Offseason Cycling: Laying the Foundation

<strong>Your basic aerobic capacity is best developed through low-key, low-heart-rate, easy-spin rides--not hard-core hammering sessions.</strong><br><br><em>Photo by Robert Murphy</em>

So it's December. It's cold outside, it's getting dark earlier and triathlon season seems a lifetime away. For many athletes, the off-season is the most difficult time of year. Training loses focus, your fitness level drops and it suddenly becomes very difficult to find anyone willing to go for a four-hour ride in 30-degree weather.

However, despite its shortcomings, the off-season is the perfect time to shore up any weaknesses and lay the foundation for a solid upcoming season. As you ease back into light training in the coming weeks, here are a few suggestions to help you keep your cycling focused.

Rebuilding Your Base

The heart of your cycling fitness is your basic aerobic capacity. This aerobic capacity is best developed through low-key, low-heart-rate, easy-spin rides. The kind that most triathletes have a hard time implementing into their training and an even harder time accomplishing properly.

Often, what starts out as an easy spin ends up progressing to a harder pace. This is exactly what you don't want to do. Going very easy will build aerobic endurance with little added fatigue. Going just that little bit harder won't be hard enough to start training other energy systems and does little more than just make you tired.

Keys to a Proper Base Ride:

• This should be a three- to five-hour ride. To avoid tempting (or baiting) yourself to go harder, leave your training toys at home. This means no power meter, no heart-rate monitor. All you really need is a watch. You might not even want your bike computer since you don't want to get sucked into how far you have gone or your average speed.

• Try exploring new routes or making some stops at a coffee shop or deli.

• Keep it in the small ring. Set a rule for yourself that you will only use your small chain ring, no matter what. This will keep you spinning and keep you from pushing too hard.

Indoor Workouts

Even in the best climates, you're probably going to have those days when you just can't get outside on the bike, and in many areas it might be weeks before the roads are clear enough to ride outside.

So, you'll just have to ride inside. You have two options: you can either ride at home on a stationary trainer or rollers, or you can go to a spin class at the local club.

Riding at home will give you the freedom to choose you own workout, while the atmosphere of spin classes might give you a bit more motivation and alleviate the boredom factor. If you do choose to ride at home, following a set workout with changes in intensity will help pass the time. For example, try these workouts once you have spent several weeks in your base phase.

Lactate Threshold Pyramid

Warm-up: 15 to 30 minutes at an easy spin (53/17 or lower if you are on a 700C 12-23 cog set)

Main Set (at low/moderate resistance on your trainer):

  • 6 minutes 90-100 rpm in your 53/16 (tempo, not hard)
  • 4 minutes very easy spin in a low gear
  • 6 minutes 90-100 rpm 53/15
  • 4 minutes very easy
  • 6 minutes 53/14
  • 4 minutes very easy
  • 6 minutes 53/13
  • 4 minutes very easy
  • 6 minutes 53/12
Cool-down: 15 to 60 minutes easy spin

This workout should start off feeling easy and become more difficult as it progresses and fatigue sets in. The first few times you might not make it through the entire thing. That's OK; it just gives you something to shoot for.

Power Session

Warm-up: 15 to 30 minutes

Main Set: Follow your warm-up with a set of 3-5 x 30 seconds where you descend effort to a fast spin using a high gear. Then, with the trainer on medium to medium/high resistance (but not so much that you tear up your tire) perform the following 3-5 times:

  • 10 minutes tempo in a moderate gear (near LT pace)
  • 2 minutes sprint as hard as you can go in a high gear (maintain at least 80 rpm)
  • Spin easy for 15 minutes
  • Then 3-5 x 2 minutes sprint with 5 minutes recovery
Cool-down: easy spin for 15 to 30 minutes

This workout will take you two-plus hours and you'll likely have to build into it over a few weeks. For your first couple of sessions, start conservatively.

By training smart over the coming months, you can lay a solid fitness foundation for next season. So get out there and get a jump on the competition.

Jimmy Archer is a pro triathlete, coach, and freelance writer. During his career Jimmy has raced at all distances and formats of triathlon, competing for the U.S.A. on four national teams and finishing top 10 at five XTERRA world championships.

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