We say it all the time, but it's still true: what you do this winter really can make or break your season next year. There are some vital components to creating a very good winter training program, and of course using a power meter is a big part of it. Once you're rested from your season's work, recharged, and ready to go, your winter should contain at least two important components: (1) focused indoor training workouts using wattage and cadence and (2) solid workouts in the sweet spot zone.
Higher-cadence workouts help ensure that you maintain your ability to quickly contract and relax your muscles. By training your neuromuscular power, you can help keep that critical ability to quickly change your cadence throughout the winter, and even enhance it. You don’t want to go too hard on these, so limit your effort to less than 110% of your functional threshold power (FTP). One of my favorite workouts is simple one-minute fast pedaling intervals: pedal over 110 rpm for one minute, pedal at your self-selected (normal) cadence for one minute, and repeat.
On the other side of the coin, lower-cadence workouts are also great to do in the winter because they can enhance your muscular strength, which can help you sprint with more peak wattages and help you push a bigger gear into the wind, in a time trial, or up a steep climb. Muscular strength workouts are based around hard but short intervals done in the biggest gear you can manage at low rpm. Many people believe that riding for hours in a big gear at slow rpm will increase their muscular strength and consequently make them more powerful. However, this is a myth; based on the data from power meter files, I have found that riding at 50 rpm for hours on end just does not create enough muscular stress to strengthen the muscles. In order to increase your muscular strength on the bike, you need to do hard, short bursts of effort in a big gear from a slow speed. Once you reach 80 rpm, your effort is over.
The second type of training I prescribe to my athletes in the winter is called sweet spot training (SST). When you ride just below your functional threshold power (approximately 88-93% of your FTP), you are said to be riding in your sweet spot. Why is it called the sweet spot? It’s an area of intensity in which the level of physiological strain (read: pain) is relatively low, and the maximum duration (read: time) you can stay in this area is quite high. Your increase in FTP is greatest in this area, as well, so training in your sweet spot really gives you a tremendous bang for your buck without causing you to peak in January.
Make it a great winter, and a great start to the next season!
Hunter Allen is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach and former professional cyclist. He is the coauthor of Training and Racing with a Power Meter and Cutting-Edge Cycling, co-developer of TrainingPeaks’ WKO software, and CEO and founder of Peaks Coaching Group. He and his coaches create custom training plans for all levels of athletes. Hunter can be contacted directly through PeaksCoachingGroup.com.