Off season months are for building greater aerobic endurance, a stronger core, better form, and greater leg strength. The more aerobically conditioned you are throughout the entire body, the faster you will recover from intense workouts and race day efforts. This will allow you to work harder, more often, though the race season, which will lead to more gains in speed and overall endurance. To achieve this, your off season needs to be filled with high quality workouts.
1. Adding Strength to Indoor Trainer Workouts
The indoor trainer is the least favorite workout on the bike but for the legs, lungs, and cardio system, it’s a great workout. The downside to indoor trainer workouts is that it is focused on your prime movers (cycling specific leg muscles) and less focused on the upper body. Riding outside requires pushing and pulling on the handlebars while the core is highly engaged. So, to make indoor rides more productive, add strength exercises that mimic outdoor upper body movements.
Strength sessions can be added to almost any indoor trainer workout. Every 15 to 20 minutes get off the bike and perform one set of one or two of the following exercises. Keep the time off the bike under 90 seconds.
Begin in plank position with both hands grasping dumbbells. With feet slightly wider than your hips and hands under shoulders, lift your right elbow and arm, lifting the weight until your elbow is above your torso. Hold for a second, remaining strong in the left arm, then lower and repeat on the other side for one rep. Perform 20 reps with light to moderate weight – 10 to 25 lbs dumbbells.
Start in a plank/upper push up position and hold for 5 seconds. With elbows next to your sides, lower your torso, hovering a few inches above the ground and hold for 5 seconds. Return to upper push up position and repeat this 3-6 times without resting.
These can be done using a barbell or a roll out wheel. With knees on the ground, hip width, and hands grasping the bar or roll out wheel slightly in front of the knees, roll forward until your torso is as close to fully extended as you can, and then return. Perform 10-15 reps for one set.
2. Build Aerobic Strength With Heart Rate, Power, and Speed
Building aerobic strength and endurance is the primary focus through the off season. This type of training mainly takes place within zones 2, 3 and 4 (using Joe Friel’s 7 bike zones) and includes seated tempo efforts, force efforts, and general endurance rides. Using a combination of heart rate, power and/or speed is one of the best ways to build strength in these ranges. Heart rate provides a direct link to your internal engine; therefore it is a valuable guide and source of feedback. It does have limitations since it can drift, making it less useful for harder, shorter and more intense efforts but for aerobic training, it is fairly accurate. The limitation heart rate provides is the reason to use power and/or speed while working an interval. To make aerobic zone intervals more productive, challenge the heart rate training zone with power/speed. The goal is to work as much power/speed as you can while keeping your heart rate in the training zone, or at the most, a few beats above the training zone since heart rate can drift. This helps place the most stress possible on the aerobic system targeted while keeping the effort aerobic.
Example Workout - Seated Zone 3 Tempo Efforts
Warm up in zones 1-2 for the first 10 to 15 minutes of the ride. Once warmed up, find long stretches of road, or dirt road and work into a seated zone 3 interval for 7 to 10 plus minutes. These are best worked on a slight incline of 3 to 5 percent. Keep cadence in the 80 to 100rpm range and focus on fluid spin with deep breath and good form. Work with as much power/speed as you can while keeping heart rate within zone 3. Keep the spin between efforts in zone 2 and aim for 2-4 efforts per hour.
3. Focus on Form
The off season is the perfect time to be focused on better form on the bike, especially while working those long duration zone 2-4 intervals. Maintaining good form places increased emphasis on all the primary muscles used for cycling. One way to improve form is by not rocking your hips while seated and spinning. Maintaining level hips, along with a tight core will place more emphasis on the leg muscles, working them just a little harder through the revolution. This will lead to increased leg strength over time. The torso, shoulders and arms also need to be engaged at all times. Focusing on strong arms, bent elbows and a strong upper torso will increase upper body muscle endurance, being of great value on race day.
4. Use a Training Program, Consult With a Coach
A program keeps you organized, focused, and gives you goals to reach on a daily basis. A program also serves as a basis for communicating with a coach. Most, if not all coaches will provide consultations, file reviews, and program adjustments. Using a program and consulting with a coach is probably the most effective way to make your off season, as well as race season, the most productive it can be.