Building On Your Weakness During the Off Season

If the Richmond/Steveston loop is starting to make your head spin, it’s time to change up your routine this winter.  There are many other – and more productive- things you could be doing to stay fit over the winter and you may even come back next season stronger and faster.

The best use of the off season is to train your weaknesses so they become less of a liability when riding or racing.  The following is a list of required skills to be a great cyclist. Choose one or two that you feel you are weak on and focus on that skill for the next six to eight weeks.

Pedal stroke efficiency
Spinning indoors, on a trainer, or in a spin class gives you the opportunity to work on the efficiency of your pedal stroke.  With the lack of traffic, hills or a group to keep pace with, you can adjust your tension to maintain a pedal stroke that engages the entire leg and glut muscles.  By engaging the right muscles at the appropriate time in the pedal stroke, you will improve your power without exerting any more effort.

A cadence between 90 and 100RPM has been tested as the most efficient and strongest.  To be comfortable maintaining this cadence, it helps to train above that zone so that your ideal feels easy in comparison.  Rollers are a great tool to help improve your cadence as it is the only thing you have to increase the effort of the workout.

Power and strength can be similar to each other but for this article, power refers to your anaerobic threshold, ie: being able to keep up with the lead pack for the sprint finish. Improving your anaerobic threshold should be done specifically on the bike.  Riding a trainer on your own with a power meter and heart rate monitor will allow you to train in your personal heart rate zones, pushing your anaerobic threshold up a little more with each off-season.

Muscular strength, specifically the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluts and core should be worked two to three days a week in a gym setting.  The goal is to build strength without adding too much bulk or size which you will have to carry up the hills.  Hiring a personal trainer who specializes in endurance athletes or doing your research about how to train for cycling is strongly recommended so you don’t waste your time or injure yourself.

Endurance training starts at the beginning of every new training program.  It is a slow progression of distance over a long(er) period of time.   The two keys to building endurance which most people don’t understand (and therefore miss out on) are:

  1. You must stay in your own personal zone one training zone.  Through some simple testing and calculation, you can find your own zone one cycling heart rate.  Endurance is being able to ride fast at this low heart rate but in order to get fast, you must first ride slowly.  Most people do their base rides in a group which helps with motivation but usually means that they are riding in zone two for most of the ride which totally defeats the purpose of the base ride.
  2.  We are all anxious to build up our weekend rides as quickly as possible but by increasing the distance or time by more than 10% each week will quickly result in burn out or injury.  Slow and steady is the key to building a big endurance base for the season.

Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to take a break from riding.  A mental and physical break doesn’t mean that you sit on your couch and spend your weekends watching TV though.  Cross country skiing, snow shoeing or back country skiing are all great activities which will help maintain your aerobic fitness while your cycling muscles get a break.

Mental Strength
The thing that sets good and great cyclists apart is usually mental strength.  Who is able to push past the pain barrier and force themselves to stay there longer?  The cold winter months are a good chance to read up on some new ways that you can continue to motivate yourself during rides or races, giving yourself an advantage over the competition.

Goal Setting
The new year is a time of renewal which means that your goals and even your program requires a bit of an overhaul.  Questions you should be asking yourself are: What can you improve on from last year?  Which race would you like to train as your “A race” and which races are you going to use for practice? Although you want to remain flexible, every great journey starts with a plan.

If you have any questions about training or your 2012 cycling season, please email Kristina  at

Merry Christmas!


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