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  Last updated: 9/25/2018


You are finally feeling you are in shape... and you realize that Fall is coming.That means it's time to think about your off season program to maintain as best you can the aerobic base you have built. If you are focused, the transition from a summer cycling routine to a less intense winter program will maintain a good foundation or base for the ramp up that will come with your early spring rides. An added benefit is that taking a mental break also minimizes the risk of burn out when you do resume those tough, regular riding season sessions.

A balanced off season program should contain resistance (weight) training as well as time on an indoor stationary trainer or other cross training aerobic sport such as swimming or x-country skiing. As one of my readers pointed out "I've raced against many top cyclist who chose to ski through the winter.Skate skiing is an excellent cross-training alternative to spinning all winter.It's cheap, excellent cardio conditioning and a perfect workout for those cycling legs. Traditional kick & glide works well too." JD

Other alternatives to consider to keep your cardiovascular system in shape are treadmill time at home (or at a local gym), jumping rope, indoor tennis, rowing, swimming, or spin classes. Taking a total break from the bike and road riding, as well as participating in a variety of non cycling activities will provide an additional psychological benefit when you finally decide it is time to get back on the road again.

These two papers suggest a streamlined approach to staying in shape is possible.This one indicates that just a singleset of any exercise, repeated to the point that you cannot complete one more repetition, provides most, if not all,of the strength benefits of multiple sets of the same exercise. Additional comments can be found inthis NYT article.And this one describes a streamlinedHIIT approachfor aerobic fitness, where an all out effort for 30 to 60 seconds followed by a minute of recovery x5, three times a week,could maintain an aerobic base. Combine the two and you have the recipe for a daily 15 to 20 minute workout to tide youover the cold, dark days of winter or during a business trip away from your regular gym/cycling routine.

Fifty 50 degrees is my break point for beginning to ride regularly again. Living in Seattle, I am lucky as this means it is an option almost every month, but many riders in the midwest ride all winter.

Here is a nice article discussing how to meet the challenges of winter road riding. I think the important points are:

Is it more work to ride on a cold winter day? Yes, and a significant amount it turns out. You can find the calculations here.

If you have problems with a runny nose in cold weather here's a tip for you. Vasomotor rhinitis occurs when cold air makes one's nose run. Atrovent (ipratropium bromide) Nasal Spray 0.06% works well. And you can use it for riding, skiing or even just walking outside when it is cold and/or windy. Unfortunately it's only available by prescription.

Along with it's cardiovascular benefits, cross training helps maintain balance skills, muscle strength, hand to eye coordination, and improved range of motion. Although there are sport specific, training benefits that are only gained from being on the bicycle itself, your next season's cycling performance will benefit from a psychological break from the stress of meeting regular training deadlines. And with a less intense schedule, your body will have time to repair muscles, joints, and ligaments to a degree that is not possible with a regular season training routine.

One visitor to this site speculated that using weighted jumps might add more to cross training than just maintaining the cardiovascular status quo. Their speculation goes like this - "With jumping rope, the height of the "jump" is minimal, so other jumping type activities (ie the weighted jump ups)) might be more productive to achieve the goal of muscle cell development. Given that vertical jump correlates highly with fast-twitch muscle fibres, is there any support for the notion (my notion) that working on vertical jump (i.e. by jumping rope) could improve sprinting? Obviously this isn't very specific to cycling, but I'm thinking of using it as a pre-season cross-training thing if there'd be any point to it at all. It seems to me that as a means of recruiting muscle fibres to fire in synchrony (or however you say that), this would have some effect, together with weights and leg speed drills. The only thing I can remember reading which possibly relates to this is a National-level Masters track guy who does weighted jump-ups."

All serious cyclists are, in their hearts, competitive creatures (even if itís only with themselves and their Personal Records) and generally do not do well without a goal on which to focus. So an off season alternatives to "just lying around" meets this requirement in addition to the physical benefits. When it's time to get shift back into the spring training routine, remember to start easy for a week or two as you come back up to speed.

Answers to These readers' questions reinforce several of my comments above.

Q. "I was wondering if I will benefit from using a rowing machine during the off season? I would not concentrate on rowing but add this to my indoor cycling regiment.

A. Rowing would maintain cardiovascular fitness, provide a needed change of pace to prevent boredom from year round cycling, and might help maintain (not improve) muscle tone, and thus would be an excellent piece of a balanced winter training regimen. By itself, it would not prevent degradation of fitness for the next riding season.


