4 Off-Season Cycling Rules

How to make the most of your winter cycling to start off strong in the spring—plus, a sample "no-plan" plan to follow.

Photo: John David Becker

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Make the most of your winter cycling to start off strong in the spring.

Winter is here. You don’t want to let go of your hard-earned gains, but you also don’t have the daylight hours to put in the time you do during the summer. How can you best spend your time to make sure you’re positioned to build on the strength you’ve gained this year?

Though an off-season break is important, one mistake people make is putting up their bike after the last race of the year and letting it collect cobwebs until spring. When you do that, you spend several months just trying to catch up to where you were instead of building on your previous year’s efforts.

Ted Morris, a USAT-certified coach and part owner of Energy Lab, an indoor cycling studio in Atlanta, spends 80–100 percent of his riding time indoors during the winter and has continued to make gains over the past several seasons. “Winter is not the time to completely ignore bike training,” Morris says. “While longer rides may not be as needed, maintaining a solid base of bike fitness while incorporating intensity and power movements will ensure success for the upcoming season.”

Here are a few simple rules for those who are planning on cycling just a few hours a week to maintain much of their fitness and come out strong in spring.

Don’t dilly dally.

Though you may have the thought of base miles in your head with only a small amount of time devoted per week, intensity is where it’s at. Riding the same hours (or fewer) than you’re used to riding at a reduced intensity will make you slower, not faster.

Morris recommends first defining where the bike fits into your off-season priority list. “Don’t start over every year—maintain general fitness using the bike and focus on shorter form and power-based workouts to ensure success into the coming seasons.”

RELATED: 3 Cycling Workouts For The Winter

Get a (simple) plan.

Your plan may be as simple as two short interval rides and riding with a group outdoors for a few hours on the weekend when weather allows. Continue to ride 3–4 times per week, and make at least one a longer, unstructured ride (2 hours or more), and at least one focused on form or power.

RELATED: 5 Off-Season Rules

Make it fun.

If the thought of indoor trainer sessions sounds like drudgery, find a way to mix it up. If you have a Computrainer class in your area, take advantage—competition or a little light accountability can keep you on the right track. Riding one time per week with a group, even if indoors, can go a long way. If you can’t physically ride in the same room with friends, you can ride with others virtually using a format like Zwift or join a TrainerRoad team to get some accountability. Or if you’re riding indoors solo, download a video from Sufferfest, which will take you through a tough session with the video set to a perspective of riding in a real cycling race.

RELATED: How To Stay Motivated To Ride Indoors

Keep your eye on the prize.

Remember that the point is to keep some fitness without being tied to the structured nature of the competition season. If the bike is your focus for the off-season, you need a structured approach. But if it’s not, you can use the bike as a way to drive overall fitness.

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Your No-Plan Plan

If you do better with some sort of structure, here’s an example of how you could spend your 3–4 hours cycling a week during the winter.

Workout 1
Easy warm-up
10’ building from Z1–Z2, 4×30” isolated leg training, 4×60” spin-ups to fast (~20’ total)
MS: 8–12 rounds of tabatas. 30” ALL OUT, followed by 30” recovery (12’ total)
CD: Easy to finish
Total time: 40–45’

Workout 2
Easy WU: 10’ building from Z1–Z2, 4×60” spin-ups to fast (~15’ total)
MS Weeks 1–4: 2×20’ at high tempo (~80–90% of threshold power), 5’ recovery interval
MS Weeks 5–9: 3–4 x 10’ at threshold power (91–104%), 2–3’ RI
MS Weeks 10–14: 4–6 x 2–4’ at
VO2max (105–120%) on equal rest (~45’ total)
CD: Easy to finish
Total Time: ~75’

Workout 3
Real or virtual group ride with friends or online. Ride how you feel.

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