Coach’s Column – Maintain Fitness Over Short Winter Days

Question: I’m a Cat1, 40+ racer.  Now that it is the off-season and daylight is dwindling, what is the ‘minimum’ amount of riding/training, I can do in a week without suffering too much fitness loss?  Should I still be doing intervals right now?

Answer: Thanks for sending in the question. It’s one that many riders have this time of the year with shorter days, colder temps, and perhaps waning motivation after a full season of racing.

Know where you’re at

The type and amount of training that you’re doing now should correlate with the phase of training that you’re currently in. Most riders stand to improve their overall training quality by organizing their year into various segments. Having a plan in place for the full scope of your season will help you prioritize your training goals each month.

If you just recently entered your off-season, first and foremost give yourself a break. Ride for fun, skip the intervals and allow yourself a chance to recharge mentally and physically. Even if you loose a little fitness, you’ll certainly gain it back in good time. Sometimes you need to take a step back in order to make two steps forward.

If your off-season break has already been going for some time, you might be ready to start some training for next season. Knowing that the off-season is the single biggest chunk of time to improve your fitness, perhaps you’re motivated and ready to step things up.


How to start for next season

Realize that in order to improve it’s helpful to vary your training goals throughout the season. If you’re in the very early stages of next season’s build up, be willing to forfeit a little of your top end fitness in exchange for accomplishing the early season goals that you set.

Consider how much you’re able to ride each week now, versus what you’ve done in the past six weeks. If your training time is comparatively limited, then including more intensity can help. However, if you’re already training more now, then continue building and don’t stress on including the high intensity training.


Focus on developing your aerobic system

Focusing to improve your aerobic fitness works great for your base or foundation phase. Depending on how much time you’ve got each week, including some intervals could help you optimize your weekly workload. If deemed necessary, one or two interval sessions per week ought to be plenty as you get started.

The specific amount of training required to maintain fitness depends highly upon how fit you happen to be now, relative to the best that you’ve been at this year. Include some interval work if you’re time limited and need the additional workload. If you have the training time available, focus more on aerobic development and bank a few extra hours each week without starting up the more intense interval training quite yet.

While your primary focus is aerobic development, there’s supplemental training that can benefit you as well. Consider options such as skills work, form drills, and strength training that can have you more prepared to accomplish your goals.  Have fun with the rides as you start building the base of what will be a great season ahead!

Travis Woodruff is a USAC Level I (elite) certified coach who holds a B.S. in Kinesiology with emphasis in Exercise Science. He’s coached riders to five MTB National Championship wins and has over 15 years of personal racing experience. Since 2005 he’s competed as a pro mountain biker and has coached full-time. His business, Momentum Endurance LLC, is based out of Prescott, Arizona.