Training: Be a winter warrior, part 1 - Building endurance

Why you should leave hibernation to the bears

If you want to be able to smoke your mates come spring, you need to keep riding through the cold stuff. Here’s how you can have fun on your bike and rip through winter to be primed and ready for next year.

Fair-weather riders get all out of shape over the winter and spend most the riding season ‘getting back on the horse’.

How do you avoid being the rider at the back of the pack? Well, by continuing to go out for rides and taking part in a bit of extra training, you can be the one at the front, making your mates pant and feel like they’re as fit as asthmatic goats…

Get out of bed and get moving

The first step is getting out there.

We all know peering out from under the duvet to see a dull grey sky is the only excuse many of us need to stop us from riding. But getting out for a hard session can really boost your mood, as well as your fitness, and it doesn’t need to mean counting calories and bringing out the heart rate monitor.

Over the next three instalments, we’ll show you the best ways to improve your fitness, strength and technique in the off season, and give you some great tips on eating, stretching and keeping your fitness up off the bike as well.

First, we take a look at building endurance strength; what you need to ride hard for long periods of time, get decent results at the races or just to really put some distance into you friends when out riding…

Get on yer bike

No matter how much you hit the gym, there’s no substitute for getting the miles in on your bike. A rider who rides regularly – even just a daily commute – will surprise themselves with their fitness levels. Once you have your riding legs, it’s lung capacity and recovery that will make you stronger. So what are you waiting for?

Seek and conquer climbing

Most people shy away from climbs, but there is an immensely satisfying challenge to them. There are two areas to work on – in the saddle and out of the saddle.

For out the saddle: Work on short climbs for building power, and longer grinds for building endurance and stamina.

For seated climbing: You need to look at long climbs where you need to settle into a rhythm, and technical climbs that require good upper body technique and good body position in order to maintain traction.

Make time for towpath spin sessions

Leave exercise bikes in the gym and get out onto the towpath in the winter cold for a proper spin. Towpath rides are great because the path is totally flat, so it’s all about pedalling and just spinning your gears, with no climbs or descents to interfere. There’s always somewhere good to stop for a cup of tea and some light grub along the way as well.

  • Find a there-and-back route that’s at least 40 minutes each way, and allow time to stretch and warm up again before you return.
  • Spinning a gear gets your legs going and your heart rate up – aim for somewhere between 80 and 110rpm. Spin along for the first five minutes or so (using the middle chainring and about third sprocket out back is a good start) to get your blood pumping.
  • Once you’ve warmed up, shift up into the big chainring, leaving it in the same gear out back and get up to speed. You want to be spinning this gear with ease – if it’s too easy, click down one or two gears out back and keep this pace on for about 25 minutes.
  • With 10 minutes left you should have a three-minute thrash, giving it everything you’ve got, then gear down for the remaining time at the pace you started at, controlling your breathing and easing down.
  • Before you dive in to the tea shop for cake, stretch your arms, legs and back, and repeat before you start the return journey.

Plan varied cross-country rides

In-between hard training sessions, it’s important to remember why you ride in the first place – for fun. So plan some decent rides with your buddies and hit the hills.

You should vary these as much as possible – on a Sunday, treat yourself to a steady all-day ride with an early start and a good pub lunch. The rest of your riding should included shorter, more technical rides, as well as some short night rides and trail centre blasts.

Don’t let the foul weather stop you – there’s enough decent clothing out there to keep you warm and dry, and the new Crud Catchers and Crud Guards help to keep you muck-free too, so you can enjoy yourself all winter long – no excuses.

When the weather’s good, try to hit up a scenic ride – seeing beautiful rolling hills and stunning views can really perk you up and can really inspire you to get fitter and ride further.

The importance of interval training

Interval training will make you strong.

It’s the fastest way to build recovery strength – meaning how quickly your breathing calms, heart rate lowers and leg burn fades after riding hard. This will allow you to sprint a BMX track faster than your mates, leave them for dead up any hill, and show other riders who’s boss when they creep up behind you.

  1. Find yourself a steep and short hill
  2. Ride up it at 90 per cent of your maximum effort, then freewheel back down again and recover.
  3. Repeat until your lungs are burning

The good thing about interval training, is that it’s maximum impact and minimal time – and it’s a great tension reliever.

Now fast-forward a few months for a moment. Imagine that the sun’s blazing hot and the trails are in the best condition you can remember – the fresh flowers and cut grass smell of spring is flooding your senses as you and your mates cruise the local trails.

Except only you’re cruising; your mates are all in poor shape and are limping along the trails feeling like utter crap. How can this be? They were in great shape last autumn, so what happened? 

The winter warrior knows the answer.

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