Most of my clients start off the season in the winter and spend much of the year building fitness. As the seasons change and the weather starts getting colder they start to plan for the next season. It’s normal to think about keeping some of the fitness built over the last season, but there’s a reason that doesn’t work. The body doesn’t do steady state, you are either gaining or losing fitness all the time. There are also limits to fitness levels and costs for holding that level, and then there’s age… The bottom line is you can either decide when to lose fitness and take some time off, or your body will make that decision for you (probably when you least want it to).
The step from in-season fitness to off-season slowness is a tough one. I take a month where I can still ride, but I won’t push myself at all. I avoid rides where anyone else is going to push the pace. I’m back to being the average commuter. The two hardest parts about this are that you remember being fast, and the fear that you won’t get there again. I’ve done this for 3 decades, I’ve always gotten back to being fit and fast.
This is what most people think of when they start planning to regain their fitness, a bike on a trainer with a fan and a monitor and some form of entertainment. I hope to change that.
From a retail perspective (my shop sells a lot of trainers and indoor bikes in the winter) the winter training set-up is about simulating what happens on the road. This makes no sense to me. First, if you’ve been on the road from April – September and you’re feeling a bit burned out, what makes you think that doing more of the same is going to change that? Second, I don’t know of anyone who has mistaken riding indoors for being on the road. Lastly, riding indoors presents an opportunity that you didn’t have outside – to closely observe how you pedal the bike.
Winter training is the time for learning, not mindlessly pedaling a bike like a hamster on a wheel. The monitor in front of you isn’t to take your mind off the activity, it’s to observe what’s really happening. The training set-up should be the laboratory where you increase power and efficiency. You need to be able to see yourself in this process.
In learning what works and what doesn’t, I have built this. It’s an adjustable bike, but instead of driving a wheel with resistance it’s a plate loaded system. Force at the pedal is measured at a strain gauge at the bottom bracket, effective force at the pedal lifts the stack of weights. This is different from a bike on a trainer because at any point in the pedal stroke the crank is pulling back and the rider must overcome this force. There are also cameras to track rider position and alignment. This device lets me test methods of training with clear results, but it’s not needed for actual training. What I learn from this device lets me create workout methods that can be done on a regular trainer. This device lets me see when I get my body weight onto the pedal and when it comes off, I can do the same thing with a bathroom scale under the front wheel of a bike on a trainer.