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5 winter training tips for your best year of cycling ever!

Five top tips to stay motivated, maintain that summer fitness, and integrate winter cycling into a busy work schedule

It’s cold, it’s wet and it’s dark – not the ideal combination for waning motivation while trying to build fitness ready for next spring. Unfortunately, there’s also work to do and spreadsheets to look at. So, while the pros swan off to southern Spain, the challenge remains to prepare for a strong season amid the damp and dreary UK winter. Again.

2023 Specialized Tarmac SL8 S-Works riding shot descending

Here are five top tips to help you make the most of your time during these darker months, enabling you to stay motivated, maintain your summer fitness, and integrate winter cycling into a hectic work schedule.

1. Use indoor training to your advantage

2023 Zwift winter training video

Braving the cold and wet isn’t the only way to get those training and social rides in this winter. It’s the 21st century and riding indoors isn’t cheating. Regardless of your experience level, you can use it for time-efficient training to get fitter.

Indoor cycling platforms are popular because they provide a great alternative to riding outside when you’re tight for time and the weather is, well, what it is. Here’s an example. I’ve just got in from work and I’m busting a gut down the Champs-Elysees trying to stay in a crit race. There’s no traffic, the roads are full of cyclists and it’s not raining either. Okay, I’m not really there, I’m sitting on the turbo in my garage on Zwift, but I can categorically tell you that if I was out in the wet lanes there’s no way I would be putting this much effort in!

2023 Zwift winter training video

With a virtual cycling platform, you get the flexibility to choose when and where you ride. Whether it’s an early morning spin before heading to the office, a sneaky lunchtime workout, or an evening race to blow the cobwebs away after work, Zwift allows you to get a proper session in around the immovable bits of your day.

It’s pretty easy to get set up on Zwift and it doesn't need to cost you a kidney. For more information on what you need, check out our getting started with Zwift article that runs through setups for every budget.

2. Different sessions for different times of the day

2023 Zwift winter training video

We’re all different. But it’s also true that we all have times of the day when we’re at our strongest, both physically and mentally. Different workouts suit different times of the day and choosing the right session at the right time is likely to improve not only your enjoyment but also your ability to sustain your training, week after week.

Riding early in the morning can be ideal to avoid work-related conflicts. If you’re starting your session before work, consider a lower-intensity ride to ease you into the day. Some riders like to do a fasted ride before breakfast as there are studies that show it helps teach your body to use fat as an energy source.

2023 Zwift winter training video screen view

If you’re hopping on your bike during your lunch break, a tempo-focused session might be a good choice. It’ll give you a solid workout without being too fatiguing to ensure you’re still fresh enough to tackle those afternoon meetings without dozing off in your chair. 

And finally, if you find it easier to fit in riding after work, tackle a high-intensity session like a Zwift race or one of its set workouts. This is great for releasing the day’s stresses while giving you a solid workout. Deborah from accounts being difficult again? Take it out on the pedals!

3. Do work while cycling

Okay, so this one isn’t going to apply to everyone, and maybe don't tell your boss, but with the new way of life with hybrid working, working from home and flexi time, we’ve all got a bit better at multitasking. Why not use that to your advantage?

2023 Zwift winter training video

Is there a bit of your working day that can be done on the turbo? We’re not suggesting a full-on skive but perhaps part of your job consists of listening to or watching a presentation, some online training, even checking and replying to emails. 

It might seem a bit cheeky but really, who’s going to know that you’ve just managed to cram in some extra low-intensity pedalling? In fact, combining virtual meetings with virtual miles might just be my new favourite thing! 

4. Little and often is just fine

It’s easy to think that to be at your fittest you have to be cramming in lots of long rides. For many of us that’s unrealistic, especially during the winter when the days are shorter.

2023 jamie zwift race tron bike

I like to save my long rides for the weekends, either on one of Zwift’s GranFondo rides or out in the real world if the weather’s looking up and I can convince my mates to brave the chill.

One of the great things about Zwifting is that it’s so time-efficient. Even if you only have a spare 30 minutes you can still get 25 minutes of solid training in. You can warm up, absolutely murder your legs in one of the many available events, and then cool down, all in the time it takes for your tea to cook.  

