Tips for Cycling With the Seasons
Whether you try to or not, your cycling habits probably follow some natural rhythms. The busyness of the holidays, the frigid winter months, and even the ebb and flow of cycling events can cause you to spend more or less time on the bike.
You may be frustrated by these ups and downs. If you’re like most cyclists, you might feel an inner drive to make sure you’re riding hard and often all year round. But what if we told you these natural rhythms aren’t necessarily something to be ashamed of, but to embrace?
As cycling coach Darryl Mackenzie has discovered in his many decades of riding and coaching others, your body and mind need some time to rest now and then. The four seasons of the year present some natural times around which you can structure your cycling routine — and your time on and off the bike. Here’s how you can approach cycling with the seasons.
Your Body and Mind Need Breaks
Before we get to the details, though, let’s take a moment to consider why you need these periods of rest. When you work out, whether it’s cycling, running, weight lifting or some other form of exercise, you’re putting your body through a lot. If you’re training for something demanding — like a century — you’re also putting your mind through a lot. The process of training for an endurance sport like cycling is just hard on you, mentally and physically.
Not only that, but you might be straining or stressing your body in different ways, depending on the type of workout you’re doing. You may need to rest different muscles at different times in order to dial in your training.
Professional athletes have understood these factors for a long time, and they structure their training accordingly. Particularly for endurance athletes, a type of training called periodization, or the periodic process, is necessary to prepare them for peak performance at exactly the right time. This process works by focusing training in three phases designed to build on top of each other: strength training, then endurance training, then intensity.
We’ll get into more of that below. For the moment, the important thing for you to remember as a cyclist is this, which we can’t say any better than Coach Darryl:
“For a cyclist to attempt to be at peak cycling form all 12 months of the year is difficult to impossible.”
Following a Seasonal Cycling Training Plan
With all that in mind, let’s think about how you can adjust your cycling routine based on the seasons of the year. The four seasons roughly provide an outline for how you as a cyclist can naturally work in these ebbs and flows and even build the periodic process into your training.
Late Fall–Early Winter
We’ll start here in the lull season. This is November–December when cycling events have wrapped up and you’re in full holiday swing. Even where it’s not incredibly cold, it’s dark and it’s just hard to find the time for all the extended rides you may have been doing earlier in the year.
Instead of fretting and fighting against these realities, why not embrace them? The holiday stretch is a time for socializing and catching up with friends and family. Rather than long, intense rides, this could be a time for casual, short rides with friends you don’t often see. You can still get some activity but let your body rest and give your mind the restorative pleasure of socializing and enjoying the year-end festivities.
New Year–Late Winter
If you take it easy during the last months of the year, you’ll probably start feeling the urge to get riding regularly again around the turn of the year. Maybe you ate a little more than you intended to at all those holiday parties, or perhaps you’re motivated with some fresh resolutions.
That’s great. Use that fuel to fire you up, but focus on the right type of training. After some time off, strength training should be your main emphasis while you gear up again.
Don’t start with long rides right out of the gate. Coach Darryl always hated when the Palm Springs ride fell around Jan. 20, when no one was ready for a 100-mile ride after so much time off. Early in the year is the time to work on leg exercises that will give you the strength you need for those long rides in a few months.
As winter turns to spring, you can begin to shift your cycling training plan toward endurance. It’s still cool outside, so start adding miles and building your stamina. All those leg workouts will pay off here as you lengthen your rides. Try to get some of your longest rides of the year in before the heat of summer arrives.
When that heat does kick in, you’ve got to be strategic. Summer is a good season for more frequent, short, intense rides. Plan these for the morning or the evening, away from the intensity of the midday sun.
When fall comes around again, you should be in peak shape. You’ve built strength, endurance and your capacity for intense rides. As the weather cools again, you can put it all together for some of the most exciting riding of the season. Soon, you’ll be back where you started and ready for that year-end lull.
Where Winters Are Long
What if you’re one of those cyclists who live in a climate with more extreme seasons? Long winters can be particularly hard for sticking with these rhythms.
On one hand, you can try to condense the schedule into more like seven or eight months instead of nine or 10. But you can also work indoor cycling into your plan, using a stationary trainer. In fact, stationary training is well-suited to this type of periodic training schedule because you can easily set the resistance for intensity and do specific leg exercises to build strength.
Regardless of exactly how you do it, the point is that having some breaks in your cycling routine, along with more structured methods for how you build up your body toward peak riding season, is a good thing.
“Don’t attempt to be at your full peak mentally and physically for 12 months a year,” Coach Darryl reiterates. “It’s extremely difficult to do that. Take some time off to smell the roses.”
Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.
Photo by Laszlo Andras on Unsplash