Archive | January, 2013

Winter is Upon Us

8 Jan

While coaching cyclists, by far the most questions I receive from athletes revolve around how to train in the fall and winter; the ‘off’ season. In today’s world of cycling however, there really is no ‘off’ season. While it is good to take a week or two away from structured training after a long season of racing, experts such as Joe Friel advocate getting right back to your training routine no later than November 1. With career, family, church, volunteer and other responsibilities tugging at our time, we simply don’t have the luxury of taking extended periods of time away from training. In middle age, maintaining and building on the fitness you have is much easier than letting it all go, only to re-establish the same fitness level by the time the following season ends. In that scenario, you never get any better. So this blog entry will offer suggestions on how to get better from season to season. 

Many struggle with what to focus on during the winter months and end up training with no focus and no end goal in sight. It’s been sort of a haphazard, go-with-the-flow type of
approach to merely get through the winter. Here’s my take. Winter is the time to make improvements (gains) for the coming year. 

For most of us, time is such a constraint that we do the group rides or track (velodrome) training through the meat of the season and then race on weekends. And let’s face it, we
all have egos the size of Texas, so none of us are gonna push hard enough on the group rides to blow up and get dropped. Blowing up and getting dropped means riding beyond our limits, which in turn, pushes us to new levels of fitness.

So, with our egos anchoring us to the pack, specific training for improvement is very limited during the race season. In this scenario, it is critical to take advantage of the winter months, to not only maintain, but to improve your strength and power, your fitness level on the bike. Now is the time you make gains.

Many coaches, including Eddie Monnier at, Rick Stearn at, among so many others, suggest that while VO2 Max is largely genetic, bike racers can improve the most important indicator of success; that being power output at lactate threshold. Monnier states, “Lactate threshold is an important indicator of endurance cycling performance. Put simply, the bigger your engine, the less taxed you will be at a given effort and the more you will have left when it comes to crunch time in the race.”

The old school method for building a bigger engine suggested doing lactate threshold intervals twice a week. It’s a simple protocol. You don’t even have to be on the trainer for more than 60 minutes. You warm up for 15 minutes, then ride in your zone 4-5a for 30 minutes, and finally, cool down for 15 minutes.

More recent studies indicate that shorter duration, higher intensity intervals offer even greater gains to your performance at lactate threshold. For example, alternating at 30 seconds in a small chain ring at 120 rpm with 30 seconds of lower cadence, tempo, or zone 3, effort in the big chain ring, for a period of 10 to 15 minutes will significantly boost your power at lactate threshold. (Look forward to many of these alternating intervals in class).

If you are just starting out, you may want to break up the longer intervals into 2X15-min. with a handful of minutes recovery between each interval. Do the shorter, higher intensity intervals in seven or eight minute chunks. For those uncertain of their zone 4-5a, email me at and I’ll help you establish your training zones. I’m an email away.

The old myth of doing too much intensity during winter still clings to many amateur racers. Guys and gals, we don’t race enough to suffer burnout. We don’t race 180 days a year, or whatever it is the pros do. And we don’t ride 6 hours every day. Furthermore, from LeMond in his 1986 book to Monnier, et al today, every coach advocates maintaining some intensity through the winter. With the limited amount of time we have available, we have to capitalize on it with quality, not quantity. Improve speed, build a bigger engine; don’t be afraid to push yourself now. On that note, I’ll close with a favorite quote:

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man (or woman) stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man (or woman) who is actually in the arena (on his/her trainer); whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood (think Paris-Roubaix); who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; who does actually try to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion and spends himself/herself in a worthy cause (winter improvement); who, at the worst, if he/she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits (anchored to the pack on training rides) who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither
victory nor defeat.