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It would be great if we all had time to build an aerobic base as the pros do. Travel to a warm country for the winter and rack up several long easy rides every week. Unfortunately, most cyclists don’t have that option. But as we discussed last time, reversed periodisation can help build fitness even with a much smaller time commitment thanks to interval training. Let’s take a closer look at how to set up such a winter training plan.

Why is base training important?

One of the major goals for base training is to increase the size and density of mitochondria, the powerplants of the cells that turn fats, carbs, and lactate into energy. This training adaptation allows you to produce more energy at any exercise intensity, which means you can ride faster and longer. Unfortunately, the traditional high volume of low to moderate-intensity training only works when you can accumulate significant time at those intensities each week, typically 20-30 hours for pros. The goal for reversed periodisation is the same – greater mitochondrial density. The pathway is just different, it leads through interval training.

The Col de l’Iseran – the highest pass in Europe at 2,764 metres above sea-level. © Graham M. Lawrence / Alamy / Alamy / Profimedia

The alternative for time-crunched athletes

Most amateur cyclists can’t put 20-30 hours into their winter training every week unless they wanted to risk losing all friends, family, and their job. With reversed periodisation, it becomes much more realistic. The sweet spot is 3 interval sessions and 1-2 longer rides per week, no more. So, something like Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday for intervals and Sunday for a longer ride would be a realistic schedule. And the best thing is, all of this training usually takes less than 8 hours a week.

Interval workouts

It is important to keep in mind that even though you will be doing mostly interval training, you’re not trying to peak for an event just yet. So, the trick is to focus on accumulating time at high intensity rather than trying to reach for absolute peak power with each session. This way, interval training will be a lot better at developing the aerobic system.

To do this right, you should plan lactate threshold intervals lasting around 6-12 minutes at somewhere between 80 % and 95 % your max heart rate. If you want to see some specific examples, check out our article here.

Building on that, you should progress to VO2 max intervals lasting between 30 seconds to 4 minutes, very close to your max effort with short recovery times in between. For inspiration, check out our article describing two examples of VO2 max workouts.

Shorter periodization

Another thing that will help you do reverse periodisation right is keeping the length of the period appropriate. With regular base training, pros spend months doing the high volume, low-intensity training before progressing to a substantially different training block. As a time-crunched athlete, you will need shorter, focused periods of higher intensity followed by substantial recovery periods. An example would be 8 weeks of working on increasing intensity with intervals followed by 4 weeks of pure low to moderate-intensity endurance riding. Shorter periods make this approach sustainable for the whole off-season and help avoid overtraining and injury risk. Just try to stick to your training schedule even during those 4 low-intensity weeks because if you swap training for something else, it will be very hard to get that training time back for the next cycle.

The next article will be focused on tips for indoor training because, let’s face it, if you want to not only stay in shape but also improve during winter, you will have to get comfortable on the indoor trainer.

Next up in Winter Cycling Training series