By Clair Cafaro
The end of your riding season is a great time to reflect, rest and recharge. Thinking back on how you felt both physically and emotionally will help you know what to change, or what to do more of for next season. One of the most critical components for a successful cycling season is rest. Transitioning off the bike means taking time away from the bike or risk becoming what Joe Friel calls “a ‘Christmas Star’ – an athlete who performs great in the middle of the winter but fades as spring comes around.” He recommends taking between 2 to 6 weeks off (depending of course on the intensity of your season) resting completely or doing some light cross training.
Transitioning indoors may lead you to the spin studio. The intensity of the “group ride” or the fear of losing all the fitness you’ve gained, lures you back to the saddle where you might throw caution to the wind and push yourself too hard especially after a few weeks off. Indoor cycling classes cater to a wide variety of individuals and routinely have participants working anaerobically (exercise in which oxygen is used up more quickly than the body is able to replenish it inside the working muscle). While this may seem like a good idea, several classes a week over the course of 4 or 5 months are certain to turn you into Friel’s “Christmas Star”.
How hard to ride is the critical factor determining what you’ll feel like come spring. Now is the perfect time to build some strength off the bike with weight training. After several weeks off, begin by taking two spin classes per week, but let your instructor know that you’ll be staying in the saddle and taking it “easy”. For the next few weeks be sure to stay below your anaerobic threshold. No burning legs, no heavy breathing. You may wish to spend some time working on your pedal stroke. The spin bike is a great tool for cadence drills, focusing on a smooth, quick stroke, without bouncing in the saddle. The reason for the bounce has nothing to do with how much resistance is employed. A smooth, controlled spin up is the result of a well coordinated neuromuscular connection. In other words, the brain is sending signals to the legs to “go fast”. The bounce happens when there’s a breakdown of these signals and both legs attempt a downstroke, resulting in the butt being lifted off the saddle. The remedy is to understand and focus on all four phases of the pedal stroke, learning to smooth out the dead spots at the top and bottom of the stroke. Rather than pedal a square, focus on making circles.
As winter progresses, add more time spent in the saddle by coming to spin class early or staying late (up to a total of 2 hours), some classes offer longer rides. Slowly increase the time spent on the bike and begin to introduce some harder work where the legs being to “tingle”, but be sure to take time off every 3 to 5 weeks (depending on how you feel) as your body is constantly sending you feedback.
Late January/early February is when you want to mix in some intensity. Begin with one hard ride once per week and work up to two hard workouts per week, with plenty of easy riding in between.
Finding the discipline to hold back during the winter months ensures you’re a “star” when it really counts.
Clair Cafaro is the president of C.O.R.E CYCLING,
an indoor cycling instructor certification program with an emphasis on authentic road riding principals. www.corecycling.ca
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