Winter training tips for Cyclists from the Pros!

We had a chance to catch up with Tricia Davis who is the Co-Founder at Killer Coach, Physical Therapist, and a Cycling & Triathlon Coach to give advice on how to start training now and be on top of your cycling game for 2021!

- The Cognative MTB Team

Winter training tips for Cyclists 

Looking to up your game on the bike for 2021? Sure it may be winter, but the following winter training tips can get you through these cold, dark times. Think of these winter training tips as opportunities to build a strong foundation for spring, summer and fall events and races. These tips will also lay the groundwork and form habits that will improve your speed, skills and longevity on the bike for years to come.

Training Fundamentals:

You don’t have to be a professional athlete to take advantage of proven training techniques for cycling. Whether you are a weekend warrior, top level competitor or just someone avoiding the back end of your local group ride; these fundamentals can help.

Consistency:

This could be the most important concept in any endeavor. In order to be great you have to show up and you must do the work. Stop putting off rides and some of the other techniques listed below to make yourself a better rider. Sure, things get in the way some days but most days you need to remind yourself that in order to improve you need to put the time in. It’s better to do something each day and make it a priority, even if you only have 20 or 30 minutes. Do the work and you’ll start seeing results which in turn will make you want to do more, knowing that improvement is possible. Success, in any amount is the best motivator. Commit to riding a certain amount each week. A good place to start is 2-3 rides a week and build from there.

Specificity:

 

To become a better cyclist, you need to cycle! Not earth shattering news, but the main focus of a cyclist should be to actually cycle. There are literally no excuses anymore when it comes to winter riding. With the right gear and bike you can ride any time of year. Too snowy and cold? Get a fat bike and some proper cold weather riding gear. Raining all the time? Invest in an indoor smart trainer and app to ride and even race with others anytime. Afraid of the road? Trails too wet/snowy/muddy? Get a gravel bike and explore the backroads. Too dark when you get off work? Get a light and head out with a new beam of focus, making your regular ho-hum trails super fresh.

 Learn about winter layering HERE

Shop Winter Gear HERE

Crosstraining:

 

A well rounded, healthy athlete has many ways to improve their fitness. In order to make improvements in endurance, strength and power you must diversify. Don’t put all your (l)eggs in one basket! But wait: “You just told me to cycle all the time!” Sure the vast majority of your time should be on a bike, but don’t underestimate the benefits of running, rowing, swimming, yoga, HIIT classes, weight lifting (more on this later), flexibility training and even hiking. Mixing up your workouts will help protect you from injury and allowing you to get more riding in.

 

Periodization:

This is a fancy term for building variability into your workload. We all know you can’t ride hard everyday. Winter is the best time to build a strong foundation and keep the workouts on the easier side. But, in order to ride fast you actually have to ride fast. Start with one ride a week where you push it a little bit and build from there. You can incrementally increase the time (duration), effort (intensity) and frequency so that you are riding harder. Eventually your body will adapt cuz it’s smart like that. Be sure you have some downtime mixed into your week as this is actually when your body repairs, regenerates and improves from the stresses of increasing workloads. Hard ride yesterday? Take it easy today and plan for a nice mid-day nap! This strategy will make it easier to push your next hard ride even harder and exponentially build your fitness.

 Planning:

 


You don’t have to pay a coach for an individualized training plan based off your weaknesses and event goals, but if you’d like to we can help here. You should have some goals in mind. They can be basic: “I just want to get done a ride and feel like I am not going to die!” Or, they can be more specific: “I want to finish the Pisgah Stage Race 30 minutes faster than last year, uninjured.” Whatever your goals the best way to reach them is to be specific. Share them with others so they can hold you accountable and figure out the baby steps you need to take in order to reach them. Each baby step should involve an action that is automatically built into your life. Make it a habit, for example, to workout in the morning before work derails the day. Getting a workout in early will also do wonders for your motivation. Being able to check it off early sets up your entire day for success. Chances are you will make better choices during the day as well. Skip that donut and have an apple for a morning snack and hit the gym instead of the bar after work to keep the momentum towards your goals going. Get creative and find solutions that work in your life to get it done. That bike is not going to ride itself.

Improving Power:

There are many aspects to being a great cyclist and most of them don’t have anything to do with massive quads. For example, in order to increase your POWER on a bike (power is how we measure a cyclists work over time) you can either put more force on the pedals (push harder) or increase your cadence (spin faster.) Remember that pesky physics class you slept through?

Power = Work / time

In cycling we measure Power in Watts. To put this in perspective 1 Horsepower = 746 Watts. (See below) Most humans are able to generate 1 HP sprinting up a flight of steps.

 

Ok so what about cyclists? How do we increase our Power? Well there are only two main variables in that equation.

