If you’re wintering where the roads are icy and the cold air oppresses your lungs, you likely haven’t been outside on the bike in a while. But that’s no excuse to lose your edge or your strength before spring comes. Sure, you’ve earned a healthy dose of hibernation—and true, rest from any sport can be a good thing—but next season is always closer than you think. This year, you might as well ride out in front of the pack.
“The best way is to go to the warmth,” says two-time Giro d’Italia champ Ivan Basso. But for those of us who can’t afford to follow the sun, Basso says you can cross train with a mix of strength training and indoor cycling. A good routine in both departments will keep you strong and powerful. So make this your three-pronged approach from the pros, and you’ll feel like you haven’t missed so much as a pedal stroke.
You can’t beat riding on pavement for staying in good cycling shape, but when winter roads are slushy and the air delivers a cold bite, your next best bet is an indoor trainer. Try a simple one like the Kinetic Road Machine ($379; kurtkinetic.com), which attaches to your rear hub and spins the wheel in place as you pedal. (You’ll want to lift your front wheel with a phone book to match the lift of the rear wheel.)
From there, just pop in your favorite action flick or Tour de France stage for a one-to-two-hour spin, two to three times per week. Most trainers will automatically adjust resistance as you increase speed, so you’ll want to take advantage of that. Follow the shifts in the intensity of the action or music to simulate natural changes in a typical road ride.
You can increase your speed and power even in the off-season with this intense 30-minute interval session three times a week:
1. Warm up for 10 minutes, pedaling at a moderate pace
2. Pedal for 10 seconds at high intensity, as close to your max as possible
3. Rest for one minute
4. Pedal for 20 seconds at medium intensity, about 60 percent of your max
5. Rest one minute
6. Pedal for 30 seconds at low intensity, about 30 percent of your max
7. Rest for one minute
8. Repeat five times
Follow your indoor trainer rides with a 10-minute yoga session that focuses on stretching the hamstrings, quads, and calves.
It’s easy to lose muscle mass during the winter while you’re cooped up inside, but you can retain strength in the gym with a weight-lifting routine that focuses on aerobic strength rather than building bulk. How do you do that? The answer is simple: more reps, lower weight. You’ll have to stow your ego while other guys lift bigger, but you’ll thank yourself in a few months when you don’t need to push an extra 15 pounds of muscle up that killer climb. Here’s a basic routine to guide you. Tweak as necessary to meet your personal needs.
Walk on a treadmill or pedal an exercise bike for 10-minutes.
2. Leg Press:
–Do four sets in a pyramid routine, starting with high weight and low reps. Adjust the weight so you can do no more than 7-8 reps on the first set. Rest 45 seconds between sets.
–Decrease weight so you can do no more than 10-12 reps. Rest.
–Repeat for last two sets, decreasing weight and increasing reps to 15, then 20.
Grab an Olympic barbell and a couple of plates. Your goal is a total of 70 to 100 reps, in several sets, squatting no more than 135 pounds (one 45-pound plate on either side of the barbell) on any given set.
4. Stiff-Legged Deadlift:
Use the same Olympic barbell with low weight, around 95 pounds (25-pound plate on either side). Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, and bend from the waist to grab the barbell palm down, lifting to a standing position. Your legs should be relatively straight throughout the exercise, with only a slight bend in the knee. Do four sets of 10 reps.
5. Regular Deadlift:
Increase weight from the stiff-legged deadlift to 135 pounds. Stand shoulder-width apart and grip the bar as before. At the bottom of the lift, your back should be parallel to the ground and knees bent. Lift with your legs as you straighten the back and legs into a standing position. Do four sets of 10 reps.
6. Cool down:
Walk on the treadmill or pedal an exercise bike for 10 minutes, then stretch for five minutes. If you can, follow that up with a 15-minute sit in the sauna, drinking plenty of water while you sweat.
Don’t lose your edge by losing interest in your routine—or even the sport itself. You need variety, and you need to have fun. “Every sport is good for something,” says Slovakian pro cyclist Peter Sagan. “But it’s not good when you do always the same things—always bicycle, bicycle, bicycle. You need to change the workout.”
Sagan, who rides for Cannondale alongside Basso, gets his winter training in any way he can, and he suggests that you do the same. Rather than be rigid with your indoor trainer or weight routine, find ways to keep it fresh and give your body a full workout with other activities. Toss in an hour jog one day, swim 20 laps another, or head outside for a day of downhill or cross-country skiing. If you pepper your regular cycling workouts with an hour or two of any of these activities, you’ll freshen your perspective—and achieve a more total-body type of fitness.