Around this time of year the favourite topic of discussion for many cyclists is winter training. What to do, how much to do, and when to do it, everyone seems to have their own opinion on the topic. Some swear by the old methods of never leaving zone 2 until the New Year, others have embraced the turbo, and are advocates of high intensity training, branding any session conducted below zone 6 as “junk miles”.
And then there is the debate of structured vs unstructured. Many believe that having excessive structure during the winter training period can be counter-productive, leading to mental burn-out, and can ruin your enjoyment of the sport. Others see structure as an essential element of a winter program, giving them focus, and helping them to reach their goals for the coming season. Different approaches work best for different people, depending on their life circumstances and personality.
Volume vs Intensity
On the intensity vs volume front, the scientific literature seems to have a definitive answer to this question. For riders with 15-20+ hours to train, the high volume low intensity approach seems to be effective (to an extent) but for the rest of us we need to maintain some intensity in the winter to ensure we continue improving, and don’t lose too much fitness we gained during the summer. Does this mean that time crunched riders need to spend every hour of their available training time frothing at the mouth doing high intensity intervals? Thankfully not! Even for riders training around 8 hours a week, a mix of easy low intensity rides, combined with 1-2 high intensity sessions per week has been shown to be one of the most effective methods of training. This approach can be ideal for riders struggling to know what to do this winter, they can get the best of both worlds, the structure of high intensity sessions during the week, and then use the weekends for enjoyable low intensity rides, free of structure, just enjoying the bike.
Excessive use of structure and intensity will lead to burnout for even the most motivated of riders. Keeping some rides easy and unstructured is a key component of a successful winter training program, both for the body and the mind. Work with your coach to make sure your winter program is both enjoyable and effective, and lay down the foundations for your best season yet!