Q. I am an avid cyclist that is soon approaching his first winter as such. I picked up cycling this past April, got obsessed, started racing and am really looking forward to this next year to build on all the progress I have already made. I will living in Portland Oregon this winter. We Oregonians have rough winters but as far as cycling is concerned, its still possible. so my question is this, is there any inherent danger to continuing a regular 10+ hour a week riding schedule in cold rainy weather? JM

A. There are a couple of reasons I'd consider not going "full out" during the winter.

Riding on a sunny day when the frost is off the road is a great time in the winter, but I think the rest of the time indoor trainers and cross training get my nod. If you keep the CV system in shape with an hour 4 times a week, I doubt it you will have much of a deficit in the Spring to dig out of.

Here are some ideas to use as a starting point to design your own off season program:


Weights - This is a transition month. Don't worry about the amount of weight you are using. Try varied exercises including back extensions, leg presses, leg curls, calf raises, bench press, and abdominal work. Aim for 12 to 20 reps for 1 to 3 sets, 3 times a week.

Stationary bike - the goal is fast cadence, interval work. Warm up for 15 minutes. Do step intervals (30 sec with 60 sec easy spinning, 60 sec with 60 sec easy spinning, 90 sec with 60 sec easy spinning, up to a 3 minute exercise interval and then cycle back down). Aim to keep your cadence above 90 and heart rate at 80-90% MHR. Cool down for 15 minutes. Three times a week.

X-training sport - This is an important strategy to prevent boredom and staleness. Consider swimming, x-country skiing, whatever, but don't forget to take a day or two off just as you did during the regular cycling season.


Weights - Now that you are into the routine, it is the time to begin to build muscle mass. 3 days a week, 8 to 12 reps, 2 to 3 sets.

Stationary bike - Time to move into an endurance phase with a moderate cadence of 85-95 with heart rate at 75% max. Do a 15 minute warm up, a 12 minute ride, and then a 3 minute rest with easy spinning. Three times a week.

X-training sport - Still important to prevent boredom and staleness. Swimming, x-country skiing, whatever.


Weights - Still working on bulk and strength - 6 to 10 reps, 3 or 4 sets, 3 times a week. Try to add a fast component in the lifting phase (explosive power) to prepare for the demands of cycling.

Stationary bike - Back to speed work. 10 all out sprints of 20 seconds in the highest gear and the fastest cadence you can manage. Then easy spinning for 5 minutes between sprints. Cool down for 15 minutes. Three times a week.

X-training sport - Hang in there, this remains a key to prevent boredom and staleness.

Mountain biking - If weather permits, consider throwing in a little mountain biking. Experience (and internalizing instincts on conditions) gained will boost your ability to handle skids, slippery roads, unexpected excursions off the pavement, and even riders who go down in front of you. One of the skills, along with balance, is developing the right instincts on the brakes. When your tires are at risk of losing traction, remember that braking hard in turns or during a skid will only put you on the ground. You can't have control unless your wheels are free to turn. This is a common thread for wet and slippery pavement, dirt, or a light covering of snow.


Time to prepare for endurance on the bike again. Lighter weights (maybe 75% of the weight used in Jan/Feb), more reps (12 to 15, 1 to 2 sets). And only twice a week with the balance of the time back on the bike again.

Road riding - Time to get out on the road again - endurance rides with occasional sprints on the bike until your base of 500 miles has been established.

Q.I teach spin to a group of guys three times a week that love to ride outdoors once the snow melts. Should I be encouraging cardio or strengthening on the bike at this time, or something completely different? -- Maggie

A. As they are spinning, I think the cardio is there - at lest enough to get started on the road. So I'd encourage some mild weight work, not excessive, but maybe three times a week. And then get them out on the road building some miles towards that 500 mile base as soon as the snow is gone.


And when it's time to get out on the road again, don't forget that the right gear makes a big difference in those marginal conditions. Hypothermia (a decrease in your core body temperature) is always a risk - especially in that combination of conditions that often occur with winter training:

And it doesn't have to be bone chilling cold. Especially when you are fatigued and energy depleted, hypothermia can occur in what might otherwise be considered just a cool fall day. So here are a few tips on gear:

For more information you can go to:

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