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Focus On Fall And Winter Cycling

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the year

Question: “Now that we are finished with summer riding, what should I focus on for fall and winter cycling?”

Diane’s reply: The change in weather means shorter days and fewer hours for outdoor riding. When it’s cold outside most riders find it hard to stay motivated to gear up and ride.

Ease Up

The first rule of thumb I use is to relax the structure of my training and let the weather dictate the time I spend riding outside. If you’re a cyclist who rides using a heart rate or power monitor, fall is the time of year to drop your expectations. I train by watts and use the SRM training power meter but for all my fall and winter outdoor rides I switch strictly to heart rate to reduce the mental stress of always having to ride at a certain level. I save the precision for indoor interval training sessions.

If you ride according to heart rate, this is the time of year to put away the heart rate monitor and just use the perceived level of exertion scale for your intensity. Mix up the intensity without letting a number rule how you should be riding. Instead, consider your outside rides a bonus as winter is just around the corner. If it snows where you live you will most be riding inside soon on a trainer or a spin bike. For those who never use watts or heart rate continue to ride to perceived level of exertion. Keep the pace and intensity a little more moderate than usual to allow you to wind down from the summer riding season. This will help give your body time to recover from months of mileage.

Do Other Forms Of Exercise

This time of year it’s good to do more easy to moderate rides and perhaps returning to some other forms of exercise that can help keep you fit and strong for the next outdoor riding season. In the fall you can hike, run, use an elliptical trainer, or do indoor rowing for cardiovascular fitness and do yoga, resistance and core stability training for flexibility and muscle strength and muscle balance work. Once the winter months hit then substitute outdoor riding with indoor trainer workouts and/or spinning classes for more traditional ways of keeping your body in cycling specific shape.


As mentioned in a previous article I wrote about recovery, this is a good time to take some structured time off the bike. You can do that by adding a few more active recovery days in your weekly schedule or by including a full week (or two) off the bike to give yourself a full recovery—not only physically but mentally. You can become stale and unmotivated if you spend too much time on the bike without adequate recovery or rest.

I like to add a week off the bike either right at the beginning of the winter or around the holiday time to refresh my mind and body. But at the same time I keep active and always do something that raises my heart rate to keep my mood and energy levels balanced. From November to late February your goal should focus on maintaining fitness levels and not increasing fitness levels. Once winter hits I recommend being consistent and targeted when on the bike instead of putting big miles or time on the bike. This will ensure that you keep fresh mentally and physically.

Suggested transition schedule:

1. 1-2 outdoor rides per week (if possible). Anywhere from 60 minutes to 2 hrs. Intensity should be moderate and less structured.

2. 2 indoor workouts. These can be on the trainer, spinning bike/classes – 30 minutes to 60 minutes. These rides are shorter so the intensity can be higher.

3. 1-2 core strength workouts doing yoga, or some of core exercises from I’ve mentioned in previous Ask a Pro articles (just do a search on the website), or from what you may already be doing at home or in the gym.

4. 1 resistance/strength session to keep your body strong and functional.

If you choose to get on your trainer for some indoor rides this fall/early winter here are a few tried and tested short workouts to help keep you going.

1. Spin up’s: Begin riding at 65% MHR for 1 minute, then increase to 70% of MHR for minute 2, 75% of MHR for minute 3, 80% of MHR for minute 4, and 85% of MHR for minute 5.
Follow with 3 minutes of light cycling to flush out your legs and to bring your heart rate back down.
Start with 2 sets and increase over a four week period up to 4 sets.

2. Steady and pump: Begin riding at 65% of MHR for 10 minutes, then pump up the pace for 3 minutes, and increase the intensity to 70 to 80% of MHR. Return the intensity back to 65% for 5 minutes. Then once again pump up the pace for 2 minutes, increasing the intensity back to 70 to 80% of MHR.
Start with one set and increase over a three-week period to 3 sets. (20 minutes per set)

3. Ladder Intervals: Begin riding at 65% of MHR for 1 minute then increase the intensity for 1 minute to 70 to 80% of MHR. Return for 2 minutes at 65% of MHR. Then again increase for 2 minutes at 70 to 80% of MHR. Return for 3 minutes at 65% of MHR. Then increase once again for 3 minutes at 70 to 80% of MHR. Then descend down the ladder with 2 minutes of riding at 65% of MHR. Then increase for 2 minutes to 70 to 80% of MHR. Finish with 1 more minute at 65% of MHR followed by 1 minute at 70 to 80% of MHR.
Start with one ladder, and over a four-week period build to 4 ladder sets.

If you don’t ride with a heart rate monitor, then use the perceived level of exertion mode for intensity. On this scale 1 is the easiest level and 10 is the hardest level of exertion. 65% of MHR would be approximately 7 on the scale, and 70 to 80% of MHR would be approximately 8 – 9 on the scale of perceived level of exertion.

Try to enjoy this time of year by looking at it as a transition time. You aren’t stopping completely but down shifting before you move into the next season.

Training for a two-day cycling eventDiane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, visit Diane’s website or contact her at

Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.

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