Spin the Distric Union City Gran & Gravel Fondo, Sat Oct 2nd - Register NOW!
United States | Southeast | Virginia >> Why Base Training in Winter Will Never Make You Fast

Why Base Training in Winter Will Never Make You Fast

By Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach and co-author of “The Time-Crunched Cyclist” and “The Time-Crunched Triathlete”

I would love to build a huge aerobic base the old fashioned way, but I love my wife and I’m pretty fond of my kids and my career. To ride 12-20 hours a week these days I would have to pull the nuclear option on my life and that’s just not going to happen. I’m not alone. In fact, after 15 years in the coaching business I’d argue there are more athletes like me – both competitors and non-competitors – than there are athletes who are consistently devoted to more than 8 hours of weekly training.

Why Base Training in Winter Will Never Make You Fast

And yet the concept of “base building” still persists as the training standard for endurance athletes in the winter. Let me put this as simply as I can: Riding the same weekly training hours that you are already habituated to (because that’s all the time you have) at lower intensities than your fitness can already support won’t produce a stronger base of aerobic fitness.

Base training – a high volume of low to moderate-intensity training sessions – only works when you can accumulate significant weekly hours at those intensities. In a traditional endurance periodization plan, these foundational months of training are filled with long rides. You’re putting in the long miles in the winter so you can support the higher-intensity, shorter, race-specific interval workouts that come later in the spring and summer. But when your other priorities cut down your training volume and you still continue with predominantly low-intensity training, you are not generating enough total workload (training stress) to produce the adaptations you’re looking for.

One of those important adaptations is an increase in the size and density of mitochondria, the organelles in muscle cells that process fat and carbohydrate to usable energy. Oh, and they also finish the process of reintegrating lactate into normal metabolism, breaking this partially-burned carbohydrate the rest of the way down to usable energy. Having more and bigger mitochondria means you can do all of the above faster, and that means more usable energy per minute during exercise – at all intensity levels! You want to go faster, more energy per minute means higher power output. You want to go longer, bigger mitochondria mean maintaining a moderate pace is less fatiguing and more reliant on fat for energy.

The alternative to traditional base building for time-crunched athletes

The goal is the same: we want greater mitochondrial density. The pathway is just different.

Workouts: Instead of long and easy to moderate intensity rides, time-crunched athletes need three interval sessions per week and no more than 5 workouts total (most time-crunched athletes struggle to consistently schedule more than four anyway). A Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday interval schedule with a longer ride on Sunday is pretty typical.

Intervals: Lactate threshold intervals (6-12minutes each) progressing to VO2 max intervals (30-second to 4-minute max efforts, short recoveries) produce the necessary training stress. Remember, even though you’re not peaking for a January or February event, high-intensity intervals stimulate aerobic system development as well as high-end power. At this time of year you’re primary goal is the aerobic system development so prioritize the accumulated time at high intensity rather than reaching for absolute peak power outputs with each interval.

Periodization: This is important! The traditional endurance periodization plan is a long, gradual ramp up to a high peak. That’s why high-volume athletes can and should spend months focused on base building. Time-crunched athletes need shorter, focused periods of higher intensity followed by substantial (4 weeks) periods focused on recovery and moderate-intensity rides. So an 8 or 9-week period of progressively increasing workload (with a rest week about week 4) should be followed by a 4-week period that’s focused on endurance. Over the course of a year this yields incremental improvements in sustainable power at lactate threshold with each successive build period. During those 4-week periods between builds, be sure to maintain your training schedule even if the intensity is lower; once that training time is siphoned off to other activities it is difficult to get it back.

Why Base Training in Winter Will Never Make You Fast

Frequently Asked Questions:

What about strength training? Most time-crunched athletes struggle to find enough time to devote to on-bike training, let alone a strength program. If you have some extra time, focus on strength training that supports an active lifestyle rather than one that’s specific to cycling.

Will intensity in the winter lead to injuries? Athletes get injured when their training load is too high and they are not adequately recovered, not because it’s winter. High-volume athletes sometimes risk injury by training hard in winter because they are not adequately recovered from the previous season. Time-crunched athletes don’t typically generate enough fatigue to need such a prolonged recuperation period.

Aren’t long rides better for training my body to burn fat? Potentially, yes. But if you don’t have time available for those long rides, and particularly for enough of those long rides, it’s a moot point. Work to optimize the impact you can have on your fitness in the time you have available to train. If you have limited time, focus on increasing the power you can produce and accelerating your ability to process fuel and oxygen.

Book: The Time-Crunched Cyclist by Chris Carmichael and Jim Rutberg

The Time-Crunched Cyclist shows cyclists how to build fitness on a realistic schedule by tapping the power of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. Cyclists learn the science behind this alternative approach to training before performing the CTS field tests to get a baseline reading of their fitness. Nine comprehensive training plans include effective time-crunched workouts, nutrition guidelines, and strength training to develop the speed and endurance for a wide variety of cycling races and events.

