With the Christmas and new year break done and dusted, and January well underway, most of us will be back into the swing of training.
The excess of December should – hopefully – be a distant memory and after perhaps enjoying some time off to catch up with friends and family, you’re back on the bike, and starting to look towards the spring and the first events of the season.
The turn of the year may have given you fresh motivation and if you’re hoping to make 2017 you’re best year on the bike yet then you’ll be eager to make the most of what’s left of winter.
However, if you want to get the most from your time on the bike and take the strides forward you’ve been planning, then it’s important to train intelligently. Here are seven common training mistakes to avoid.
Not progressing your training
As you get closer and closer to the first events of the season, whether it’s a sportive or road race, then your training needs to adapt. If you carry on doing what you have for the last two months then you won’t be stretching yourself in training.
As you approach the season your rides need to become more and more specific. For example, if you are a sportive rider targeting a major European event then you should start to incorporate more sweet spot work into your training order to replicate the effort required on climbs.
On the other hand, if you’re a criterium rider then you need to start introducing short, hard sprints to prepare for the intensity and on-off efforts of a race. Identify the main components of your target events and introduce those elements into your training plan.
Doing too much, too soon
The principles of training are simple: train hard, recover to allow your body to adapt to that training, and then train hard again. The key is to allow your body to recover in between hard blocks of training and then make the next block slightly harder than the one you have just completed in order to encourage consistent and sustainable progression.
While there’s room for high intensity training in winter, if you train non-stop like a mad man in January and February, constantly doing long hours and hard interval sessions, then you aren’t allowing any room from progression in your training and will plateau come the start of the season.
Most riders have a limited amount of time to train each week so use that as a base and with each training block increase the intensity of your rides. Whereas in December you might have planned a two-hour ride with 2×10 minutes at sweetspot, in January you might want to up the intensity of those intervals to 2×10 minutes at threshold, and in February that might increase again 3×10 minutes at threshold.
The overall duration of that ride hasn’t changed but it goes without saying that the session in February is a lot harder than the one in December.
Not getting enough recovery
Without adequate recovery, your body won’t have the chance to adapt to the training stimulus and you won’t see any improvement in your fitness. Therefore, you need to ensure that after each training block you are fresh enough to start the next one.
During winter your capacity to recovery will be slightly less than in the summer – the impact of riding in the cold and wet shouldn’t be underestimated. Your body is working hard just to stay warm on the bike.
There are many ways to keep tabs on recovery and whether you’re at risk of overtraining, including the fitness and freshness tool on Strava (I’ve previously covered how to use that), but there is one golden rule which holds true whether you are riding for five hours a week or aiming for the Tour de France: if you feel like you are getting grumpy or lacking motivation then it’s time for a rest.
We all ride bikes because we love riding bikes, and it’s easy to forget that if you get too caught up in ‘training’. As a result, if the motivation isn’t there to grab the bike and go out and ride, then your body is telling you it’s tired and ready for a few easy days.
Not having a plan
The first four points I’ve ran through are all geared towards ensuring you have a steady progression in your training; making each block slightly harder than the one you have just completed and getting adequate recovery.
All of this relies on having a plan. How structured that plan is will depend on the rider but you should have a good idea of what training you need to do between now and the first event of the season in order to achieve the goal you have set out.
This doesn’t need to be a session-by-session plan but a good broad stroke overview is undoubtedly beneficial for most riders. For example, you might block out 2-3 weeks to work on sweet spot training, then plan in an easy week, and move on to a 2-3 week block to work on your threshold.
The best way to put this plan together is to work backwards from the first event of the season. Identify what you need to work on between now and the first event, rank these elements by intensity and start with the least intense first.
I would recommend only working on one or two elements in a single session or training block. That way you can really focus in and see specific improvements. Once you are happy with the improvements made take some recovery and then move onto the next element.
When writing your plan it’s important to make it realistic and also consider what else is going on in your life. For example, if you are lucky enough to go away skiing this winter then that week could be used as a perfect active recovery week.
If there’s one thing that interrupts winter training then it’s illness.
First, let’s dispel a myth – riding in the rain doesn’t make you sick. However, it may weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to getting sick. Most people become ill during the winter because we provide the perfect breeding ground for bacteria in our own homes, offices, cars etc. We come in from a hard ride in the cold and rain with a weakened immune system and expose ourselves to bugs.
There are, however, some very simple things you can do to help stop you from getting sick. First and foremost, don’t overtrain. The more tired you are, the more pressure your immune system will be under. It’s better to train at 80 per cent of your capacity for a whole winter than to try and train at 100 per cent for a few weeks only to get sick and miss the next two weeks.
The second thing you can do is to simply wash your hands. This sounds like advice coming from a primary school teacher but if Team Sky make all their riders and staff wash their hands with alcohol-based hand wash before they sit down for each meal, then it’s something we can all learn from and an easy away to avoid the spread of infection.
Finally, get a much fresh air as possible. Open your windows and, if possible, avoid crowded hot places after hard rides. As traditional as the club run café stop is, sitting in a hot room full of strangers coughing and spluttering after you have done 50 miles on the bike might not be the best idea.
Riding outside on ice and snow
We have all done it… looked outside on a frosty morning and thought, ‘it will be ok, I’ll stick to main roads.’ Don’t take the risk! No ride is ever worth the risk of injury. It only takes one corner and a small patch of black ice to throw away a whole winter of training.
If it’s icy then get on the turbo or rollers and do your workout there. Besides, as tortuous as the turbo can be, it’s often a great way to ensure your training session is focused and well structured.
If you’re determined to get out then one thing you can do is, instead of meeting your friends at 9am for a ride, why not jump on the turbo for an hour-and-a-half and then meet at 10:30 to do a quick 90 minutes together. You get your ride in and be back home at the same time while reducing the risk of crashing by allowing the air temperature to warm up and ice to melt. If you are really organised you could even do the first one-and-a-half hours all together virtually on Zwift.
Wearing too much or too little
It can be really tricky to get your clothing just right in the winter but knowing that you’re likely to stay warm and comfortable on the bike is a sure-fire way to help you get out of the door in the first place. My top tip – and I’m not breaking new ground here – is to focus on layering. Start with a good base layer and then layer up from there with thin but increasingly warm layers.
The one piece of kit I never leave the house without on a ride in the winter is a windproof gilet. Not only does it keep the wind off your chest but if it gets too warm then you can easily unzip the gilet and let it flap in the wind. I tend to do this rather than putting it in my pocket because during a winter ride the temperature can quickly change from one point to another. While it may be very cold on a descent in the shade, you could quickly warm up climbing up the other side in the sun. Simply zip up the gilet for the descent then open it back up for the climb.
Another tip is to take an extra set of gloves in your back pocket. I can’t put in to words the wonders putting on a warm, dry pair of gloves can do for the last hour of a cold and wet ride.
The two parts of your body that many people struggle with most are hands and feet, so I always find it strange that people layer up on their bodies, but then expect one pair of gloves to keep their hands warm. Liner gloves are another effective and relatively inexpensive way to add extra warmth. The same goes for your feet. Why not try a pair of toe covers under your normal overshoes? The extra warmth around your toes might just stop them from going numb.