Unless you are one of those lucky people who lives in a place where the temperature is pleasant and mild all year round, chances are you have had to endure the misery of winter training. I may not be a fitness expert, but right now the temperature outside my window is -29 degrees Fahrenheit, so I do know a little something about winter. Whether done inside, outside or a combination of the two, these 10 tips are sure to help you survive training during the coldest months of the year.
Have a Specific Goal
Long, intense training sessions can feel as empty and meaningless as the last season of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Of course, I don't hate myself enough to actually watch that show, but I think I'm safe in my assumption that it does not solve many of life's great mysteries. Having a tangible goal can help give meaning and purpose to all those hours you spend spinning on your glorified hamster wheel. The more specific the goal, the better. Getting faster and fitter are great goals, but they are also vague enough to ignore with little consequence. Make your suffering the means to an end by signing up for an epic race or fondo. You could even plan a spring training camp somewhere you don't have to wear 14 layers of clothing just to step out the door. Concrete goals make you accountable and can save you from an endless winter of tantrums and spray tans.
Get a Coach
Speaking of accountability, nothing helps keep you on track and off the couch like a personal coach or trainer. If your budget can swing it, shelling out for professional coaching will make a huge difference in your motivation and accountability. Sure, you might need to skimp on your daily White Mochas, but those are probably terrible for you anyway. It's a win-win. A good coach will assess your fitness, goals and lifestyle and tailor a training program that's right for you. They will monitor your progress and provide regular feedback to help you from over or undertraining. Most of all, unless you are a master of deception, they will smell your lame excuses a mile away.
Embrace the Internet
The proliferation of online apps and services have revolutionized the otherwise dark and lonely universe of indoor training. I admit I was skeptical at first—recalling those days in the mid-1970s when my mother would turn on the TV to do aerobics sessions hosted by oily and leotarded instructors. Even as a kid I was irritated by the chipper enthusiasm, which was as fake as the wood veneer on the massive cabinet that housed the TV. Those days are long gone, replaced by a veritable cornucopia of quality online resources to help make your indoor training sessions a little less dark and lonely.
If gaming is your jam (my teenage kids are dying right now), Zwift offers a cool and social virtual cycling environment with constantly changing courses and challenges. Plus, you can customize your avatar with cute outfits and all the kickass gear you dream about owning IRL (more dying). Number crunchers will enjoy Trainer Road, which favors performance metrics over entertainment.
Thankfully, there is also Netflix for those of us who prefer a little distraction on the side of our suffering. Speaking of suffering, The Sufferfest offers plenty of it, with structured workouts served with a generous helping of wit and good-natured bravado. Sure it's still indoor training, but it beats the heck out of spinning mindlessly to those Kardashian reruns.
Whether you're the outdoors-y or indoors-y type, it takes Navy Seal-level toughness to survive winter training. In the case of indoor training, I would submit for your consideration exhibits A-L in which I am repeatedly shamed for being crazy or stupid enough to train indoors in the winter. One friend, after asking if I was "riding the trainer this winter," went so far as to stick her finger down her own throat to demonstrate her feelings about my answer.
In the case of outdoor training, I will submit exhibits M-Z in which I am repeatedly shamed for being crazy or stupid enough to ride outdoors in the winter. It has been suggested on more than one occasion that if I were to be flattened by a truck during training, it would serve me right. So yes, sisters and brothers, it's time to toughen up. 'Cuz if the training don't kill you, the dealing with your judgy friends and family most certainly will.
Mix It Up
As much as I consider cycling to be the pinnacle of all athletic endeavors, I will grudgingly admit that mixing in other activities from time to time might not only be fun but also have physical and mental benefits. For example, this winter I joined a recreational women's ice hockey league. We play (terribly and with much apologizing) once a week, and let me tell you—plowing into the boards at 20mph in full equipment offers an adrenaline rush that V02 max intervals can't even touch. Different sports, no matter how bad you might be at them, give your head a bit of a break and exercise muscle groups you forgot you even had. Heck, they might even help your cycling season should a fight break out in the stands.
Take a Break
No, seriously. I promise you won't die, and I promise your FTP won't end up irreversibly in the toilet. It's the off-season, and even pros take some time off in the winter to recover, recharge and reintroduce themselves to the people who share their permanent home address. (And remember, if it's good for the pros, it's good for us.) I'm not suggesting you flop on the couch and settle in, surrounded by a month's supply of ripple chips and Marlboros, but an active "off bike" period, free of two-hour sessions spent sweating alone in the basement on a bike that goes nowhere, can do you a world of good. Heck, some might even call it "normal." Take this rare opportunity to reconnect, recharge and rest. Fear not—your body and your loved ones will thank you for it.