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10 tips for winter-proofing your fitness

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Planning is key this time of the year. Seasons are made over the winter. Follow these 10 tips and you’ll be flying next spring. You might even be tempted to take a month off in April to let your friends catch up … or not.

1. Set goals for next season

Now is the time for honesty. Do you like the results you had this year? Could you improve? Is there an event on your bucket list to focus your upcoming season? Ask yourself what you’d like to accomplish next year and be as specific as possible. Write down your seasonal milestones on a calendar and then work in the supporting details.

2. Set up an indoor training space

A comfortable, well-equipped training area is a motivator like none other. Set up your stationary trainer along with two fans pointed high and low. A yoga mat, exercise ball, and a set of dumbbells can be used for stretching and quick off-bike calisthenics bursts between intervals. Add some music and video for the right combination of distraction and motivation.

3. Train with power

There is simply no better way to measure your output on the bike and target the different energy systems used in cycling. Power provides you with an absolute measure of your output, and with fitness testing, a current baseline fitness level. Power is measured in several ways when cycling, from more-expensive on-bike power meters like those available from Quarq and SRM, to less-expensive trainer-based alternatives like the Kinetic Road Machine | Smart. The most important thing to look for with power measurement is repeatability. If you’re using the same device day after day and testing with that set-up, you’ll be able to track progress with your training plan.

4. Determine your Functional Threshold Power

When training with power, it’s important to establish your Functional Threshold Power (FTP), an individually tested fitness baseline from which to create training zones and measure progress. Simply put, FTP is the maximum power you can maintain over an hour-long time trial effort. Your current FTP can be determined by riding a fitness test interval session with shorter time trial efforts like the one here. Using a multiplier to take a percentage of the average wattage for those efforts, you then map training zones from the FTP number. Zone-based plans using FTP offer a huge advantage over heart-rate-zone only plans in that you can train, increase and measure your FTP while your heart rate stays relatively stable with fitness. By training and retesting you can move FTP wattage higher and create more power on the bike while remaining aerobic.

5. Use a training plan

Free power training plans are readily available online. Many of these are very basic and will be enough to get you started. You might want something more specific though, so do a quick search for the type of plan that suits your ability level, available training time, and cycling discipline. Chances are something will come up tailored exactly to your needs. If not, TrainingPeaks.com is an excellent resource for myriad plans in many sports.

6. Incorporate strength training

This might not be a go-to for endurance athletes, but it can be a game-changer on several levels. In the winter, the increase in muscle mass from strength training will promote a metabolic boost — perfect for the months that we’re all trying to keep off the adipose. Other benefits include increased power on the bike, better muscle flexibility, and stronger muscles protecting joints.

7. Do longer workouts outdoors

Let’s be honest, anticipating multi-hour sessions in the pain cave can be unbearable. Give yourself a break and keep your indoor workouts focused and short. Choose sessions that give you the greatest amount of time at intensity — these are often harder to execute outdoors anyway. Save the longer stuff for a weekend session on the road or trail, or mix up disciplines.

8. Cross-train

Winter is the perfect season to exchange that three-hour rollers ride for three hours on the cross-country skis. Snowshoe running is a blast too, especially with a few friends. Cross-training is good for your head; it’s even better for your body to use muscle groups and movements that you don’t typically use when cycling.

9. Get a professional bike fit

Your body is a work in progress. Injuries and muscle tightness are just a couple factors that can create a change in a perfect bike fit. Have a pro check out your set-up, and you might gain some comfort and a few extra watts.

10. Train with a friend or a group

Finally, sometimes you’re left with no other choice but to do a long workout indoors. Nothing makes the time fly by better than some camaraderie. Organize a weekly indoor ride or training session with some friends and a bike shop or with your buddy with the garage-mahal.