Image:Shutterstock.com By Rattanasak Khuentana
Have you done your first post-winter road ride outdoors yet? How did your cycling fitness feel?
Unless you’ve been able to escape to warmer climates, you’ll probably feel pretty rubbish trying to get back to cycling fitness after winter. Even if you’ve been able to cross-train and minimise the fitness loss, there is always this painful ’dip’ in fitness as you transition from winter, back to cycling fitness.
Indeed, when we dip in form, some of us panic and start to overtrain doing too much too soon, to compensate the loss. Or, others just feel depressed and think it’s “all back to square one” with an inevitable drop in motivation to train…
Well, I’m here to tell you that this loss in fitness you feel is a good thing. Read on to find out why this is and how your fitness is most probably just around the corner.
Back To Cycling Fitness – Your Cycling “Blueprint”:
Yes, we lose fitness over the colder months. Just about everyone does so you’re not alone! The secret is knowing you still have a “cycling fitness blueprint” from last summer in your legs. The fitness “blueprint” is the body’s amazing memory of where your fitness was previously.
Essentially, the body “remembers” your cycling fitness level as it’s ‘been there before’. So even if you’ve dipped considerably in fitness, you can get back into ride shape much quicker than you would starting out as a complete beginner.
Fit From Cycling Cross-Training:
If you’ve done a reasonably good job at keeping your heart and lungs fit over winter (i.e. your cardiovascular fitness is good from running or cross country skiing), then your lack of bike shape right now is mostly down to a loss in biking specific power and road bike endurance adaptation. If you’re aerobically fit, then you can quickly get back to form with every ride from now on – if recovery is respected. You can be back to your former road fitness in 2-3 weeks!
Turbo Training For Winter Cycling Fitness?
In addition to cross-training, you may have decided to ride indoors most of the winter. This is arguably the best way to keep in ride shape. However, you'll find when you return to the road, it may take a week or two to 'adapt' back again to the road again.
If you are wondering how to get started with indoor cycling (colloquially called "turbo" by most road cyclists), please read my quick-start guide: Cycling Turbo Training for Beginners - a quick start guide to cycling indoors to Explode your fitness FAST. (20 interval workouts included).
Been Doing Not Much Training Over Winter?
If you’ve sat around though and done nothing, then it’s obviously going to take much longer. You now have to train your cardiovascular system, as well as your strength and adaptation back to biking outdoors. This is like coming back from a long layoff from cycling, or an injury.
You have to ease carefully back into your biking again, or you’ll feel wiped out very quickly from every ride. But again, remember, if you were fit before, the “fitness blueprint” is there – it’s just a matter of “riding through the uncomfortable rides” and watching fitness bounce back over the next 6-8 weeks.
Not that fit after winter? Let your "cycling blueprint" jump-start you back to fitness!
Being Unfit In February Is Likely A "Blessing in Disguise":
Those that were in superb fitness in Christmas and over winter, will in most cases start to wane in motivation come end of March, beginning April. I know because I’ve been there twice as a “A Christmas Star”.
As a Christmas Star, you start to lose your edge to train by beginning April. It feels like you’re slipping slightly with your motivation – it horribly edges away from you! You find that those who couldn’t keep up with you in winter, or who were in bad shape in February, start coming past you in May, June. It’s one of the biggest lessons I learnt in cycling ever: not to overdo it in winter to the point you’re burnt out as the weather just steps up.
The only exception is if you have early season road races – ok, you can be let off :-)…Of course, if you are reading this post, this most likely isn’t you, but I wanted to make you aware what a cycling Christmas Star is…
My point is, if you’re not that fit in February and not really in great shape right now – it’s a good thing!
At the moment yes, you are in the ‘low point’ of your fitness. I call this your ‘trough’ – where you trough-downwards to your lowest point, before starting to rise up out of it towards your first peak in the summer.
Usually this peak is around May-June time if you start now mid February, or beginning March. Yes, that’s 12-16 weeks, or 4 solid months to get yourself into flying form back of June!
Four months: March, April, May and June is a LONG TIME in fitness terms. So, stop worrying and relax about your form and look forward to flying past those Christmas Stars :-).
Consistency in Your Training From Now On, Is Key:
As long as you have a good attitude towards your training from now on, i.e. you are prepared to be as “consistent” as you can right now, fitness will respond. Note I said, “consistency” not “quantity” of training is key. It’s not how much you do that counts, but how consistent you are from week to week.
I hope I’ve started to put your fitness into perspective and you’re starting to see that your fitness is ok where you are at…it’s just fine.
It's not how much you do in training that counts, it's how consistent you are that makes the biggest difference
Stop Comparing To Summer Personal Bests:
Do you keep comparing your winter rides right now to your summer personal bests? If so, you have to stop that right now as it will kill your motivation. Of course you are slower right now than you’ll ever be in the warmer summer months. Checking against a summer personal best time isn’t realistic.
A realistic comparison and a nice little motivation boost is to see how fit you were this time last year. You might be surprised you are fitter than you were last year, – in which case draw on that – well done! Perhaps not, in which case don’t worry…but comparing winter/early spring rides to your segment/summer personal best is a no-no.
Above all, don’t panic and don’t start getting depressed, as it sinks in how ‘unfit’ you feel right now. Be happy you’re back out on your bike again – it’s a celebration :-). Your road back to cycling fitness can ONLY get better from now on. Usually, you’re much fitter than you think and fitness bounces back quicker than you think too.
Either way, don’t get too serious about your dip in fitness after winter. Get back enjoying these early bike rides. By enjoying your biking and not getting wrapped up in stats and numbers, you’ll progress far faster and soon be back to personal best form to enjoy the long summer months ahead.
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