Winter Training — Become a Better Rider by Spending Time Off Your Bike

The author taking part in a wintertime sufferfest under the supervision of Shannon Austin, Lake Oswego-based trainer to the stars

One of the best ways to get ready for an event like Cycle Oregon is to stick to a structured training plan and spend a fair amount of time in the saddle – particularly in the summer and fall. But this time of year many cyclists have found that there are tremendous benefits to be had from putting their bikes away for a while and focusing on other activities. A few of these benefits include:

  • Making up for lost time with non-riding friends and family
  • Avoiding burnout
  • Staying out of the weather
  • Taking advantage of other fun and rewarding winter sports

According to Paul Collins, owner of STRADA, one of Cycle Oregon’s official cycle training resources, November through March is an excellent time to hit the gym and cross-train.

“Cross-training is important for all types of athletes, but it’s even more critical for endurance cyclists because cycling overemphasizes certain muscle groups and underemphasizes several others,” says Collins. “Winter is a great time to build strength and work on flexibility while maintaining the hard-won aerobic fitness you’ve built up from the previous season.”

One of the best winter activities is resistance training using weights, your own body weight, kettle bells or a combination of all three. Lower weights and higher reps are recommended, and lean muscle mass is the goal. Focus on all muscle groups, paying special attention to your core and all the muscles in your legs.

While cycling does involve the majority of your leg muscles, the quads end up doing the majority of the work. Strengthening your hamstrings, calves and glutes will help restore your body’s natural balance and will pay dividends in developing a smooth and strong pedal stroke.  Squats, kettle-bell lunges and dead lifts are all great exercises if done properly. There are also many more great exercises that can be done with the aid of workout balls or machines that pinpoint focus on specific and underutilized muscle groups.

A long cycling season can lead to decreased mobility in the ankles, hips, thorax, spine and shoulders. Yoga and swimming are two excellent ways to work on restoring mobility. Yoga is also a good way to work on core and balance. Videos of some of Paul’s favorite mobility exercises can be viewed here.

Bone density is another thing cyclists need to consider. One of the biggest benefits of cycling is the fact that it is an extremely low-impact sport. However, the body actually needs a little bit of impact to help stimulate bone growth. Walking, running, skiing and weight lifting all provide what you need to keep your skeleton happy and healthy, and are all great winter training activities.

With all this strength training, you might begin to wonder how you are supposed to maintain your cardio fitness too. Paul recommends at least two cardio workouts per week, lasting between 45 minutes and an hour at an average heart rate of 70% to 80% of maximum. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, running, spin classes, aerobics classes and a host of other activities provide endless options.

If you’re new to strength training, I highly recommend consulting with a trainer who understands cycling and can show you how to structure a workout that is safe, fun and effective. And if you stay disciplined and give it a few months, you’ll be blown away by how much more prepared you’ll be for the 2011 season.

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  1. To say the body needs a little bit of impact might not be assertive enough. They’ve found that to build bone density/strength and avoid the osteoporosis that many bikers are developing, you need to do exercise that flexes the bones; i.e. exercises that pull the bones, twist them, and then they toughen up instead of softening up.