Off-season training

Here we are with just a few days left in 2009. For many of us, the weather outside is frightful. For those of us in milder climes, we can still get out and do some riding. But I think it’s fair to say that this is a down time for cyclists generally — we’re looking ahead to our goals for the New Year.

So, how should we spend our riding time this winter? There are lots of online and print resources available, and it’s tempting to curl up with a book that lays out training schedules of “easy” “pace” and “brisk” days. However, most of us are here because we’re still relatively new to biking, and maybe we’re not pointing toward a major competitive event anytime soon. We just want to maintain fitness and be ready to pounce when the nice weather returns in Spring.

The web site Pez Cycling News features a regular column on training, and is looking at this very question. But Pez is a web site about racing, for the most part, and its tips are geared to the faster, stronger riders among us. However, a current column by cycling coach Matt McNamara offers some ideas for recreational riders about off-season training.

In a nutshell, it’s this: LSD. That’s Long, Slow Distance (not to be confused with the other thing). Athletes have used this training method for years, and it works well for runners and other endurance types — not just bikers. To train with LSD, you’re encouraged to do a lot of distance riding at an “easy” pace. “Easy” would be below lactate threshold (that is, you’re not huffing and puffing).

How much easy riding? Follow the Pareto Principle: 80/20. Eighty percent at low intensity work, 20 percent at high intensity. Some training regimens get more specific, with 77 percent at low intensity, or “easy” pace, 3 percent at “pace,” or the speed at which you would ride your target ride at (say, a century), and 20 percent at “brisk” pace, or high intensity, where you really push yourself.

So much easy riding can be problematical, when we’d all like to push it a bit on all of our rides — maybe attack that hill, or pound a long straightaway. Elite athletes have the same problem. They might think they’re training at a 77-3-20 mix, but when their heart rates are monitored, they’re really doing 65-21-14.

When recreational riders make the same mistake, they wind up falling into what some researchers call the “black hole” of training, where every workout is done at roughly the same level of intensity. That leads to no improvement.

So when you’re out there this winter (or on your indoor trainers) remember to take it easy. You might have to force yourself to keep it down, but long, slow distance mixed with a little tough work will yield results. And if we’re all going to make New Year’s resolutions to get better, this might be the best way to do it.

Photo licensed under Creative Commons.


  1. says

    Great post – thank you!
    I often find myself as the one who is plunging into ‘the black hole’ of training – this is a very good and very timely reminder!

  2. Christina says

    Thanks for an inspiring post! I guess it’s time to give my legs a break from the hills and tackle all those flat paths around the beach here.

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