The new Time-Crunched Training Plans cover:

New and Experienced plans for criteriums, road races, and cyclocross
New, Experienced, and Competitive plans for century rides and Gran Fondos
Gravel racing and ultraendurance mountain biking plans
Intermediate and Advanced plans for commuters

This new, third edition integrates Strava, the popular ride tracking and analysis program. Powered by Strava, the Time-Crunched program becomes interactive, social, highly motivating—and focuses riders on the training data that matters most. It also adds the Time-Crunched Diet, a sports nutrition approach designed to help riders optimize their power-to-weight ratio with new guidelines on eating behaviors and delicious recipes from chefs Michael Chiarello and Matt Accarrino. A new chapter on hydration and managing heat stress will show athletes simple ways to avoid overheating that lead to better performance.


Tag: cts
Jul 22 2021 - NEWS: Join CTS this September for their All-Inclusive Cycling Training Camp
Jul 27 2021 - NEWS: Olympic Coach’s Tips for Preparing for a Once-in-a-Lifetime Competition
Jul 14 2021 - NEWS: How to Pace Climbs Like Tour de France Cyclists
Jul 08 2021 - NEWS: Heat and Cycling: Performance and Safety when it gets Hot
Jul 03 2021 - NEWS: Masters Cyclists: Training Lessons from Mark Cavendish’s Return to Winning
Jun 25 2021 - NEWS: Nutrition Guide: What to eat to have a successful gravel race
Jun 23 2021 - NEWS: Nutrient Timing: Updated Science for Cyclists
Jun 17 2021 - NEWS: When to Quit a Race: An Athlete’s Guide to the Toughest Decision in Sport
Jun 12 2021 - NEWS: Cyclist Travel Guide for International Trips and Cycling Tours
Jun 06 2021 - NEWS: 5 Things Cyclists Shouldn’t Do During Long Rides and Events
May 25 2021 - NEWS: How to Make Cycling in Bad Weather 100% Better
May 02 2021 - NEWS: How to Be a Better Cyclist in 6 Weeks
Apr 24 2021 - NEWS: 9 Essential Cycling Skills All Riders Need to Master
Apr 02 2021 - NEWS: Cycling Nutrition: Illustrated Guide to Eating and Drinking on the Bike
Mar 21 2021 - NEWS: Healthy Weight Loss Principles for Cyclists
Feb 15 2021 - EVENT: Tucson Spring Training Cycling Camp
Apr 05 2021 - EVENT: Brevard Spring Training Cycling Camp
Apr 07 2021 - EVENT: Epic Endurance Cycling Camp
Apr 28 2021 - EVENT: Brevard Camp Featuring Looking Glass Tour
Jul 13 2021 - EVENT: CTS Athlete House Camp Featuring Pikes Peak
Jul 20 2021 - EVENT: CTS Athlete House Camp Featuring Pikes Peak
Jul 31 2021 - EVENT: Brevard Gravel Cycling Skills & Training Camp
Aug 11 2021 - EVENT: SBT GRVL Cycling Camp
Sep 06 2021 - EVENT: All-Inclusive Spring Training Cycling Camp
Nov 13 2021 - EVENT: CTS Figueroa Mountain Gran Fondo
Tag: training
Sep 08 2019 - NEWS: How much should you Cycle every week to stay in Shape?
Jan 07 2021 - NEWS: Fasting could help make you a better cyclist
Jan 09 2021 - NEWS: Training Tips for Your First Gran Fondo
Dec 12 2020 - NEWS: Winter Cycling Training to Climb Faster Next Summer
Jul 22 2020 - NEWS: Carbohydrates could be worse for health than fat
Jul 14 2020 - NEWS: 7 Climbing Tips for Beginner Gran Fondo Cyclists
Jul 03 2020 - NEWS: Study Shows that Riding a Bike can Reverse Heart Damage
Mar 06 2020 - NEWS: Pro tips for better cycling pics with a mobile phone!
Dec 31 2016 - NEWS: Top 10 Cycling Tips for the New Year
Dec 30 2019 - NEWS: Cycling Regularly Can Keep You Younger, Study Finds
Nov 11 2019 - NEWS: Study Finds that Cyclists Suffer Fewer Mental Health Problems
Nov 01 2019 - NEWS: Top 9 Reasons Why You Should Start Cycling Now!
Nov 04 2019 - NEWS: 10 Tips to help you Crush "Your Crush" on your Bike
Oct 27 2019 - NEWS: Could potatoes be an alternative to energy gels?
Oct 19 2017 - NEWS: Guide to Tackling the Mighty Gran Fondo Marmotte Alps
May 27 2013 - EVENT: Dartmoor Cycle Training Camp