Winter is a tough time to stay in shape. The days are short, the weather is cold and variable, and it’s tempting to curl up with the TV and a hot drink instead of doing something active. But it’s important to maintain as much cycling strength as possible so that we can fully enjoy the perfect spring cycling weather when it finally arrives.
Here are some tips for winter exercise to get you ready for spring.
Choose an Early Spring Goal
Look at the calendar for March through May, and pick an event that you want to be strong for. Then keep that event in your head as a goal. You could even write it down on a post-it note and attach it to your mirror. This will remind you that, no matter how dark or cold it gets, you have an awesome event that you need to train for.
Here are some of my favorite spring events around New York:
- The New York Cycle Club’s SIG program. These are weekly group rides that start in March. The rides focus on riding skills and get progressively harder each week, so you want to start the program as strong as possible.
- CRCA Grant’s Tomb Criterium on March 11th. This is the first big local race of 2017 and is a great way to try out bike racing. Riders follow a route on closed roads around Grant’s Tomb in Morningside Heights.
- Bike the Boros bike tours in April. Transportation Alternatives runs bike tours in each of the boroughs every year. Dates haven’t been set yet, but generally the series starts with the Tour de Staten Island in mid-April.
- The New York Gran Fondo century ride on May 21, 2017. This century starts on the GW bridge and takes a challenging route to Bear Mountain and back, with more than 8,000 feet of climbing. The Fondo isn’t a race, but your time is tracked, so it’s a great event to train for and complete as fast as possible. GFNY also runs training rides every Sunday on progressively harder routes. You can sign up and then train with them on Sundays from now until May.
Set Weekly Targets
Take a look at your calendar and decide how often you can exercise this winter. Don’t burn yourself out with ambition – 1, 2, or 3 days a week in the winter is great. Then, stick to your weekly target.
Plan Your Schedule Around the Weather
Figure out what days and times you can physically ride outside, then build your schedule around cycling at those times. One useful planning tool is the Weather Underground app. Under “Smart Forecasts,” you enter your cycling weather parameters (40-90 degrees, sunny, not humid) and then the app tells you when the forecast meets those requirements.
Hills Are Your Friends
Climbing up hills in the winter is the perfect workout. The hard effort keeps you warm and gives you the most bang for your pedaling, so you can ride for shorter periods. If you live near a hill like Harlem Hill, go and ride that hill repeatedly 3-6 times. It’s a fast and effective workout. Make sure to stop and rest at the bottom, not the top, or else you’ll have a cold descent.
Intervals Are Your Friends Too
If you’re training inside with a bike trainer, keep your workouts short and interesting with interval training. Decide that you’re going to pedal as hard as you can for a certain period, then rest for a certain period before you repeat. Bicycle Habitat has a wide selection of trainers for indoor riding. To learn more about trainers, check out the recap of our Trainers and Rollers Demo Night.
Winter is a great time to pursue or try out other fitness activities. Join ClassPass or do classes at your local gym. Go skiing or snowshoeing. Try out running or swimming. I’m looking forward to learning yoga in Kristen and Lisa’s weekly Yoga for Cyclists class, which starts in February.
Every Bit Helps
Little bits of strength-building exercise can lead to a strong foundation for cycling in the spring. If you don’t want to ride indoors or outside or you don’t have time to extensively train this winter, commit to doing a few minutes of exercise everyday. Lots of apps lead you through quick workouts that you can do anywhere. My favorite is Sworkit. You choose a type of workout (I do cardio and core strength most often) and how long you want to work out, and it gives you a series of 30-second exercises to complete.
Don’t Focus on Numbers
If you use an application like Strava to track your rides, winter can be frustrating. You can’t ride as fast as you do when it’s 75 degrees out. There are lots of reasons for this (google “cycling speed winter” and peruse some of them), but if you’re finding that your slower pace is disheartening, then turn off your bike computer or stop posting your rides. Focus on training, not numbers.
If You Want to Lose Weight, Start Now
Many people take up cycling to lose weight. But counterintuitively, it can be hard to lose weight in the peak of riding season, when you’re building new muscle and focused on increasing distance and speed. If weight loss is one of your goals for 2017, start now, before you’re trying to ride your bike farther and harder every week.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
There will be times when you don’t ride as much as you planned. Maybe a snowstorm hits New York and you don’t exercise at all for days or weeks. That’s okay. Each day is a new day. Just get back on the saddle and keep riding.