Win At Winter:
Former Olympic Cycling Coach Benjamin Sharp’s tips for keeping your training on track through the cold season
How to keep training in the winter
By Benjamin Sharp, Stages Power Education Specialist
In the northern hemisphere, we are about halfway through the winter. For many athletes, this can be the most challenging time of year to maintain motivation for training. Most of the country is still months away from being able to participate in organized events outdoors, and that’s without whatever limits are being imposed locally due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom, however. Below are just a few tips that I personally use as a training cyclist and that I apply to the training and planning of the athletes I work with as a coach.
1) Have a winter cycling goal.
Nothing helps motivation more than knowing that there is an objective. Given our current climate, event or “outcome” goals definitely have to be fluid and malleable. However, this part of the training season is ripe for process goals. Maybe you struggle to train consistently and could improve by just swinging a leg over five times in a week. Maybe strength training isn’t your passion (that’s me!) but you know that it will improve performance and general health and well-being. Focusing on dynamic movements and strength training might go a long way to positively affecting you when spring finally does roll around and giving yourself an achievable benchmark of dedicating 90 minutes a week to strength training, for example, might pay big dividends.
2) Gear up.
If you don’t already, now is a good time to add some modern cycling technology to your life. Rollers or an indoor trainer are a must for most riders seeking to stay fit through Winter but we have even better options these days. A cycling power meter will allow you to not only capture more sophisticated indoor cycling data, but you can also connect to Zwift and other third-party indoor cycling apps. And of course the gold standard is a wheel-off smart trainer or indoor smart bike like the StagesBike SB20 Smart Bike, which will give you the most realistic indoor cycling experience while saving your bike and drivetrain from unnecessary wear and tear. If that doesn’t fit your budget you can capture heart rate, cycling cadence, training time and mileage with a GPS cycling computer and a few accessories.
3) Have a plan.
Simply riding around in Watopia or in the roads or trails near where you live can get boring quickly. If your ride has a specific purpose with tasks associated with it, not only will the ride “go faster” but, you’ll get a lot more out of the whole exercise. This is when I would also suggest you consider a training program or working with a coach that will help you work toward meeting your goals. Coaches and specific training programs are not just for professionals. Anyone can benefit from some structure.
4) Try something new.
Nothing like looking at the same four walls on the trainer to lead someone into deep boredom. Rent some fat bikes, go explore dirt roads you haven’t ever ridden, pick a destination to ride to. If you are a die-hard Zwifter, switch it up and try Road Grand Tour, FulGaz, Rouvy or one of the other online platforms. Remember the feeling you got when your current online platform was new and you were exploring the ins and outs of the terrain and different offerings? You can recreate that by exploring new programs. Besides, how many times can one really ride up the Volcano KOM?
5) Take care of yourself.
In particular, use this time to establish some new healthy routines. There are all kinds of classes available online for yoga, stretching, etc. Aim to improve your nutrition in a simple way. Create a better sleep environment. Related to point 1 above, start up that strength program you’ve been putting off.
6) Immerse yourself in something new.
Learn to bake the perfect loaf of bread. Read a classic novel. Practice the ukulele.
7) Be consistent in your training.
Making it a habit to move your body is the most important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If you’re not “feeling it” for your planned workout for the day, don’t fret. Give yourself a break and reduce the duration, change the workout to something that’s more appealing, join a virtual group ride or race, go for a run, take your partner on an impromptu hike. Really, anything will do. That workout you skipped doesn’t disappear. You can smash it tomorrow.
8) Have fun!
This is easy to forget when you’re getting up at 0’dark thirty to get on the trainer in your frigid garage. While there are times when training can feel like a chore, stay focused on why you are committed to regularly moving your body. For myself, the winter training has been centered around the Zwift Racing League which has provided motivation throughout the week to brave the elements or the potential monotony of training. Tuesdays have become my personal favorite day for the past few months. My Zwift teammates (most of whom are IRL teammates) and I are spread about the country but, thanks to Zwift and Discord, we get to ride together every week. It’s our version of a local bowling league or pick-up basketball game. We create a meetup on Zwift for our warmup and spend the thirty minutes before the race talking about tactics for the race punctuated by goofing on each other. Once the race starts, we get to try to execute the tactics we discussed, all while communicating how we are feeling and what we are seeing as the race progresses. In the end, we are trying to do the best we can for our team but truthfully, this has become an opportunity to enjoy some camaraderie with a twist of endorphins.
While it can be a bit daunting to consider that outdoor riding, group rides, racing, gran fondos, recreational rides, etc. are still months away, winter is when the biggest gains can be made. Once the “outdoor season” begins, everyone’s fitness tends to improve at the same rate. But, if you enter that outdoor season with a higher level of fitness, and with a happy mind and body, you will be that much better off for those big, summer season goals.
Benjamin Sharp is a USA Cycling Level 1 Cycling Coach. He serves as the Power Education Specialist at Stages Cycling and operates Sharp Coaching with his wife, Jennifer. Benjamin spent 7 years as a USA Cycling National Team coach, highlighted by the team’s two silver medal performances in the Endurance Track events at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Benjamin can be found exploring the roads and trails along the Front Range of Colorado with Jennifer and their two dogs, Mochi and Oskar.