Working out and staying in shape isn’t impossible during the winter. While it might not be as easy as cycling during the summer, you can still get in a great workout and enjoy your time on the bike outdoors with a few simple tweaks.
Use these five tips to adjust your cycling for colder temperatures so you can stay fit and power through to the start of the cycling season ahead.
WARM UP INDOORS FIRST
When the temperatures drop, cyclists require a longer warmup. Rather than cycling with stiff joints and cold muscles, try a quick indoor warmup before you get fully dressed to head outside. This helps get your blood flowing, prevents injuries, raises your core temperature and gets you into the flow of things before you’re on the bike.
Here are some ideas for a quick pre-ride warmup:
- Jump rope for 5 minutes
- 3 sets of 20 air squats
- 3 sets of 10 pushups
- 3 sets of 10 burpees
SPLIT UP YOUR LONG RIDE
The winter is normally the time of year cyclists begin to base train with long, slow mileage. This, however, can be a challenge if you live in an area where the temperatures drop to freezing or below. Instead of choosing to either brave the cold for a 3-hour ride or slog away for hours indoors on the trainer, why not combine the two?
An hour and a half outdoors should be doable in most places and keeps you from feeling drained and beaten down. Likewise, an hour and a half on the indoor trainer won’t challenge you mentally like a longer ride indoors might. Splitting the time of your long ride equally between outdoors and indoors can help you achieve the best of both worlds and keep your cycling from feeling like a chore during the winter.
Set up your trainer before you head out. Ride whatever distance you feel like you can tolerate outdoors and jump on the trainer when you get home to finish your workout in a more controlled environment.
LAYER WITH GEAR YOU ALREADY OWN
Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you need to buy a ton of new cycling gear. Layering with what you already have should be doable unless you live in the extreme cold where heavier jackets and tights are necessary. For everyone else, here are a few items you can use to layer with your existing gear to get through some of the colder months.
- Arm and leg warmers: Instead of buying long-sleeved jerseys and full-length cycling tights, purchasing arm and leg warmers is cheaper and more versatile. Pair these with your existing short sleeve jerseys and shorts and add a lightweight rain shell, windbreaker or whatever jacket you already own as needed. If you overheat, you can always remove or unzip the outer layer or simply remove the arm or leg warmers and stow them in a jersey pocket.
- Cycling vest: This item can be easily paired with a jersey and arm warmers to combat temperatures below 50ºF. When it gets colder, you can layer a vest with a lightweight jacket to shield your core from the wind and stay a bit warmer. They’re also easy to remove and stow if temperatures warm up during your ride.
- Base layer: If you don’t already have a long sleeve base layer, this is the one item I’d recommend splurging on. A good base layer makes any jacket feel thicker, and materials like merino wool regulate body temperature while wicking away sweat from your skin to keep you warm and dry.
TAKE A MID-RIDE BREAK
There are two schools of thought here. If your ride is short (less than an hour and a half), you’re probably better suited powering through your ride and not stopping. For longer rides, you probably need to stop, refill your bottles and grab a snack. When you do, you can handle this one of two ways. Make your stop quick, get what you need, and get back out on the bike as soon as possible to keep your engines revving and stay warm. This helps keep your core temperature from cooling down and prevents the need to warm back up once you get back on the bike.
If you’re really cold and wet and need some time to warm up frozen hands and feet, take a longer break. Remove wet layers, gloves or other items and let them dry by a heater while you sip coffee or tea. Once you’ve warmed up completely, you can get back on the bike and finish.
Unlike the warmer months, cycling in the cold can make you hungrier than you might normally feel. While you’ll still want to eat an energy bar per hour if you’re out on a long ride, be careful about eating too much if you stop at a coffee shop or take an extended break. Eating large amounts of food requires energy to digest, and the added calories from pastries and other indulgences can cancel out any of the benefits of your workout. A better strategy is to make sure you drink enough fluids to curb your cold-weather cravings — this advice works off the bike, too.
Aim to drink at least one bottle per hour during your rides even when you don’t feel thirsty. An insulated water bottle can help keep your beverages from freezing, and if you like hot beverages you can store this drink in a middle jersey pocket beneath your jacket instead of on your bike to keep it (and you) warm until you’re ready for it.