Make no mistake, in our view at least, cycling is the greatest sport in the world; with so many benefits to health and fitness to make the most of. But it is a sport that, like any other, comes with its challenges. So with winter well and truly here, what are they, and what can we do about them?
Training Factors Long Term
Most riders finish the NZ season with Age Group Road Nationals and take a break of 1-4 weeks to refresh the mind and recharge the body. But, for many Schools Cycling, Cycle Cross or Winter Racing is coming up, and they feel the need to train for this. Many will also finish the road season disappointed with results and want to leap straight into training in search of the performances they felt they should have had at Road Nationals. This can set them into a descending spiral of overreaching that leads to further slumps and illness. Riders should definitely take a rest at the end of the season, and then ease back into riding and racing.
Training Factors Short Term
As the winter months loom it is an important time to maintain fitness and condition. With fewer key events it is an opportunity to get into a routine of good eating and regular riding. Riding outdoors is stressful with cold weather, smog and the challenges of traffic, less light and riding at night. Good lighting systems, reflective clothing and wind-proofing can help with getting out. But even then we see more stress and greater recovery needs from competing and training hard outdoors in the cold and wet. This can be where indoor training sessions are very helpful. Platforms like Zwift offer bunch rides, group training sessions and races. One tip I have is to ignore the power and cadence and just focus on the virtual scenery. This is actually a general recommendation. Use the data post ride to help with your reflection.
The winter is a great time to really focus on a good diet. Try to avoid processed foods like trans fats and added sugar that have an inflammatory effect on the body and eat a wide variety of natural foods. The gut microbiome is of interest as it plays a key role in a strong immune system and the body becoming more efficient at drawing energy and nutrients out of the food we eat. This places an emphasis on prebiotic foods high in fibre and probiotic foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir. Again with fewer key events in winter you can work hard on establishing a good routine.
This is one I really keep banging on about. A huge area of sports research which shows the detrimental effect of poor sleep on health and sports performance. Winter, is again a great time to focus on one of the important aspects of sleep hygiene keeping the room cool between 16-18 degrees. The room should be dark and quiet. A eye mask and ear plugs can help with this. Establishing a regular routine is essential, and you should start the process of winding down for sleep at least 90 minutes before bed time, which means NO SCREENS as the blue screen common in most devices really affects melatonin production, and this wrecks sleep.
Finish your summer season, reflect on performances, and move forward from there. Work on the performance you want to build up to over the whole winter. Be practical about what you can achieve riding on the road and prepare accordingly, and be sensible about just how much time you want to spend riding indoors. Invest in quality nutrition and get your ZZZZsss, and you will have a solid winter, and be ready for when summer comes round to be ready to jump back into key races with the form and condition you have maintained over the winter!
Hamish is a Christchurch based Cycling Coach who is a partner at Roulston Coaching. He works with Road, Track and Mountain Biking cyclists here in NZ and all round the World. He holds a Masters Degree in Sports Science and follows an athlete centred coaching approach based on sound sports science research and experience having coached for 27 years.
To find out more about Hayden Roulston, Hamish Ferguson and the team at Roulston Coaching click here.