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Winterize Your Cycling Training

Posted by Carol Sicbaldi

jingle_ride-1.jpgCiclismo Classico Annual Jingle Ride in Boston

It’s almost that time of year again. When you wake up to icy-cold mornings and head home in the dark at 4:30 p.m. We've put on our thinking caps for the most creative—and enjoyable—winter cycling training plans guaranteed to keep you moving during the long winter months.

When it comes to keeping your winter training regimen interesting, be as realistic as possible about the time you have available, what you need most, creative cross-training possibilities, and most importantly, how to keep it all FUN.

Maximize the time you have.

In the off-season, we have less light, and so, less time. Ride for workload, not miles. Don't have a power meter? Ride for time. Whatever you do, don't coast. Going easy doesn't get you better endurance; workload does.

Do what you gotta' do.

Of course it’s important you choose something you enjoy, but if you can hit on something that you need as well, that’s even better. It's easier to choose to do something that you are already good at, but when you try something you find difficult at first, you'll not only reap the physical benefits, you'll also gain a feeling of accomplishment that will keep you motivated.

Cross-train! Make your move.

Cross-training is great for for maintaining aerobic fitness when you don’t have much time for the bike. Here are a few great cross-training options that offer an aerobic workout...plus!

Running is the classic fall back fitness regime for many cyclists and it has a number of advantages as a cross-training option. It not only significantly stimulates the cardiovascular system but also promotes joint and bone health by way of the ground forces coming up at you through your feet. Running steps or snow banks is also cool! Find a stadium near your house and run up and down flights of stairs—something I did for years when I lived near Harvard Square and there were several stadiums close by. It’s fun, different, and a great workout. A similar exercise—especially after one of those huge blizzards—is to run up and down snow banks. I’m serious. The fun part is falling down or seeing how many banks of snow you can climb in five-minute intervals.

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Circuits using whole body exercises are good for achieving multiple benefits such as cardiovascular fitness, strength endurance, core stability, and balance. Examples of strength exercises are walking lunges, squats, push ups, and bent over rows. To raise your heart rate and keep it up throughout your routine, add in some cardiovascular exercises such as running or jumping jacks (a la Jack LaLanne). 

Strength and conditioning exercises, traditionally done in the gym, can improve muscular fitness and strength that can be put to good use on the bike at a later date.

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Pilates or yoga can improve your core stability, flexibility, and movement control. In general, Pilates offers more controlled isolated movements focused on the lower back and abdomen, where yoga may demand dynamic whole body movements and positions.

Use an indoor stationary bike, turbo trainer or rollers. This can be a dull one. But adding music, media entertainment, podcasts—you name it—can keep your indoor cycling lively and fun. 

Take a spin class. A cycling spin class is more exciting than a solo workout on the trainer. Cycling classes have remained popular over the years, so it should be easy to find one that works for you. Get there a bit early and/or stay a few minutes late if you want to squeeze in a longer session. 

Jump on your bike and practice those hills.

Years ago, when I was working out of the Ciclismo Classico Arlington office, I fondly  remember my winter training rides. I would try to go out at least three to four times a week, mix it up a bit (both with company and the chosen route), and I’d typically try to attack at least a few hills (or repeat one hill located close to the office by climbing it up and down a few times.

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When training on hills for your upcoming Italy (or other European) trip, here are few things to keep in mind:

1) Hills are generally long with a grade of 4%-10%

Try to find your own pace, and stick to it all the way up the hill. Trying to keep up with Joe Biker might boost your ego, but you certainly won't enjoy yourself and might just burn out before you get to the top. The same goes for advanced riders who try to slow down to keep the pace of a slower rider.

2) The first part of a hill is usually the toughest
Psychologically, you are at the bottom. Physically, your body has to get into a rhythm, you have to break a sweat. Think patience, persistence, and optimism. Look behind you, and see how far and high you've come. Think of the top, the view, and the feeling of accomplishment. If thinking of the top doesn't do the trick, set small goals like the next house, tree, or other object within view.

3) Try alternating sitting in your saddle and standing on the pedals
Standing on your pedals might feel awkward at first, but it helps. Try watching others who seem to have a "grip" on it; ask our guides or other tour members to help you.

4) Hills in Italy are described with chevrons (percentages of steepness)
A 1% grade is scarcely noticeable while an 18% grade is very difficult. Most of the hills we climb on intermediate and advanced trips are between 4%-10%. For the average cyclist, anything over 7% is considered steep. On the maps, many of the hills are shown with symbols called "chevrons." These chevrons look like tiny greater or less than signs < > marked on the roads. The arrows point in the direction of the uphill.
One chevron (<) indicates a 4-7% hill
Two chevrons  (<<) indicate a 7%-12% hill
Three chevrons  (<<<) indicate a 12%-+ hill

Mix it up: variety is the spice of life.

Of course there are several other options including swimming or cross-country skiing. Enhancing your overall fitness and well-being throughout the winter will most certainly improve your cycling year round. Your body will thank you for the amazing psychological and practical benefits as well.

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Topics: Off-Season, How To, Cycling Tips, bike training

Written by Carol Sicbaldi

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