Improve your bike this winter by tackling improvements from two angles—off and on the bike.
by Bethany Rutledge
If you’re serious about improving your cycling in the coming year, you can’t afford to completely ignore the bike this winter. We asked coaches Jessica Baxter of TriDot and strength coach Jeremy Brock for ideas on setting yourself up for cycling improvement in the off season by focusing on workouts on and off the bike.
On the bike
1. Work smarter: Winter can be a tough time to get in a lot of volume. Cyclists often find it more helpful, and palatable, to improve their short power game. Brock recommends performing short to medium length intervals at high power to work on Functional Threshold Power, or FTP (the average power you can hold for an hour's effort—if you don't know it, winter is a good time to get tested.) You can save the longer intervals for the build and peak phases, yet still gain short power which will lead to gains in endurance efforts later in the year.
2. Big gear intervals: Jessica Baxter of Tridot advises performing "big gear" intervals for overall strength improvements. The best part is you can incorporate this type of training into your existing intervals by simply changing the cadence. "When doing zone 3-4 work, drop your cadence down to 70rpm," Baxter explains. Intervals performed consistently in this way will help riders gain muscular strength and power.
3. Embrace the indoors: Find a way to embrace your trainer. Baxter believes that riding the trainer helps athletes gain physical strength and mental toughness. She trained for six competitive seasons indoors, and describes the benefits as "safe, measurable, and controlled—and I never ran out of nutrition! Plus, it took less time away from the family." Using a trainer also allows you to be more specific about your session without worrying about interruptions from stoplights and terrain.
Off the bike
4. Strength training: Brock believes that strength training is an important complement to riding. He recommends exercises that are dynamic, multi-joint compound movements such as deadlifts, front squats, and lunges. How does this translate to on-bike performance? The Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist explains that practicing these types of movements help you improve your ability to use fast twitch fibers to generate more power—exactly what you need to push a big gear, power through a sprint, or climb a tough hill. Finally, he adds that they will help your overall slow twitch muscular endurance.
5. Flexibility: Flexibility is also important and often overlooked. Brock notes that a focus on flexibility will help athletes become more balanced, lead to decreased injury rates, and also help weather the long bike rides to come in the next season. He says the goal with these exercises is increasing the overall mobility of the hip/gluteal complex, quads, hamstrings and lower legs as well as the lower back and thoracic spine. He encourages athletes to think of the body as a cohesive unit and that working on these muscles will also help them improve flexibility and neuromuscular coordination. One final word of advice is to save these stretching sessions till after your workouts. "Gone are the days when stretching was considered a good warmup activity!" he adds.
6. Get motivated: Though cycling season may be many months away, you can still get motivated by brushing up your knowledge on many aspects of cycling. The Principles of IRONMAN Training Course includes a module on cycling that covers parts and components, biomechanics, and handling tips. It also has a module on drills, techniques, and training advice for long distance races.