Winter season is coming up, and so many of us will be forced to stow our bicycles in the garage. But that does not mean that the next few months should be spent lying around eating leftovers from Thanksgiving and Christmas before trying to catch up in the spring to build power. In fact, winter training is a good time to improve your bike power through a range of different exercises that can also prevent you from being bored from just cycling. Here are some particularly useful exercises to keep you busy indoors during the winter months.
Improving bike power is fundamentally about improving leg strength and the speed which you can turn the pedals, while also keeping weight low to reduce drag. Plyometric training is almost perfectly designed to do just that, as world class professional athletes use it to improve their leg strength and muscles.
It should be noted that plyometric training is not for those hitting the gym for the first time, and plenty of websites such as STACK warn against hoaxers who use “plyometric” as a buzzword for what is essentially cardio exercise with a lot of jumping. Plyometric exercise is about exerting the maximum force as quickly as possible and should definitely not make up the majority of your time spent in the gym.
Conduct plyometric exercises such as the Squat Jump, Long Jump or Lunge Jump for about 15 minutes somewhere between two to four times per week. And while different plyometric exercises can improve your entire body, your primary emphasis should be improving leg strength.
When the weather warms up, you may consider doing small plyometric exercises for a few minutes before any bike ride.
Indoor Training Routines
Bicycling.com may talk about the benefits of biking outside in the winter, but this Texan prefers buying a trainer and biking indoors. And when you are biking indoors, the best way to improve your power is to ride in a bigger gear.
Just as you might lift larger weights over time to improve your arm strength, a cyclist should steadily increase his or her gearing over time, biking for three to five minutes at a higher gear which still allows you to bike from 50 to 60 rotations per minute. Increase the amount of time you bike at the higher gear every workout and keep practicing until you become used to bicycling at the higher gear.
If you are crazy enough to bike outdoors, challenge yourself in a way that will make the rotations harder and improve your strength. For example, increase the gear when you are climbing up a hill or biking against the wind.
Play Other Sports
Sitting on an indoor trainer biking day after day can quickly sap your motivation. Variety is the spice of life, and cyclists waiting out the winter months should try other sports such as swimming and jogging. However, when trying new sports, be aware of all the dangers and hazards you may face and get any legal protection in place before you start.
Swimming is particularly useful because it is in a very different environment compared to cycling outdoors, carries minimal injury risk and strengthens your leg and your core. Furthermore, it is not an exercise that will cause you to bulk up and gain too much muscle.
If your emphasis is strengthening your legs, use a kickboard or flippers to work on them. Another exercise I am fond of is to just tread water while sticking your arms above your head. You have to kick your legs in an egg beater motion to stay afloat, which you should do for about 45 seconds to 1 minute. Repeat that exercise two more times, and then go for a swim.
Sweet Spot Training
When spring starts to come around and you can get your bike on the road, now is the time to commit to improving your power with sweet spot training. Triathlete describes this training as “done by doing intervals at 85 to 93 percent of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).” For the less scientifically inclined, I would describe the sweet spot as that speed where you know you could go just a little faster if you wanted to, but realize that you would drain yourself completely in no time if you did.
In Sweet Spot Training, you should follow a basic interval of five minutes at the sweet spot level followed by five minutes off, and then repeat that interval a set number of times. How many times depends on factors such as the time of year and what your athletic goals are, and you could even attempt this training with an indoor trainer in the winter. By pushing your body close to its limits for an extended period of time, you can improve your strength and become more used to your bike, increasing your rpm.
There are other methods that can improve your strength such as Tabata intervals or taking the time in winter to ensure your bike is in peak condition. As long as you are focused on improving your leg strength and comfort on the bike, you will be making progress.