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Winter Cycling Training – Reverse Periodisation

By Jiri Kaloc

When winter training is mentioned, many cyclists imagine long boring rides that build aerobic base. That’s one way to do it. Thankfully, there’s another that can produce very good results too. It’s called reverse periodisation and it’s the first thing we will take a look at in this winter cycling training series.

Typical periodisation

Most online guides and coaches usually recommend using winter for building a base of endurance. That means long rides on the weekend, low intensity but a lot of time invested. Then, as spring and summer roll around, you start gradually shifting towards shorter and higher intensity rides to build the speed and max power for racing.

Reverse it

It might sound weird but there’s a way to reverse this classic model of periodisation. In this alternative model, you would start with intensity and threshold workouts, typically an hour or less in duration, early in winter and add longer rides later in winter and spring when the weather gets better. What are the advantages of this approach?

This is why you should try it

Probably the biggest reason why this approach is popular are its practical aspects. Many cyclists around the world experience pretty much unrideable conditions during winter. With reverse periodisation, they can spend winter improving functional threshold power, a measure of best power output for 1-hour time trial, without doing big long weekend rides in crappy weather or on an indoor trainer. Reverse periodisation consists of short intense rides that you can do on a trainer even for multiple weeks without losing your mind. Plus, strength exercises in the gym are a great complement and also an activity you can do in any weather. It’s also a great approach for cyclists who are planning to do longer events of 3+ hours because they will start doing long rides closer to their race day.


It’s not always the best option

Just like reverse periodisation is great if you’re getting ready for a long endurance race in summer, it might not be the best thing if your event of choice is shorter and requires more intensity. The famous endurance coach Joe Friel explains why in his blog:

“The closer in time you get to the A-priority race you’re training for, the more like the race your training should become. Doing just the opposite – making your workouts more unlike the race as you approach it – would be counterproductive. You’d go to the start line having done a few workouts like the race.”

On top of that, if your target race is not in summer but early spring, then you won’t have the luxury of waiting until Summer to do your long rides. So, take your race plan for the following year into consideration before committing to this style of periodisation.

Reverse periodization also isn’t the best choice for people who are just starting out in endurance sports or for people who are completely out of shape. That’s because starting out with high intensity makes it more likely for you to get injured. But if reverse periodization is for you, then the next article in this series will show you specific workouts you should include.

Next up in Winter Cycling Training series