The cyclist’s winter training survival guide

Winter training used to consist of endless miles in the cold and rain. Even when riding indoors this meant staring at a garage wall for hours on end. With the advent of smart trainers, online platforms like Zwift and smarter training it needn’t be so arduous. The main thing is to have a plan and be consistent. As they always say, winter miles equal summer smiles!

Riding outdoors

The key thing when riding outdoors in winter is to make sure you are dressed to stay warm and dry. To quote another old adage: There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.

Most people are aware of the need for a good winter base layer, tights and windproof and waterproof outer layer. With the addition of another mid-layer for the coldest days your core and arms and legs are covered (literally).

However, it is the extremities that always suffer the most: feet, hands and head. Thick winter socks and overshoes are a must. This can be bolstered with a trick I learnt from an older club member as a youth. Wrap a piece of aluminium foil around your toes, over your socks. This just stops your toes from going frosty-cold. Combine that with good gloves and a skull cap and you are well prepared.

Volume vs intensity

However you measure it, the volume of cycling you do has a direct relationship to your fitness. Since people typically erode their aerobic fitness in the summer, the off-season is the best time to bank training miles. The best route to a good base fitness is to get at least one long ride in each week.

That’s not to say all your winter rides should be ‘long and slow’.

Use your shorter mid-week rides to add the intensity but don’t overdo it. Start by adding some Tempo work (just above endurance intensity) and build gradually over a period of weeks. Too much intensity now will have you flying in Spring and over-reached by late Summer. This is the structure I use for the majority of my athlete’s training plans.

Indoor riding

With most people working during the daytime, mid-week winter rides are largely confined to indoors. This is an opportunity to do a really intensive session focused on one specific aspect of your fitness. For instance, you can work on Muscular Endurance or Speed (cadence) work.

New technology can be a real help here. I use the TrainingPeaks workout builder for all my athlete’s workouts. They sync across to all the major platforms, so my riders can get straight to work in their favourite environment.

Other keys points to think about when riding regularly indoors:

  • Keep cool. Make sure the room is well ventilated and invest in a big, quiet fan. Always have a towel within reach.
  • Stay hydrated. Make sure you’re hydrated before the ride and use an electrolyte drink whilst you are training.
  • Don’t ditch the rollers. Although they have fallen out of favour in recent years, they have their place in any comprehensive training regime. The only way to work on your balance and core strength whilst riding indoors is to use rollers. Riding at high cadence can be immensely challenging both mentally and physically, even more so on rollers. Riding one-handed and no-handed will improve your bike handling skills and balance. One of my favourite sessions is a short recovery ride on the rollers.
  • Keep moving. Get out of the saddle every few minutes to re-distribute the pressure on the saddle and prevent saddle sores.
  • Look after your bike. Always wipe your bike and trainer down after use. Leaving sweat stains on equipment especially near bearings like the headset means they will quickly corrode. Try and cover the sensitive areas with a towel when in use.

Off-the-bike training

Off-the-bike strength and conditioning gives benefits which are hard if not impossible, to realise by riding alone. The challenge is fitting it in around your riding. This is why winter is the best time to focus on it. With most of your riding being done at low intensity, it is not unduly affected by S&C.

To get the maximum benefit you need to lift heavy weights with low repetitions, which can be inherently risky. You should always consult a professional coach to design a bespoke programme and ensure you can do the movements safely.

There are still major benefits to doing unweighted S&C or ‘core’ work off-the-bike. You will be better able to handle the bike, less tired on long rides and struggle less with the shopping!

Just don’t forget those areas all cyclists neglect: lower and upper back as well as your hamstrings, glutes and quads. The classic exercises are all variations on squats, step-ups or lunges, planks and side-planks. Just doing these exercises alone twice a week will give noticeable benefits within weeks.

Avoiding illness

The quickest way to lose fitness in winter is to catch a winter cold or flu virus. Therefore, it is worth taking a bit of effort to avoid picking up bugs. Simple things that pro athletes do as a matter of course are: regularly washing your hands and not touching your face unless you’re sure your hands are clean. Maintain an intake of at least 7 portions of fruit and veg a day (not 5) and supplement your diet with a high-quality vitamin D. Always fuel your rides and the recovery afterwards so you don’t leave your body depleted of energy and essential micronutrients.

Another tip is to keep listening to your body. Look for tell-tales signs like undue fatigue, a sore throat or headaches. Monitoring your morning resting heart rate or HRV (Heart Rate Variability) can also help. Be on the lookout for changes which can’t be explained: you could be in the early stages of an infection. If in doubt, back-off until you feel 100%.


So, there you go; follow a plan, maintain motivation and avoid illness and you can make this your best ever winter training block. If you struggle for motivation try an online group ride, club ride or cyclo-cross or gravel riding. Any off-road riding will work wonders for your bike handling too.

Oh, and always have a bad-weather indoor alternative planned. It makes it much easier to get a quality workout in when you have a specific session plan in mind.

Want expert support with your winter training for under £50 per month? Enjoy all the benefits of a fully-coached client without any ongoing commitment. See our Foundation Training Plan for details [Places strictly limited].