Breaking the Winter Funk – Hit the Gym!
Toolbox: “Now is the winter of our discontent” so spoketh Richard III. For cyclists, the mid to late winter doldrums can also set in from too much training with too little competition or tangible goals. Break out of that funk by being highly focused both on the bike and in the gym.
As the calendar turns to February, the number of emails and calls from riders I coach begins to increase:
“I’m not sure what’s going on, but I just don’t seem to have the motivation – despite the gains I’ve made”
“I think I need a break from riding for a bit. I’ve been seeing progress, but I just can’t bear to look at my trainer or bike”
These thoughts and feelings are completely normal for riders who have spent the better part of the last few months indoors on the trainer. And while the invention & growth of CVRCade and Zwfit have helped push the timing of these emails and messages back a little further, they still come.
Cue stage right for the entry of a 2-3 week strength-focused training block.
Perhaps we’ve made the leap ahead to making the trainer more enjoyable and social through the ethers of the internet and high-tech indoor trainers, but we still have yet to understand the importance of coming into the season mentally fresh. Taking a step back in our on-bike time, and putting in a little more work in the gym, can help us in more ways than one.
If you’ve been following the year-round strength training approach, you’ll have finished the Anatomical Adaptations and Hypertrophy stages by this point, and will be just starting, or about halfway into your Max Strength phase. Perfect timing for 2-3 weeks of challenging workouts in the gym, with super focused on-bike work to keep you sharp.
But bear in mind, that these “challenging workouts” do NOT mean that you are crawling out of the gym. Quite the opposite: we’ll be performing 1-2 sets of 1-3 exercises at a perceived exertion of 8-9. The repetitions will range anywhere from 2-5 for these sets, and usually will be programmed for either the Hinge, Squat, or Pulling motion.
One exercise many riders find success with is the front squat. Here’s a recently released video from the @HVTraining YouTube channel to help you get what you need to, out of your squats:
But pay attention! HOW you execute it is more important that how much weight you are moving. You can learn more from another recently released video “Do you need heavy weight?”
Here’s how a week would break down during this time:
Monday- Movement Session / Yoga/ Pilates
Tuesday- Heavy Strength day
Wednesday- VO2 Max/ All out workout (total on-bike time 60-80 min)
Friday- Heavy Strength day + Short SSI’s/ Sweet spots on the bike (45 min total ride time)
Saturday- Long outdoor ride, or 75 min Low Cadence Tempo Ride (trainer)
Sunday- Gravel/ Mountain bike/ outdoor free-form ride
Following this kind of schedule can allow you to give yourself a mental break from the monotony of the trainer, yet many riders are actually scared to dial back “right when I’m getting stronger”. What they miss, is that the pushing to get the rides in wears down your mental reserves, which often leads to some late spring burnout- right when it REALLY matters.
The principles of training at higher intensities, for shorter durations of time has been around the better part of a decade now, with it seeing a big growth in popularity with the publishing of Chris Carmichael’s Time Crunched Cyclists in 2009. For those over 50, Joe Friel talks extensively about this approach and it’s potency in his book Faster After 50. But by not just going high-intensity on the bike, but by adding the (appropriately) placed Max Strength training (again, after having gone through the previous 2 stages), you can see significant gains in your on-bike performance, and your mental freshness, allowing you to keep riding strong, all summer long.
If you’d like to learn how to become a fitter and stronger rider from the mental AND physical side, sign up to attend my fall workshop co-taught with psychologist Dr. Lisa Lewis EdD, CADC-II, Columbus day weekend October 10 & 11, 2020 in Boston, MA, by emailing me at [email protected].
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Winter training can have its good points
Menachem Brodie is a USA Cycling Expert Level coach, SICI certified bike fitter, and NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist. For the last 10 years he has been working with athletes from around the world to get fitter, faster, and stronger through strength training and in-sport training plans. He has presented on Strength Training for Cyclists & Triathletes internationally, and is the author of 2 authoritative online courses: