Most cycling training plans have a pretty straightforward approach to winter: build a regular riding habit, gradually extend your long ride, and only then begin introducing blocks of ‘tempo’ work up to around Function Threshold.
It’s an approach that makes sense, works well and will almost certainly help you improve. But it’s not the only way. It’s arguably just as effective to take a look at your strengths as a rider, and then to spend the winter working on the things you’re not as good at.
If you’re happiest hammering up a load of little hills and would rather contest a crit than take part in a time trial, this plan is designed to take you out of your comfort zone and develop the steady-state fitness that will help you make the most of your natural ‘pounciness’ next season.
Cycling training plans: how to use them – including an explanation of training zones
The sessions in this plan are designed to serve two purposes.
The first is to build a decent platform of general conditioning by building up a base load of upper Zone 2 riding and then adding in blocks of, initially, Zone 3a and, later, Zone 3b on top.
The second purpose is to encourage you to spend time working on your areas of potential weakness, which means big gear work at low cadences, controlled surges on short hills where the emphasis is on sustaining the underlying effort on the downhill and the flat, and ‘isopower’ riding where you try to keep an absolutely even effort despite the changing terrain. The plan also includes two Functional Threshold tests — in weeks four and 12 — so that you’ll have the chance to see how your fitness has progressed by the end of the plan.
This is the plan for you, if…
- You’re a road racer or mountain biker looking for an extra edge
- You tend to fade during longer rides
- You often find yourself coasting down rideable descents
- You struggle to assess your effort over varied terrain
Both Zone 2 and Zone 3a riding improve your power at Lactate Threshold, increase the number of mitochondria in your working muscles, improve your efficiency and help convert your sprint muscle fibres to endurance fibres — but, if time is short, building up the proportion of Zone 3 work in the ride will tend to get the job done quicker.
Big gear work
Pedalling slowly against the high resistance of a big gear doesn’t build leg strength in a scientific sense, but it does put a large amount of torque through the muscles. And that’s a useful bridge towards riding faster on flat routes, better time trialling and even powering over little lumps without having to attack them.
You might think that rides where you push harder up lots of little climbs would be easy for a punchy rider, but the trick here is to maintain a constant foundation effort right at the top of Z2. Combine that with the controlled harder climbs and your lactate levels should start to rise and then stabilise at a higher level than you’d get with normal ‘hard-easy’ efforts.
Training plan for winter: block 1 – settling into your plan
Click here to download a high resolution PDF of the winter training plan: block 1.
Training plan for winter: block 2 – strengthen your weaknesses
Click here to download a high resolution PDF of the winter training fitter plan: block 2.
Training plan for winter: block 3 – turning weaknesses into strengths
Click here to download a high resolution PDF of the winter training fitter plan: block 3.
Oliver Roberts is a level two coach, specialising in cycling and triathlon, who works with PBscience.com. Over the past 10 years, he’s created training programmes for the Race for Life 5K running series, had three training manuals published and has coached athletes of all abilities, from novices to national champions, World Championship contenders and a National Ironman record holder.