Winter in Canada. Mountain bikes, fat bikes and cyclocross bikes offer great options for outdoor riding, and cross-country skiing and skating provide good cross-training alternatives. Athletes should exercise their options and get outside as often as possible. Still, most Canucks will do the majority of their winter riding indoors.
To make the most of indoor winter training, performance-minded athletes should think beyond the low-hanging fruit of simple fitness gains and Zwift leaderboard status. Rather than simply marking time until you return to the roads in the spring, evaluate your current deficits and build a plan to address them.
Earn Your Fit.
A proper bike fit is a must, and the winter is a perfect time to do it. After you’ve been properly fit, earn your fit. Too often, indoor riding devolves into the rider simply sitting on the bike and pumping their legs like it’s a fitness machine. Your bike is a performance machine, and the way you interact with the bike will affect your performance. Tilt the pelvis forward, straighten your back, keep your feet level, unlock your elbows, engage your shoulders, straighten your wrists, and keep your head up. In short, ride your bike like you mean it. And if these adjustments are difficult to hold, start with small pieces in short training sessions and increase duration gradually over successive sessions.
Ride your Drops. Ride your Aero bars.
You’ve earned your fit, now use it. Ride your intervals in the position you plan to use when you race. Athletes on TT bikes seem only too happy to tuck into the aero bars for hard pieces. That’s great, but be sure to hold form and earn your fit under load and fatigue. Athletes on road bikes routinely default to the base bar, or at best, the hoods. These athletes need to be in the drops for hard efforts because that’s where they need to be when they race. Riding 40km in the drops on tired arms is tough, and requires specific training. Don’t waste your winter banging out watts in an upright “Sunday cruising” position, only to wonder why you feel weak in the drops in the summer races.
One in the drops, three on the hoods. We've got work to do...
Ditch the Single Leg Drills.
Single leg drills do not increase pedalling efficiency, and there is little or no evidence that riders produce power by pulling up on the pedals during two-legged cycling. Single leg drills are good for rehabbing an atrophied leg (ie. after being immobilized due to injury), a mental break, and not much else. Spend more time riding with two legs, earning your fit, and developing skills that actually impact your performance.
Improve your Pedal Game.
For riders who are new to clipless pedals systems, or more experienced riders who are working on getting their feet into shoes already clipped to the pedals, the indoor trainer offers a safe and effective platform to develop these skills. Spend ten minutes at the mount line of any race, and you will conclude that everyone can benefit from this work. Even if you only ride once a week through the winter, introducing 5 reps of pedal or shoe drills will give you at least 100 repetitions of practice by springtime. Start conservative, simply repeating the skill of clipping in, or getting your feet into your shoes, during warm-up or cool-down. Go slowly, be smooth. Increase the difficulty by looking up instead of looking down at your pedals while you do it. If you train in a group, make it a competition. And then begin to sprinkle the skill throughout the training sessions, particularly in the few seconds before the start of a hard interval.
But what if you can already clip in like a pro, and you don’t want to do a flying mount? You should still have your shoes attached to pedals, and do a “step-mount” at the mount line. A step mount is just as fast as a flying mount, and less risky. And you’ll enjoy the benefit of sailing through T1 on firm footing while your competitors cautiously skate to the mount line on slippery reverse high heels, destroying their cleats; cycling shoes are not built for running.
Buy a set of rollers and commit to riding them. The learning curve is steep, meaning that the first forays are dicey, but you will quickly master the basics in a couple of sessions. You will be surprised by how quickly you become comfortable and competent on your rollers. And no, buying a fork mount for your rollers does not count - we want both wheels rolling. Start by riding in a doorframe or narrow hallway, where you can easily find a stable surface with your shoulder or hand if you lose balance or confidence. Progress from there. Rollers beat the trainer hands down in terms of replicating the demands of the road. Think you’ve earned your fit, mastered the aero bars or drops, and perfected your pedal/shoe skills? Prove it on the rollers.
Take Care of Your Equipment.
Wipe down your bike and trainer after each session, and lube the chain. Your equipment will last a long time if you don’t let it corrode. If you are using a trainer that contacts your bike tire, use a trainer tire specifically built for that purpose, or use old tires that are no longer road worthy. That small pile of black dust you see under your trainer is the rubber worn off of the rear tire. Trainers will typically create a ‘square’ or ‘flat’ tire due to the constant wear. Do not ride this tire outside, as it’s more likely to slip in corners due to its flat profile.