own theory is that my current work has greatly contributed to my knee problem — Im a shipyard welder and I can spend hours crawling around on bare steel in tight spaces and twisting my body into knots, kind of like a sort of anti-yoga. (Yes I wear knee pads. Yes I stretch and limber up the knees frequently).
    I also used to push myself hard doing some hard on the body sports (hockey, soccer, kickboxing, wrestling, skateboarding, cross country running, mountain biking…) when I was young and thought that I was invincible. To top it off I have a past work history that probably took a hefty toll on the knees (bike messengering, concrete work, marching/running on harsh surfaces with a military drill team)
    I do wish to keep up the cardio fitness for my health and sanity, not to mention how much more enjoyable cycling is with good cardio fitness. Does anybody have experience or insight or a source of info regarding knee problems when both running and cycling? Only running causes pain. Generally, cycling and my work don’t cause any conscious, immediate or serious pain (except once after my first 200km ride). Maybe they are just worn out and I’ve been lucky up until now 🙁
    — Rolly

    December 20, 2012 at 1:36 pm
  • Heather

    I do not take any time off biking living in the pacific northwest and have no car so I cant’ say I ride much less unless there is too much snow and ice. I’m not inclined to bike in heavy rain more than I have to. For the past several years I had a long commute regardless or rain but didn’t really have time or energy for long distance rides on top of it. I made it out tuesday with the first snow and had fun biking on snow, but had to walk/bike home as it had turned to ice by dark. Yesterday I went for a hike in the heavy wet snow and had to climb over and under all the broken trees from the storm. That was hard work. I’d like to ride more, but I only have one bike at the moment which is a commuting bike. I got sick this year and actually had to stop biking for several months and then start biking gradually on a slow upright bike. Not what I intended as this was the year I was supposed to start riding more seriously and had the time off to do it. I do hike regularly through the year. When I lived in the prairie I did stop cycling during the winter but hiked, went swimming, to the gym, yoga etc.. Then I discovered winter biking! I’d like to run, but am clumsy and always get pains in my side, so I save running for catching the bus. There is a bike trainer in the house and if I had an appropriate bike I’d be on it!

    December 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm
  • jonathan

    Living near Syracuse, NY means have the opportunities to enjoy four full seasons of fun. Winter is for nordic skiing and snowshoeing. Sure, sometimes I’m inside on the rollers or down at the pool for a swim, but playing outside in the cold and snow is one of the great pleasures of living here. Plenty of time the rest of the year to ride. Now is the winter of our snowy content.

    December 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm
  • lawschoolissoover

    I try to ride year-round, but sometimes can’t. Because I’m T1 diabetic, slack time isn’t a good option for me (changes in routine affect blood sugar metabolism). I used to take great pleasure in commuting in -10F temps, in being a real hardman. Studded tires and all (there is nothing to get the blood moving like seeing a wolf loping toward you along a trail in the woods on a winter morning).
    Unfortunately, Connecticut has much busier, narrower streets than western Wisconsin, and once the snow falls, they’re narrower still, so I find myself having to take significant periods of time off the bike.
    When I can’t ride, I walk and ride rollers (though I haven’t had a set of those for a few years. Need a new set!).

    December 20, 2012 at 2:39 pm
  • Keith Snyder (@noteon)

    In the winter I work hard at eating.

    December 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm
  • Daniel

    I run all winter, sometimes more than others. I generally try to run a hundred miles a month and run unless the roads are too icy. It is almost never too cold (-5 F is about my limit). I find my running matches riding in intensity if not it duration. I had a great winter last year and am starting out slower this winter but am picking up the pace.
    Interestingly, the conditioning pays off in either direction. I did a five mile road race on Thanksgiving and, except for the crowded (10,000 runners and walkers) first mile with my wife, I did quite well for not having run 40 miles as training, getting a 6:45 mile in along the way. That’s no where near my record but it was done on conditioning from cycling. Do you find this as well?

    December 20, 2012 at 8:33 pm
  • Stevy

    Running…. that’s what you do when your bike breaks down, and you need to be somewhere in a hurry!
    I’m lucky enough to live somewhere where we can confortably ride all year round. The seasons are different and you dress appropriately, and each is enjoyable. Having a busy life off the bike and always looking forward to time in the saddle keeps you fresh and motivated. Stretching and press ups are pretty much the only off bike excersize I regularly do.

    December 21, 2012 at 5:19 am
  • rick

    I commute by bike 5 days a week and I train with the simple fit method.
    highly recommended

    December 22, 2012 at 7:36 pm

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