Pressed for Time – Making the Most of Your Limited Winter Training Hours

With the amount of day light hours fading and economic pressure increased, work just seems like more work lately. Many athletes find themselves riding less and working to make the most out of it. When your training time is limited more than usual, be sure to keep the following tips in mind as you balance your available time: (and for a full list of winter tips from Scott, be sure to check the upcoming issue of ROAD Magazine)

Base training brings improved recovery. Don’t skimp on base training. Hard rides leave low-volume riders tired for several days, potentially wasting the time available on following days for improving base.

The jury is still out on the “sweet spot training” or “lower volume, higher intensity training,” but here’s my perception: The riders doing these plans and succeeding say something like, “I cut way back on volume and I’m riding as well or better than ever”. That has two implications; yes, they are riding lower volume, but they previously rode higher volume. Current fitness does not come only from the most recent days, weeks or even months of riding. Rather it is the residue of all exercise, eating, and riding, among many other things, that an individual has experienced. Base lasts for several years. The guys who report doing better on lower volume programs are actually doing better on programs consisting of several years of extensive base, followed by a year of reduced volume. Riders who have done those years of base might consider reducing volume, especially if they’ve been unable to control fatigue. New riders should not start a cycling career with low-volume, high-intensity training.

The fact that a workout leaves you tired doesn’t make it good. Generally the best workouts leave you ready for more. There’s no single measure of the quality of a workout but in base season, muscle movement cycles and Calories expended are a decent place to start. Forty-five minutes of running is no more valuable than 45 minutes of cycling, but it does more effectively use up your motivation for the day, so if anything running is less productive than a ride of the same length that leaves you able to train again later. If your plan says three hours and you can run for an hour, you need to ride or do something else for two additional hours. If you don’t have two more hours, then move on to the next day and don’t stress over time that’s already lost. Simply move on and resolve to make the next day better.

If you are really busy and are struggling to get category-appropriate riding volume, you’re better off staying away from the weight room and riding more. If you have generous time to train, time spent in the gym can do wonders for your sprint and your ability to make efforts up to a few minutes duration, like final laps of crits or the final mile to the crest of a hill. One study found that athletes (rowers unfortunately) roughly doubled the time they could sustain the power output corresponding to VO2-max, from about three minutes to about six minutes, after a few months of specific strength training.