Get ready for winter

Winter fitness advice

At the end of summer you need to put as much thought and effort into a recuperative period as you normally do for your summer riding. You don't have to hang up your wheels all winter, but it's good to acknowledge the passing of one season so you can get ready for the next.

An end of season chillout makes sense for the following reasons:

* If you've been doing some racing or long, hard riding with mates it's logical to take time to review and plan ahead, such as considering what riding weaknesses you showed or bits of the bike that could do with updating.

* The emergence of colds and flu is just around the corner. Building a strong and healthy body is essential. If you take a tired body into the hardest part of the year it will break down. Very few people can burn the candle at both ends and in the middle.

* The change of clocks (when it happens) and the move for many to a more indoor and light-restricted training programme marks a transition phase. You should ride outdoors but, for most, the options become weekends or midweek days off.

The hardest challenge many riders face is to learn lessons from their own victories and failures. For some, this means that overdoing it becomes part of their lifestyle and psychological outlook. Others are smarter, balancing riding time with recuperation, and as a result have a more balanced, fun perspective on health, fitness and their performance. The key is to take time to assess your status.

An MOT is due!

Like a car, you need to have a check-up at least once a year. Even though this sounds obvious, many people fail to have a plan of action to follow. For the most part you need to make sure your health is good so that you can build fitness, and eventually improve performance. With a fragile base of health, the top-heavy structure leads to a gradual toppling-over process: your fitness and performance crumble as your health gives way from underneath. This is reflected in a study of athletes that showed that almost one in five endured carrying a lower back problem for more than three months. A third had knee problems. Hardly a smart basis from which to attempt to be healthy and aspire to personal goals.

For the early winter period there are three essentials: keeping well, building low-intensity fitness, and being consistent.

The key is to look after your health without having to resort to methods of propping it up with short-term cures (such as antibiotics, painkillers, stimulants and so on). This means feeding the body with natural foods, plenty of quality water and nutritional supplements where applicable. This is easily monitored with a weekly one- or two-day diet diary, where all the food you eat is listed and later assessed for quality. You don't have to be perfect but it will enable you to nip bad or obsessive habits in the bud.

For the early winter period there are three essentials: keeping well, building low-intensity fitness, and being consistent. It's not about training hard, getting ill, coming back and training harder to make up for lost time. You must practise patience riding: cruise along and enjoy it. Big leaps in fitness come in the late winter and spring. In the meantime, be sure to look after yourself.

What to watch out for

1 Inability to ease back for at least four weeks and realise this is for the best. The worse that will happen is that you'll feel fresh, motivated and ready for winter. Less is definitely more at this time in the overall year plan.

2 Previous bouts of illness, sporadic training and lethargy. These show you're overreaching and need to set more manageable training targets, not those of an elite Tour rider. Always try to ride within healthy lifestyle and performance parameters.

3 Total lack of ever being good to your body. This could include no treats, days off , massage sessions, lazy weekend mornings in bed, feet up watching a film and so on. Time to introduce some leisure and fun into your life.

4 Following the same old training group. Instead, do as much as you want to, or go for a walk/ride outdoors with non-competitive friends. This way, exercise can feel fun and enjoyable again.

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