Even if you are highly motivated to train for your summer objectives, an outdoor ride in winter is sometimes Mission Impossible. Snow, ice, cold, heavy rain or extreme wind conditions can all force you to change your plans. Don’t stop training altogether: alternatives do exist!
Pay close attention to the weather forecast, especially for the weekend. It may be only 2 days, but these are the crucial days in building the endurance you will need. Use the forecast to schedule your training week to maximise the opportunities.
If the weekend looks poor, increase your training volume as much as possible during the early part of the week, for example by extending an outside ride or by adding a turbo trainer session. You can then treat Saturday and/or Sunday as recovery days.
When it really isn’t possible to get out on your bike, other sports can help you maintain your hard-won fitness.
Running is probably the favourite alternative for cyclists. It is an excellent endurance sport which forces your heart to work hard and maintains your aerobic capacity. Having said that, unless you are already a regular and accomplished runner, you need to be cautious. You will have to “invest” in a slow build-up of at least ten sessions, with 4 days between each session in order to recover properly. Start with no more than a 20 minute run, and increase this by no more than 5 minutes every 2 sessions. If you don’t do this, you run a high risk of injuring yourself.
Swimming is also popular with many cyclists. in order to stimulate your aerobic metabolism, and get the greatest benefit for your cycling, try swimming steadily over longer and longer periods and with as few rests as possible, without trying to go fast.
Cross-country skiing, ski touring or snowshoeing are great if you are lucky enough to live in the mountains. These activities typically have comparable durations and intensities to cycling, resulting in significantly improved physical condition and often excellent results in the summer.
Cardio-training on rowing or elliptical machines can also be effective, at least for a limited period. The disadvantage is that you must pay a subscription to the gym. That said, once you are there you can do other things as well, such as:
- Weight training. Remember that heavy loads are not the objective and that you are not trying to increase muscle mass. Train on a defined circuit, alternating between different machines, with light loads and high repetitions and minimum rest between exercises.
- Spinning. Again endurance is the main focus but you will also be subjected to some quite high intensities. Any one class will usually address all the cycling-specific qualities. This can be extremely beneficial, especially if you manage at least two classes per week.
Back on the bike
In order to progress in any sport the training content needs to correspond to your discipline. In other words, although other sports may help maintain your general fitness and cardiovascular system, they cannot develop the very specific muscle response required by pedalling. A good marathon runner does not become a good cyclist in a few weeks.
If you do not cycle for several weeks, the basic qualities of coordination, force, cadence, and your ability to accelerate fast and change pace will be affected.
There is no way around this, other than:
The Turbo Trainer, what else?
The best way to compensate a cancelled bike ride is a session on the turbo. This is unavoidable: the only way to train as effectively as on your bike outside is to get on your bike inside!
Each turbo session should have a specific theme and a precise objective. A focused session, at the right level of intensity and cadence, will make you progress more than a long outing at a moderate pace. On the turbo trainer, you replace quantity by quality. Don’t go over one hour, but make every minute count!
- Work on force, cadence and maximal aerobic power (MAP) on the basis of short intervals (for example 10 x 30s MAP/45s easy).
- Avoid long sequences at the anaerobic threshold, especially if you haven’t trained consistently in recent weeks. They will come back later in the season.
Finally, if you are motivated enough, an excellent way to prepare for a reallly tough objective such as the Haute Route is to plan two turbo sessions per day, each of 45 minutes to 1 hour. In this case plan your morning and evening training to complement each other, for example by working on force in the morning and on cadence in the evening.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated between the two sessions, and keep a water bottle handy during the sessions themselves.