Braving the cold and wet conditions during the winter can be tough on cyclists. But while dedicated professional cyclists travel the world and ride outdoors year-round to build a solid base of endurance, recreational cyclists don’t have the travel budget and don’t necessarily need to risk illness and injury just to stay fit in the offseason.
Instead of riding five days per week outdoors in the name of base building, you can easily develop a more reasonable offseason plan. Below is a basic outline of how much riding you need to do to stay in shape and how much time you should take off to re-energize for the season ahead.
It can be hard to stay motivated all year long. In the offseason, it’s important to give your mind and body a break from rigorous training and let them recoup. After your last event of the season or when the weather turns cold, take 4–6 weeks off the bike. Give other cross-training activities like running, swimming or hiking a try to stay in shape during this time off the bike. If you want to ride occasionally, take a leisurely approach that isn’t focused on training and take a friend or family member with you who isn’t a dedicated cyclist.
Once you feel refreshed and ready to get back on the bike, begin slowly. Try different routes and don’t plan really long rides when the weather is bad. There will be plenty of time to build your endurance when the spring comes around.
The plan: December through February should be focused on maintaining fitness and giving yourself a mental break. Get the right gear to keep you warm and plan to ride outdoors during the colder months once or twice per week, maximum.
When you begin riding again, supplement your 1–2 weekly rides outdoors with time on the indoor trainer. The key is to keep your indoor rides short and fast with interval training and drills, which will help you become faster, stronger and a more efficient at pedaling. Like outdoor cycling, be sure you don’t overdo it on the trainer during the winter. Long hours or too many consecutive days riding indoors can lead to burnout and injury.
The plan: Short indoor workouts of 30–40 minutes are enough to maintain your fitness and work on becoming a better cyclist. One or two days per week is all you need; make sure you take plenty of recovery time in between sessions.
HIT THE GYM
One of the best activities you can do during the time off the bike is weight training. While some of these sessions can be dedicated to other sports, including a day or two of weight training can pay big dividends to your cycling fitness.
Concentrate on working on your weak spots, whether it’s your hamstrings, core or lower back. Upper-body exercises are also good options as are other exercises cycling often neglects. Strengthening these areas makes you stronger overall, corrects muscular imbalances and prevents nagging injuries from occurring when you do start riding more in the spring.
The plan: Since you’ll still be riding anywhere from 2–4 days per week, use the other 1–3 days to work on getting stronger.
RECOVER EVERY FOURTH WEEK
With one or two rides per week outdoors and 1–2 rides on the indoor trainer, your weekly total during the winter should be between 2–4 sessions per week. To ensure you’re getting enough rest, every fourth week should be a recovery week. Focus on other cross-training activities and let your body fully recover. These small breaks will help you feel refreshed and keep you from getting burned out from cycling early in the year.
Remember, it’s the off weeks during periods of rest when your fitness improves and your muscles get stronger. Don’t worry about cycling and focus on other things that are important to you, like family commitments, catching up on your work or projects around the house that you’ve been putting off.
The plan: Take the last week of winter months off and don’t ride at all.