In order to be a more powerful cyclist we can:

 

  • increase the force on the pedals by increasing leg strength or
  • we can turn our legs around faster, increasing our cadence.

 

Seems easy right? Don’t we wish. Unfortunately, we are not machines. Our physiology is very complicated and there are many variables that can affect the power equation. The good news is that this offers us so many different ways to improve as a cyclist. All of us have our own strengths and weaknesses. Try to incorporate some of the bonus variables into your “training” to make you a faster, stronger, more supple and resilient cyclist.


Bonus Variables:

Skills

Great cyclists have a very efficient pedal stroke, meaning one leg is not slowing down the other as they rotate around and around. Practice a smooth, high cadence without bouncing in the saddle. We really want to try and not “mash down” on the pedals. What we are looking at is a coordinated application of force all the way around the circle. Short trials of single leg drills will improve your pedaling efficiency. Try to smoothly spin with one leg for 10-15 seconds, repeating 5 times per side during your next ride. Another drill is to try some high cadence “spin ups” for 30 seconds. These can help train the brain, muscles and the pathways that they communicate more efficient.

Bike handling

Use the absolute least amount of energy as necessary to stay upright and flow on the bike. Why waste one watt of energy on an unnecessary task. Do you really need to grip the bars THAT tight? Why are you fighting the bike in the corners? Work on your bike handling skills and sign up for some skills coaching.

Posture

Being bent over with your shoulders rounded and hunched down gasping for air signals suffering! Try hinging at the hips and tilting your pelvis to keep some natural curves in your spine. This will not only allow you to get your shoulders down and wide for better bike control, but also expand your chest and get more air into your lungs. Setting your neck in an elongated position to see ahead for what is coming will take pressure off your  upper back and shoulders. Think long and strong with your spine. Tired of having your back lock up on long, hard climbs? Strengthen your core and work on your on-bike  posture. This will allow you to stay connected to your bike and lay down massive power whenever you want.

Flexibility

So many of us sit too long during the day at work, driving, using the computer and chilling on the couch. Sitting on the bike can exacerbate tight hip flexors, hamstrings and anterior chest muscles. Be sure you are working on your range of motion and length of your muscles and connective tissue with stretching, yoga, massage and foam rolling. Consult a physical therapist early if you are experiencing any musculoskeletal pain. A small nag now could spell disaster down the road if not taken care of. Be proactive and help prevent injuries. Here is a great way to stretch out the entire hamstring:

Sleeping

It’s amazing what a good nights rest can do. I guess that’s why they say to “sleep on it.” Be sure you are getting enough quality rest and read up on proper sleep habits. The body repairs while we sleep, so let it.

Nutrition

Food is fuel. Think about that the next time you put something in your mouth. Do you want to be able to ride strong for two or three hours? Don’t eat fast food to be a fast cyclist. Consult a professional if your fueling strategies are not working. Be sure you are properly hydrated, it’s true you are mostly water and you want to keep it that way.

Mental Skills

Focus, positive self talk and realizing that you can push yourself way harder than you ever thought comes with intention and practice. Some have said cycling is 90% mental, I’d say that’s probably on the low side especially if all other variables are equal. You really gotta want it, even if it hurts and it’s always gonna hurt if you continue to improve. It never stops being hard, so learn how to deal with it early.

Weight Training

This one is complicated. Too much muscle is heavy to move around and can get in the way. We want just the right amount to turn the pedals, hold the handle bars and stay connected to the bike. Don’t get too focused on building muscle, unless it’s in your core, you can never have too much there! Most cyclists need to work shoulder and hip stability, which is really your core! The best strength training for cyclists is a program focusing on coordination, balance and core strength- so skip the leg extensions at the gym. Cycling is a dynamic sport after all. You will get plenty of bang for your buck with single leg deadlifts, split squats, pull ups, push ups and planks. Be sure you vary the exercises and progress them to continually challenge yourself.

Putting it all Together:

So there you have it, all the ingredients for improving as a cyclist with some fundamentals, winter training tips and even some bonus variables. Like any recipe it’s easy to screw up without the correct amounts and proper timing of each ingredient. The good news is you can keep experimenting and see what works for you. Start by identifying what you need the most right now and just begin.

 

About the Author: Tricia Davis

 

 

 

I lead a dual life - as a Canadian Physiotherapist and hyperkinetic outdoorswoman. I have pedaled with ambition since 1989. Adventures with my husband Chad, have taken me around the world in the pursuit of photographs, perfect single track and podiums. I am not a superhero but I do aspire to take over the world with my mission: inspire, connect and encourage people to experience this short life to the fullest- with a dirty little grin. I am also a physical therapist, co-founder and coach with killercoach.com, keeping the world an injury free and healthier place.