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Find your approach: Eight ways to get in solid winter training

Is winter giving you fits? Coach Trevor Connor has advice to help you build fitness for the season without grinding away on the trainer

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the February 2014 issue of Velo magazine.

Weather, daylight, family, or work — each of us have different constraints on our winter riding schedule. But according to Elle Anderson, a rising cyclocross star with the Kalas-NNOF team, who also works for Strava, all of these factors shouldn’t be seen as limitations. “[They] are just a part of my life, and there are plenty of ways to approach it,” she said. Here are some suggestions on how to apply the principles of sufficient stress, doing the right stress, and timing, to find your best approach to winter training.

Hard weeks, long weekends

Combining shorter, high-quality riding during the week with a long ride on the weekend is a time-efficient way to stress the body. “Usually after work, it’s just either an hour or 90 minutes,” Chris Phipps, a masters national champion, said. On the weekend, he seeks out the team ride for some volume, but “this time of year it’s pretty constant [pace]. We don’t race up the climbs. We’ll go a pretty good effort, like tempo on the flats. It’s all good base miles. No high intensity.”

One weekend a month

We may not be able to do 20-hour weeks like pros, but most of us can find one weekend a month to focus on cycling. My athletes do “three days of stress” consisting of intervals on Friday, a long hard group ride on Saturday, and a long easy ride on Sunday. Then they let their bodies repair. Phipps feels that one long ride most weekends and two long rides every three or four weeks can help make a successful base. He also takes advantage of holidays to get in an additional long ride.

Stress blocks

One way to produce a sufficient training stress without much intensity is to string a number of days together. Anderson and her coach use this strategy. “We’d work in pretty dense training blocks,” she said. Instead of spreading out her workouts, Anderson will do a two- or three-day training block on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Then, she’d recover and fit another two- or three-day block in over the weekend.

Quality without the high end

Base doesn’t necessarily mean no intervals. In fact, more intense training is a big part of Anderson’s base, but she understands the importance of timing. “[The] high-intensity work is definitely something that I would build into as the race season approached,” she said. Doing a few longer intervals of five to 20 minutes, twice per week, at 80 to 95 percent of threshold heart rate, is a high-quality hour without making you peak on Groundhog Day.

Trainer time

Many of us live in places where the trainer is an arranged marriage that none of us looks forward to. Anderson, who survived a few Vermont winters with the help of Netflix, avoids long base rides inside. She often saves her intervals and structured work for the trainer. “It keeps you entertained while on the trainer and provides quality training, but you don’t have to put in too many hours,” she said.

Use what’s available

If you’re scheduling dental appointments to avoid the trainer, look for other options. Phipps goes to the track. “It’s in the dark, no cars, nothing to worry about. I just put headphones on and do an hour of intensity,” he said. Phipps also hits a local spin class designed for cyclists where he can get a quality workout twice per week in 75 to 80 minutes.

Early birds

Anderson has the most success riding early, especially because many cycling communities have great morning group rides. But she admits the winters are a struggle. “It’s pretty hard to get out of bed. I do little tricks like coordinating a ride with someone the next morning at 6 a.m. so I’m held a little more accountable,” she said.

Push it back

December and January can be the toughest time of the year to train. Sometimes, no matter what you do, the time simply isn’t there. Instead of compensating with intensity, stick to the skis and running shoes and, like Phipps, “push the season back a bit.” Do your base in February and March when there’s more light and, who knows, you may be duking it out at masters nationals in September.

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