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If you’re pressed for time and with short daylight hours to boot, making the best use of your ride time is really important over winter. Maintaining your fitness by exercising outdoors means that you’ll be ready to enjoy longer rides and more challenging routes once the season starts to turn.
That means that you need to get the maximum from your outdoor ride time in winter, so here are some outdoor workout suggestions that let you warm up, complete the workout and warm down in around an hour.
High intensity intervals
High intensity interval training or HIIT is a good way to start training your anaerobic energy systems, which will help give you increased top end power. HIIT workouts involve short bursts of high intensity riding with periods of low intensity riding in between to recover before the next high intensity interval.
The high intensity periods can vary from about 20 seconds up to a few minutes, with some workouts giving little recovery time, while others give you a longer period in between. HIIT is a good drill if you’re going to fit it into an hour, as you’ll probably have had enough after 20 or 30 minutes.
Find yourself a flat stretch of road that’s not too busy and doesn’t have too many junctions on it and around 10 or 15 minutes ride from your start, to give yourself a decent warm up. Mentally map out a start and end point - you can set it up as a Strava Live segment to add some extra motivation. For a short high intensity drill you should only need 400m to 500m of road that you can complete in 30 seconds or less.
Then just go for it as hard as you can over your segment. Turn around, ride easy to the start, allowing yourself 2 to 3 minutes to get back and repeat. Around 6 to 10 repeats should give you a good workout. You can make things more interesting by plotting out a few different segments over a loop of a few miles. Then head back home at a gentle pace giving yourself enough ride time to warm down.
HIIT recommendations vary in interval duration and can be up to five minutes per repetition, so see what works for you and mix up different interval durations to work the different sides of your metabolism. However long you go, do make sure that you include a gentle spin to recover between intervals. Again, try varying the duration of this.
Hill climb reps
Hills are really useful for short workouts, as they obviously increase the amount of effort you need to put in over riding on the flat. You can either use them for all-out efforts like super-HIIT training, or go for longer seated climbs to improve your cardiovascular fitness.
You need to find a hill that’s around a 5 to 8 percent gradient and far enough away to give yourself a 10 - 15 minute warm up before you reach it. If you’re going for the HIIT approach it doesn’t need to be too long, as you only want to attack it for between 30 seconds and a minute. As with flat HIIT intervals make a mental note of your start and end points and use Strava to help you see your progress.
Once you reach the top of your climb, turn around, head gently back to the bottom, spin gently until you’ve recovered and do it all over again. On the way back, you’ll probably need to spin a bit further out beyond the start of your climb, then turn around, to give yourself enough recovery time between repetitions.
Longer climbs should be tackled seated, at least for the first few attempts, to help improve your seated power output. Ideally you want a climb of around a kilometre at around 5 percent that you can climb seated in a few minutes. Again, once you hit the top, turn around and pedal gently back to the start. Repeat three or more times. You may find that you need to get out of the saddle on later attempts, which is fine.
You can get a lot out of working on your cadence. Put out the same power at a higher cadence and you’ll go faster; increasing your power at the same cadence will have the same effect.
Different cadences work on different aspects of your riding. Pedalling at high cadences trains your legs to pedal more smoothly and in circles rather than up and down on the pedals. Low cadence and higher load will help build your strength.
The ability to pedal efficiently at a range of cadences is also helpful in longer events where you might encounter a range of geography and conditions.
Matt Rowe of Rowe and King, the coach to Olympic gold medallist Dani Rowe and Team Ineos pro Luke Rowe recommends both high cadence and low cadence drills. As he works with elite athletes, his suggestions might be too tough for you and me, but they’re worth adapting for yourself.
Pedalling fluidity and coordination
Following a warm-up, do four minutes at 120rpm, then one minute easy. Repeat up to four times. Try to avoid rocking and keep your upper body as still as possible, delivering power from the waist down, which will also work on your core strength.
Strength endurance session
Lower cadence drills with high power output are also useful to build your strength. Rowe recommends riding for 15 minutes at a cadence of 50-60rpm, going easy for 10 or 15 minutes to fully recover then repeating. Over time he says that you should be able to drop the cadence and increase the power.
Take it inside
If it really is too grotty or dark to ride outdoors, there’s always plenty you can do on a trainer to keep yourself fit. Wahoo X workouts are designed so that you can complete them either indoors or outdoors, so you can follow a training plan on the turbo but head out for a session on your bike if the weather’s better.
Meanwhile, if you want to scratch your competitive itch, Zwift has just launched ZRacing, which offers a new stage each week that’s always on and designed so that you can warm up, race and warm down in under an hour.
This post has more on the features of Zwift versus Wahoo X.
Take it easy
There’s a lot of interest in polarised training, where you mix one or two hard workouts a week with plenty of low intensity work that helps to build your base. Even if you only have an hour, if you’ve been following one or two of these tougher routines during the week, you might be best served by a steady spin at a gentle pace, rather than yet another hard drill.