Winter Training: How to Get it Done

With less light, cooler weather, variable conditions, soooo many layers of clothing, and multiple training sessions/day, winter training can be much more time consuming and energy draining than summer training. The challenge of winter training however builds resiliency and commitment and can make you a better athlete come summer. 

I like to escape winter for 1-2 weeks a year, but most of my training is done at home be it -20 or +5.  Yes, you may be able to do bigger volume if you head south to ride, but the off season is also about finding life balance, recharging your mental batteries and the reality we can't all just fly away when conditions get tough.  Staying home in winter can enable you to do consistent high quality work and build a routine that will have you mentally tough, focused and physically just as ready for race season. 

Ice in Our Veins
Team Canada Moto going into the Rio Summer Olympics

Below are some of the ways I maintain high volume and quality training throughout the winter. These tips are aimed at riders looking to push their training to the next level, but I hope can also help anyone aiming to up their winter motivation or training regime.

Double days 

Split your training into two high quality sessions by combining different types of workouts. Training consistency and quality should be your number one goal and then push for volume.

I often do a trainer workout and gym on Tuesday/Thursday with a couple hours of recovery between and my volume days on skis with a split between classic and skating techniques  early in the season while my ski muscles are building or conditions variable.  The closer I move to race season the more I will use one technique for the entire duration or make it a bike day with a fat bike ride/trainer combo or trainer/run. Don't expect perfect conditions.  Embrace what you've got and find ways to make the weather work for you.

Benefits to split days: Staying warm is key to having a good workout and if you are like me, your body can handle a much longer bike ride than it can a long xc ski or run. By combining different types of skiing or a ski and ride or run you can get in the aerobic training while building economy, technique and therefore workout quality. 
Two shorter sessions can also be easier to fit around a work or school day.

Do a winter sport:  Get outside and have fun! Riding on the trainer or in the cold every day can wear down your mental reserves. If I didn’t go up to ski I might never see the sun in winter. Start cross training in the fall so that running, gym, skiing, climbing whatever you love or have access to can be an effective alternative. Switching it up keeps mental energy for biking higher and helps you approach training with fresh eyes.... Plus it’s fun to be a beginner at something and find big gains when usually you are working your butt off for 5 watts improvement!

Trainer: This is important. If your goal is to be strong mid summer, the hard work has already begun. Getting on the trainer for a couple focused sessions a week over the winter will bring you quickly up to speed and enable you to train harder when it’s time for riding outside. 

Not only will these sessions keep your tendons, ligaments, muscles and butt in shape for riding, but you can improve your pedalling with drills and speed work while also really improving your power. 

Having a specific workout planned will make the time pass more quickly and make it much higher quality. 

Here’s a great go-to workout once you’ve built up your trainer fitness. Heart rate zones and durations can be adapted to match your current fitness level and workout goals.

Trainer Workout
Set up fan!
15 min warm up
4 x 20 s surges to max cadence (speed skill) 2 min easy
10 min at 150-160 bpm/ 5min easy
12 min at 160-170 bpm/3 min easy
15 min at 165-175 bpm
Do this set 1-2 times at 90 rpm
Warm down 

Trainer Motivation: How to find it

Have a plan!  The trainer can be a struggle to ride. Have a workout planned that fills the entire duration of your ride

Netflix: Save your favourite show for on the trainer only. Sometimes you need to just log some time and this can be good incentive 

Zwift, Sufferfest, Trainer Road or a similar program makes the trainer much more palatable. You need to focus your mind on a task not your body’s complaints to make the clock tick faster

Just get started!  Thinking about getting on the trainer or a tough workout can make you procrastinate.  Don't overthink it.  Gear up, start pedalling and you'll find it's easier than expected if you have a workout set out to follow.

Take care of your body
If you can find time for some tv you can probably find time for some self care.  10 min on the foam roller, 10 min stretching and 10 min core while enjoying a podcast a couple times a week is a pretty good program to keep your muscles happy throughout your winter workouts so that you can train consistently week after week and make the most of the summer ahead.   
Starting the morning with core and finishing it with foam rolling after a workout can have you feeling pretty darn good.

The key is finding a routine that is sustainable for you.
Foam rollers are your friend, especially when they make you scream mercy! 

However you choose to get in the winter volume, be progressive, stay healthy, be consistent, and be safe.


André said…
Love your blog Catharine! The lack of sunshine certainly does put a dampener on the mental
part of training. Fat biking and gym workouts has been our “go to”. I also incorporate
speed, agility and quickness drills to keep things focused and sharp.
Keep up the great blogs!!!
Catharine said…
thanks Andre. Yes winter let's us get diverse and speed and agility in the gym can go a long way to making us more complete and injury free athletes