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Training & Nutrition

Base training: Make the most of winter cycling

Don’t use the impending rubbish weather as an excuse to let your training slip. Pay attention to your base fitness over the next few months and you’ll be ahead of the pack come spring.

Make the most of winter by building your fitness base

Winter training is all about building your ‘base.’ But what does that actually mean and how should we build ‘base work’ into our training? Cycle coach and fitness trainer, Jo McRae offers advice on how you can lead into an epic 2014 season.

First of all base training is lower in intensity, tending to be somewhere between easy/steady and constantly working but sustainable. Winter base training therefore needs to emphasise longer rather than faster, tending towards hours rather than minutes in a session.

Endurance is relative

Longer is of course a relative concept, and you have to take into account where you are coming from and where you are going to in order to decide what constitutes a long ride for you. Knowing what you are aiming for in the spring/summer can be a good place to start. If you are looking to be able to ride for three or four hours then you need to be working towards this kind of duration when the weather allows. Be guided by what you intend to do, not what everyone else around you is doing.

If you can ride for your goal duration or distance as spring approaches you can almost guarantee that with the sun on your back you will have no problem covering the ground in the summer. Now is not the time to consider going faster. Easy to steady riding at this stage will build the endurance base you need upon which you introduce some harder efforts in the spring.

Hills, group rides and competition: the enemies of base training

One of the challenges of this base work for women in particular is having the discipline to avoid the temptation of working harder than you should. This is advice that men should follow too, but for women riding in a mixed group the pace can sometimes be a little too quick. This is of course not always the case, but it is important to keep an eye on how hard you are working particularly if you are taking in some hills.

Finding a group you can ride comfortably with while putting in the miles is key

Finding the right group or training partner can be really helpful and dropping back or going at your own pace up the hills is a sensible way to ensure you are still getting what you need. Stay confident in the knowledge that keeping things steady now will allow you to reap the rewards when you start to introduce some harder efforts in the spring.

Using a heart rate monitor and training zones

If you are anything like me it’s easy to be in denial about how hard you are working, especially when you start to enjoy yourself. Keeping a lid on your enthusiasm and competitiveness for the majority of your winter training is critical to developing your endurance. Using a heart rate monitor to keep an eye on intensity is the simplest and cheapest way to keep yourself in check.

Fight the urge to push your HR limit, a steady pace is what you’re looking for

In the case of heart rate training zones there is often some variation in what is termed a base or endurance intensity, and base or endurance training may be sub-divided into lower and upper ‘levels’. These levels will usually be set either on the basis of a maximum heart rate determined by a ‘ramp test’ or by a maximum sustainable heart rate determined by a constant test of 20 minutes or longer (a ‘functional threshold test’). The higher end of the endurance or ‘base training’ zone will be roughly 35 to 45 beats per minute less than your ramp test maximum heart rate, or around 85-95 % of your sustainable 20 minute heart rate.

Whatever the method of testing you use to identify your endurance training zones, the benefits of working at these intensities in a focussed way is that you will improve your cardiovascular and muscular fitness and physiological changes will take place that make you more efficient at using fuel, and ‘sparing’ your all-important limited muscle and liver glycogen (carbohydrate) stores. In essence for the same workload your body becomes more efficient, and it is this foundation that will open up your options for what you can achieve next year.

Headline image by Calmena via Flickr.

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