Start your season slow

The weather is completely to blame for me addressing this idea of how to set up your season. Is it just me, or have you felt like you can’t win with your riding? One day it’s 70 and sunny, the next it’s pouring rain and you’d be sorry if you stepped out without a jacket. And while we all want to take advantage of these nice days–maybe even cram in more miles than our legs are necessarily ready for–it’s not always the smartest move to go full speed ahead at the get go. Here’s a newsletter article I wrote before the start of a previous season explaining why:

It’s difficult to maintain motivation for training when all you see outside is cold, wet streets and gusty breezes.  As the weather starts to turn, most people start to get excited to go outside and start putting in lots of miles.  Their first goal events are just around the corner, they want to prove to themselves and others how effective their winter training routine was, or for some, they just want to start training again!

However, this time of the season is a key time to make sure that you don’t get overly ambitious and jump into a big volume week right off the couch.  Doing too much too soon, could lead to a rapid build up of fatigue or an overuse injury, even if you’ve been training consistently over the winter months.  There are a few reasons for this which we’ll take a look at below.

Riding or running on trainers and treadmills provides a great opportunity to work on the mechanics of sport and build our energy systems.  However, even religiously riding CompuTrainer courses and performing endless “hill repeats” on the treadmills doesn’t quite simulate the realities of training outdoors.  For one thing, climbing hills on the CompuTrainer may feel like the effort of climbing a real hill, but your body position is quite different.  Secondly, with no risk of falling over or getting dropped on the trainer, most people probably don’t work as hard indoors as they will outdoors.  Similarly, the pounding that the body takes running on pavement will be much greater than what it experiences on a treadmill.  The other challenging aspect is that most of the damage comes from eccentric contractions – running downhill – which no one does on the treadmill.

Another reason to start slow is that in most cases you’re not training as hard indoors as you will be outdoors due to motivation and the time of the year.  Most people don’t regularly endure long rides on the trainer out of boredom.  Even though you may get a similar workout in 2 hours on the trainer as you will in 3 hours outdoors with the absence of traffic signals and other interruptions, these two are not necessarily the same.  Training frequency during the week is also often reduced in the winter compared to what it may be when longer days and warmer temperatures make getting a quick workout in more convenient.

The other factor that comes into play is intensity.  Traditionally, winter training is at a fairly low intensity with only occasional efforts in the threshold and VO2 power ranges.  However, about the same time that spring starts to come around, the training emphasis for most athletes shifts to development of the lactate threshold energy system.  Trying to combine increased training volume with increased intensity is not completely unlike mixing baking soda and vinegar: the reaction starts off fast but soon blows out of control.

The spring, summer and fall are the times of the year that make the hours spent sweating it out indoors worthwhile. It’s hard to resist the urge to jump right in and start having fun.  However, exercising just a little restraint and building into the increased workload more gradually will pay off in the long run when you’re still feeling fit and healthy while others who were too anxious may be spending some time recuperating on the sidelines.



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