What's Cool In Road Cycling

Toolbox: Winter Fun – Oxymoron?

The answer definitely is NO…the secret is don’t call it training. For those of us Sun Worshippers, the recent news fact that 49 of the 50 United States currently have snow on them somewhere seems like a bit of a disaster. But, the idea of turning a disaster into something positive has long been a favorite personal theme.

By John Howard

A recent email from an old racing friend back East set my mind to work. On a sunny, but cold day in early January a group of riders ventured into a corridor of unnoticed black ice and one of them crashed badly, breaking his hip and probably ending his racing season before it even really began.

I have to say there is a raw side to me that applauds this sort of foolish risk taking. But then I immediately started thinking of what I would do under similar circumstances: The challenges of maintaining cardio fitness, the many creative bridges I would need to cross to re-build strength, form and fitness. From one who has ridden a bike 152 MPH and lived to tell the story, such thoughts are inescapable.

However, the other side of my brain side suggests that risks of this nature should at least be calculated. If you must ride outside to preserve your sanity, pick a fat tire MTB, with more rubber on the ground, and if that ground happens to be covered with ice, your knobbies will at least give you a fighting chance.

If you train in such conditions, but still consider yourself responsible (or just conservative), there is at once both a challenge and a joy in improving your seasonal results by focusing on new and/or fun stuff.

There is nothing like a wintertime crash to underscore the importance of developing a more refined indoor winter training plan that offers enough variety to eliminate winter boredom. By mid-January, are you already burned out on downloading yet another score of power numbers, which leads to another set of hard intervals? If yes, you should have issues with doing all of your training with a power meter. If you are like me, you’d rather celebrate blue sky and fresh air and leave the gadgets for testing. Close your eyes for a moment and just imagine how much more meaningful that moment will be when you finally get to experience warm sunlight on your face after a long winter of indoor training. 

Beyond indoor trainer workouts, here is a list of my favorite things to do in the winter:

• Tantric Yoga in front of a blazing fire (but that’s just me…)

• Rollers, better yet slide on to a fixed gear on your rollers. They will improve your balance and coordination, and snap up your leg speed just they way they did for Major Taylor a hundred years ago.

To all of you snow-bound cold climate cyclists and triathletes, I’d like to offer a few more suggestions if you are with me so far. Opening up the toy chest further, I suggest alternating rollers with…

• If your brain is struggling with moments of extreme boredom, turn off the lights—put the bike on the resistance trainer – then plug in Ian Jackson’s CD “Zooming.” Zooming is an out –of- body experience set to a haunting voice woven parade of suggestions played over an original musical score narrated by the master himself. Jackson’s CD will actually help re-charge your mental batteries.

• Off-bike workouts. For those of you fortunate enough to have experienced our BodyFiTTE flexibility and strength program, you will recognize some of the more cycling friendly poses and exercises from Yoga and Pilates. BodyFiTTE mimics and then complements the motor response of pedaling and running so you have a workable off-bike routine that I promise will make you faster and stronger, and not bore you.

• To add a new twist to the strength training mix, add a TRX suspension trainer, or similar device, to tighten up the core and strengthen all the major muscle groups without adding bulk. My training affiliates Doug Dunn and Ralph Walker have added the TRX as part of their regime.

• Spin classes may distract your competitive spirit, but what better way to serve your social needs? I say this remembering the ever-flowing growlers and fabulous pizza after Coach Jay’s Little Big Horn class in Billings Montana.

• XC country skiing and ice skating may prompt you to work on your skill sets, and the same can be said for downhill skiing and snowboarding, which rates high on my winter to do list.

• Another must is running, especially outdoors. Even if your knees are compromised, try it in small doses on soft surfaces at first and keep with it until it just feels right. You will know when that time comes. As always, make sure you have the right shoes and they are fitted correctly.

• My favorite but least favorite running toy is the treadmill, which Ralph’s daughter has renamed the “Dreadmill,” a device that you too will love to hate after just a few sessions. I’m kidding a bit – MANY athletes love the treadmill and their use of it has many benefits. As with an indoor trainer, the treadmill can be used as a pacer, controlling the speeds to create specific workouts. It’s great for incline intervals and you can watch a movie – how good is that?

By now you may have noticed a pattern here; I go from indoor to outdoor and back several times a week or whenever the weather gives us a break. Variety is key – both for your body and for your state of mind. Rejoice, this too shall pass. The end of winter is as close as the burrowed groundhog.

About John:
John Howard is one of the pioneers and true legends of American bike racing, with palmares including: 3-time Olympian, Ironman world champion, bicycle landspeed record, USA Cycling Hall of Fame, and elite and masters national champion. John is also an active cycling coach and the author of Mastering Cycling. Check out more information about John and his coaching at www.fittesystem.com and www.johnhowardsports.com.

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