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HOW TO: Make The Most of Winter Training

December 11, 2017

As the temperatures plummet and daylight hours become scarce, it may be time to get going with indoor training sessions. Here are our tips on how to make the most of and enjoy (at least a little more)  every session, so you can be flying come spring time.

 

1. DON’T START TRAINING WITHOUT A PLAN

Start by defining your perceived strengths and weaknesses. For example, do you need to work on your sustainable or Threshold Power? Perhaps your VO2 power has suffered recently? Or maybe increasing your pedal speed at a certain power is a goal? Starting with a defined fitness goal will help you hone your training.

Once defined, a well thought-out indoor training can help you address specific elements of training and most importantly, will help you get through the somewhat arduous task of riding indoors (there is no quicker way to mentally burn out on indoor training then when you’re simply noodling along at an arbitrary intensity for a random duration).

HOW TO BUILD A WORKOUT:

  1. Start by identifying your fitness goal (you can do this on Stages Link with our Training Plan Generator).
  2. Then set a goal duration for the entire ride. This will help you mentally prepare for the length of the ride.
  3. Create a sets of intervals with power targets within the total ride duration. This will help time pass quicker, and keep you engaged in the process, not to mention maximize your potential for improvement.

Example Workout: VO2 Training
This is a 60-minute workout with 2 sets of 3 repetitions of 4 minutes of VO2 intervals with 4 minutes of recovery between each and 10 minutes of recovery between each set. The workout looked like this

Warm Up

SET 1:

  • 4 Minutes VO2
  • 4 Minutes Rest
  • 4 Minutes VO2
  • 4 Minutes Rest
  • 4 Minutes VO2

Recover 10 Minutes

SET 2:

  • 4 Minutes VO2
  • 4 Minutes Rest
  • 4 Minutes VO2
  • 4 Minutes Rest
  • 4 Minutes VO2

Cool Down

I performed this workout and recorded the file using my Stages Dash. Using Stages Link you can see that the green line is power as recorded every one second. The shaded areas are where, based on the workout description, where my power should be during each interval.

You can see that although the power strayed during the warmup and recovery periods, the harder, work periods were right in line with the prescribed intensity.

If you’re looking for a good training plan, consider using the Stages Link Training Plan Generator. After answering a few basic questions about your goals, time available to train, and a self-assessment, the algorithm in Stages Link will create a unique training plan to fit your needs. Goals can range from trying to lose weight, to performance based (like training for a gran fondo or race).

Stages Dash and Stages Link are designed to take the guess work out of how to use a power meter to follow a training plan, without the financial and time commitments of a full-time personal coach.

When paired with a Stages Dash that Stages Link really begins to shine. Workouts in an athlete’s training plan can be pushed to Stages Dash so the athlete can follow along with their interval prescriptions during their workout. Displayed directly on the Dash is what intensity you should be working at, for how long, and what's up next. After the workout, when the file is uploaded to Stages Link, the customer can see a graph showing how “compliant” they were to the workout based on duration, heart rate, power, cadence, etc.

LEARN MORE ABOUT DASH


2. DON’T FORGET TO SHORTEN YOUR RIDE!

Indoor workouts should be shorter when compared to a similar workout outdoors. Why?

Riding on an indoor trainer can be hard. 
Really hard. When you train outside, even if you do your darnedest, it’s not uncommon to spend 10-15% of your time coasting at 0 rpm, and most importantly, at 0 watts. That’s wasted time. On a trainer, with few exceptions, there isn’t any coasting. This means that a 1 hour trainer session equates to 1 hour of pedaling time.

1 Hour Training = 1 Hour Pedaling
Even though the days are shorter and there is less time being spent outside, the relative quality and efficiency of the workouts is increased on a trainer. There are no stop signs, no stop lights, no intersections, no traffic, and no downhills. This means every minute spent on the indoor bike, is a minute spent pedaling. This means that an hour ride indoors “feels” a bit harder than a similar hour ride outdoors.

Don’t Ride So Long! Or Break It Up.
It is pretty rare that I will encourage someone to do more than 2 hours on the trainer. Occasionally a longer ride might be necessary if someone is overcoming injury or illness and they are training for an upcoming event that requires they have the endurance for longer competitive events. If someone does need more volume, I am more inclined to ask them to do two 1.5 hour sessions in a day than one three-hour workout. Mental burnout is real.

3. DON’T STARE AT A BLANK WALL, UNLESS YOU FIND BLANK WALLS TO BE REALLY FASCINATING.

Take advantage of the myriad of amazingly entertaining and effective tools that are available.