If your ears are pricked up hearing this then I'd recommend checking out the 30 minutes to burn collection which has 31 workouts that will have you warmed up, worked, and cooled down in 30 minutes or less. 

2023 Zwift 30 min workouts Zwift winter training video

At the start of each week, I like to try to set myself a target of the number of days I can commit to riding as well as note which days might be enforced rest days because, you know, life. I won’t always be able to stick to that plan but it does help me get on my bike, which I often find is the hardest bit! 

If you are committed to doing a lot of your training indoors then Zwift’s training plan feature can be tailored to the amount of hours you want to ride per week. It doesn’t matter when these sessions are completed but it will give you a target to aim for at a time of year when motivation is often at its lowest.

5. Make and follow a plan

2023 Zwift winter training video companion app

The place where my winter training nearly always comes a cropper is when I start putting things off: oh, I’ll do that this evening, or I’ll do it tomorrow. Chances are, something will come up, your other half will have made plans they swore they told you about, the traffic will be bad, or just general life will get in the way.

To try to counteract this, structure your week. I have set sessions that I do on set days at set times, and normally I can work the other stuff around them. A meetup for a Zwift group ride with mates that will hold you accountable if you don’t show up is a good way to make sure you keep a slot free, and also you can hop on Zwift’s chat, or discord, and chat to them like you would outdoors. Or, find a regular event that you like and try to ride it every week.

2023 Zwift hub

On Zwift I like to select my workout, race, or group ride at the very least the night before, using the events tab on the Zwift Companion app. There’s loads of choice with events starting at all times of day and you can filter it to the type of ride that you want to do. The Zwift Companion app can also send you notifications if a mate starts riding so you can join them if you’re free. There's also the new clubs feature which means that more and more real life clubs and new virtual clubs are doing meetups and group rides year round. 

As a planning add-on tip I’d recommend creating a dedicated space for your indoor cycling, if that’s feasible. This could be in the corner of a garage, a spare room, a conservatory, or even your bedroom, but keeping your turbo set up will make it even easier to jump on before or after work. You can get your water, gels, towel, fan and whatever else you need lined up so you can jump on in double-quick time.

2023 Zwift winter training video

Unless you’re really keen, or slightly deranged, then it’s most likely that you will put in fewer hours during the winter months than you do during the summer. That’s not too much of an issue but it does mean that you need to make your time in the saddle count!

Just sitting on the bike and spinning is all well and good, and it’s certainly better than nothing, but if you’ve reached a bit of a fitness plateau or want to get the most bang for your buck out of your limited time on the bike then structured workouts simply can’t be beaten.

Getting those sessions often used to involve a real life and rather expensive coach, but apps like Zwift now mean you have a whole catalogue of professionally tailored workouts and training plans at your fingertips, and the tools to make your own, if you prefer. You can track your progress with an FTP test now and then as well. 

Trust me, although structured workouts aren’t everyone's idea of fun, if you can stick with them then come next spring, dropping your mates or being able to ride further and faster than ever before definitely is!

2023 Zwift winter training video riding shot

For me, nothing has revolutionised my indoor training over the last few years more than Zwift. If it sounds like a bit of you then you can get a 14-day free trial and then after that, it’s £12.99 a month (USD$14.99) and there’s no contract so it’s not like you’re tied down.

Let us know any of your winter training tips down in the comments section below...

Emily is our track and road racing specialist, having represented Great Britain at the World and European Track Championships. With a National Title up her sleeve, Emily has just completed her Master’s in Sports Psychology at Loughborough University where she raced for Elite Development Team, Loughborough Lightning.

Emily is our go-to for all things training and when not riding or racing bikes, you can find her online shopping or booking flights…the rest of the office is now considering painting their nails to see if that’s the secret to going fast…

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Simon E | 5 months ago

Perhaps this sponsored article would be more accurately titled: "5 indoor training tips for your your best year of cycling ever!" You can ride/train outdoors in a UK winter, though admittedly it isn't always easy or effective as training.

Between working on a computer all day, posting drivel on and watching cycling YT videos, I already spent too much time staring at screens. I don't think staring at a laptop with odd-looking avatars and fake scenery reminiscent of minecraft would distract me adequately. Fair play to the people who make it work for them, though. wink

andystow | 5 months ago

I stop winter from ruining my fitness by riding outside.

I'm hoping to stop work in the next few years.

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