10 winter training mistakes (and how to avoid them)

Give yourself a head start this winter by avoiding these common training mistakes

Winter training

If you’re looking to get the most out of your winter training, then you’re already going to be head and shoulders above those cyclists who go into hibernation come autumn, only to return in the spring once the temperature is back in double digits.

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That head start gives you the opportunity to put the building blocks in place for next year, whether building your base on long cafe rides, putting together a winter training plan, or making the most of the turbo trainer.

Winter can be a tough time to be a cyclist, though — and that’s just the challenging conditions on the roads and trails. That doesn’t mean you should give up and join the fair weather cyclists on the sofa. Here are 10 training mistakes to avoid between now and spring, and how you can overcome them.

Not having the right kit

First thing’s first, having the right kit is essential to surviving winter on the bike. While your bravery is admired if you’re still riding in a pair of bib shorts and short-sleeve summer jersey long into December, it’s a recipe for picking up illness, or worse, hypothermia.

A pair of bib tights should be a wardrobe staple come this time of year to keep the worst of the cold weather off, while your top-half choice will depend on the conditions – from a long-sleeve jersey on milder days through to a waterproof and windproof jacket for when things get really bad.

Covering your hands and feet with gloves and overshoes respectively will also keep your extremities warm, while a cap will keep the chill off your head.

Winter training
Having the right kit will go a long way to improving your winter riding.
Robert Smith/Immediate Media

Wearing too much kit

Great, you’ve now got all the gear. But that doesn’t mean you have to wear it all at once. While you want to be warm on a ride, there can be too much of a good thing — starting off snug and cosy can soon turn into a wet, soggy mess once you’ve got a few miles under your belt, and with this comes the dreaded wind chill.

To counter this, it’s best to wear a number of layers that can be added or removed as conditions change during your ride. Matt Bottrill of Matt Bottrill Performance Coaching swears by a gilet as a lightweight, easily-stowable layer to keep the wind off your chest, without overheating. 

“At this time of year, the weather can change and you can get cold quickly, so always have layers of clothing,” he says. “If you can keep yourself warm and dry [through winter], you’re more likely to have consistent training.”

Not planning ahead

If you have a goal in mind for next season, whether it’s a challenging ride, sportive or race, winter is the perfect time to start preparing for the year ahead. While it might seem too early to be training for next season, the work you do now will stand you in good stead come summer.

As with any training, it’s best to have a plan to help you focus on what you want to achieve – rather than doing sporadic sessions where there’s no progression. Each session should be part of a bigger jigsaw that leads towards your overall goal, according to Bottrill.

“While you’re training, you should be thinking about the next training day,” he says. “I’ve always said that you want to plan two weeks in advance to sort out the structure of your programme.”

Not sticking the bike on the turbo the night before

If your winter training involves a morning turbo workout — the turbo is a great way to get the most out of your training time — this mistake can end up costing you a whole session, just by not doing something that takes a few minutes in advance.

“If my bike’s not on the turbo ready to go, that session just doesn’t happen,” says Dr David Nichols, cycle training consultant for Wattbike. “It’s about making it as convenient and easy to happen, and pretty much any excuse not to set the alarm and get on the bike is good enough not to do the session.”

Set yourself a reminder in the evening to get your bike on the turbo and you’ll have one less reason not to do that morning workout.

Make sure your lights are charged and ready to go.
Georgina Hinton/Immediate Media

Not keeping your lights charged

If you like to ride outside, rather than on the turbo trainer, you need to ensure your lights are charged in advance. It’s easy to think that ‘no lights’ equals ‘no training’ and therefore an extra hour in bed, particularly with the lack of daylight through winter.

If you do muster the motivation to get out, remembering to charge your lights will reduce the risk of them running out mid-ride.

A simple way to keep on top of this is to take the lights off your bike to be charged after every ride (or every couple of rides if your lights have a long battery life).

Riding too far from home

While it can often be tempting to discover new roads on long training rides, Bottrill recommends sticking to tried and tested routes not too far from home during the depths of winter. Being miles from the nearest bike shop or stood on the side of the road in the cold trying to fix your bike isn’t fun.

Bottrill says he always rides circuits at this time of year for that very reason, never straying too far from home in case of mid-ride mechanicals. 

While it might not be the most interesting way to train, it limits the potential for things to go wrong. Plus, you’ll have new routes to look forward to discovering in the spring.

If you do head off the beaten track in winter, make sure you have everything you need to stay well fed and watered, and the essentials required to fix common mechanicals.

Forgetting to hydrate

When riding in the summer, you’d never think of leaving the house on a long ride without a couple of bidons full of water. 

So why should things be any different come winter? Sure, it’s not as warm, but you need to keep your body hydrated — you’re still working hard, even if your perspiration isn’t as obvious.

“It’s one thing that gets neglected — when it’s not warm, we don’t hydrate,” says Bottrill. “Also, once you’ve done your training sessions, especially if you’re using gym bikes, sanitise your hands so you don’t pick up infections.”

Winter training
Winter on the bike can be tough. Follow our tips to get the most out of the season.
Andy McCandlish/Immediate Media

Not eating properly post-ride

Riding your bike over the winter months can be a great way of keeping trim during the excesses that come with the festive period. 

But while it’s tempting to dive into a selection box or mince pie as soon as you finish your ride, it’s important to refuel your body properly with the nutrients it needs to start the recovery process.

“It’s key to replenish your glycogen stores,” says Bottrill. “Once you’ve finished your training, remember to take in your protein and carbohydrates.”

You can always save those Quality Street for dessert…

Not recovering between interval sessions

If you’ve only got less than an hour for a training session, then a HIIT workout – where you intersperse short, high intensity intervals with short periods of recovery – is a time-efficient way of keeping your fitness up over winter.

But it’s also important to factor in recovery time between sessions, due to their intensity and what they take out of the body.

”If you’re doing that day-in-day-out, you’re going to burn out really quickly,” says Bottrill. “If you have 30-40 minutes of training time, there’s a benefit, but you can’t do it every day. It’s not feasibly possible because you can’t hit that high intensity.”

Overdoing it

Although it might be tempting to try and get a real leg-up ahead of next season, it is possible to burn out before you’ve even got there. “We call them winter warriors,” says Bottrill.

Instead, he recommends setting goals and working out a structured plan that will help you achieve those objectives.

After all, you want to get to spring ready to take your training to that next level, rather than arrive at your peak.

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