We’re talking  Zwift, TrainerRoad, Sufferfest, youtube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Music, anything.
There are a ton of programs and apps that exist with the sole purpose of helping you achieve your best this winter season. Some apps will lean more towards entertainment and game play while others land on the opposite end of the spectrum and serve strictly as training programs.

My personal pain cave has a desktop computer that is connected to two displays.
I have an old computer monitor and a retired tv screen. On one screen, I will display my on-the-bike metrics through whichever program I’m using (Zwift, The Sufferfest, TrainerRoad, Velo Reality, etc) and on the other screen I will display whatever my diversion/entertainment might be (Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, etc) for a particular session.

If you prefer simplicity or are starved for space, a laptop, tablet, or even a smartphone can run any of the previously mentioned apps and programs. Personally, I like to train with the lights low and I use wireless Bluetooth headphones so as not to disturb others in the house and to drown out the drone of my trainer while I pedal.

I very rarely ride the trainer for more than a 90 minute session.
That being said, I do have a goal of doing a 100 mile ride on Zwift this winter. I’m pretty sure that will take more than 90 minutes!!!

 

Which leads us to our next tip:

4. USE A FAN! SWEATING ALONE DOES NOT EQUAL A “GOOD WORKOUT.”

Successfully training indoors requires a fan to help you keep cool. And after entertainment, the next most important tool in my training area is a big box fan in a window. Being able to circulate cool air into the training room is critical. It’s easy to overheat when stationary and overheating will lead to subpar performances on the bike.

5. LOWER POWER NUMBERS ARE NORMAL.

Don’t fret if your power numbers are slightly lower indoors.

Most people have a hard time producing the same amount of power indoors as outdoors.
It’s a good idea to do some threshold testing to see if there is an offset outdoors vs. indoors. This will help you set a baseline for your workouts, and help you adjust your goals accordingly.

But really, why can’t you produce as much power indoors? Well, there are a few theories to why this initially might be the case:

  1. On a stationary trainer, the bike doesn’t move from side to side so there is very little upper body engagement.
  2. The inertia load indoors is different than outdoors. Pedaling a bicycle actually is made up of micro accelerations each pedal stroke, no matter how “smooth” you try to be.
  3. The resistance unit on an indoor trainer typically decelerates the rear half of the drive train (whether a wheel “on” or wheel “off” model) faster than the road.

Indoors, your power will suffer. That is okay.
For the first several weeks of riding indoors overall reported power may suffer. To address this, I suggest you test your indoor power frequently (maybe every 2-3 weeks). This will make sure you are training in the right zones, using the correct energy systems in a workout and tracking training loads accurately.

For most people, over time, there will be an adaptation to this different style of pedaling and efficiency will improve to the point of narrowing the offset between outdoor and indoor power.

6. READ THE MANUAL.

Many trainers have specifications for mounting your bicycle. For example, if the trainer is a rear wheel “on” model, make sure the tire is inflated and clean. Power measurement can be influenced by the quality of the contact between the tire and the resistance roller/drum.

7. PREPARE!

If you’re riding early in the morning, set everything up the night before. That means fill your bottles, lay out your kit. Have your heart rate monitor, shoes, everything laid out and ready to go. This will ensure you more success of getting quality work in, and leaving excuses behind.

 

8. DON’t FORGET TO DRINK!

Most winter environments are pretty dry and with the stagnant air in an indoor training environment, there is bound to be a lot of sweat.

Aim to drink a full bottle (500ml) in the first half hour of every ride then transition to a full bottle every hour.
Perhaps 500ml for a half hour of riding is a bit excessive but, it helps assure that the athlete does not get dehydrated. This is especially true if the athlete is training first thing in the morning.

 

9. DON’t THINK OF IT HAS A CHORE.

Riding indoors during the winter will set you up for success outdoors once the weather warms up. But also, switch it up. If a cycling athlete has experience with another mode of training, this is the time for it.  Add some cross training,  balance and wellness.

The winter season is a great time to try new things, (skiing, running, hiking and more). It’s also the time to get in the gym and build overall strength and balance.

If you feel you’re mentally struggling with steady efforts, try Zwift. 
Zwift races tend to be pretty steady efforts, at least compared to outdoor mass start racing. So, depending on where we are in a training cycle, I might suggest Zwift racing more than other times. For example, if you are deliberately working on threshold development, racing on Zwift can be a great way to focus on threshold without necessarily realize it, this is especially true for the flatter courses.