• Should all intensity be removed from winter workouts?

    My short answer is – no.

    On Sunday's group ride, the topic of winter riding volume and exercise intensity came up. "Should triathletes, road cyclists and mountain bikers remove all intensity during the preparation or base phase of training? What does research support?"

    You know my short answer, now let's look into the answer in more depth. Before going further, let me define "intensity" for the purpose of this blog. I consider "intensity" to be any effort above an aerobic heart rate. (What I define as Zone 1 to 2.) Very high intensity is short duration (60 seconds or less) with very long recoveries – meaning recovery is some seven to 10 times the work interval. For example, a set of 30-second sprints with each followed by a 4 minute and 30 second recovery. In this case, heart rate doesn't have much time to shoot up – but your legs know it is a high power, high intensity effort.

    I also consider intensity to be efforts of Zone 3 and above – where heart rate is getting into the tempo and lactate threshold zones.

    Before you get excited about a license to hammer all winter long, I need to qualify my answer. I do include intensity in endurance training throughout the preparation or base phase of training – but – it is at a much lower volume than the during the rest of the year.

    I do not include lactate threshold intervals (Zone 4-5a) or anaerobic intervals (Zone 5b) in the early preparation phases. I think your body and mind need a break from this type of training.

    Research studies are great and I do look at a list of endurance-related scientific papers that are released every week, to consider making modifications to my training philosophies. However, I also know that research studies are very short – typically some 12 to 16 weeks. When I work with endurance athletes in a one-on-one coaching situation, it is typically for at least one to as many as 15 years. (Yes, I coached a road cyclist for 15 years.)

    I have tried removing all intensity from base season training. What I've found is that most non-professional athletes do not have the volume of training time to put in the volume of aerobic training required to take them to the next step.

    One of the Sunday riders asked my opinion on removing significant volume, but having very high intensity in all training sessions. I have never designed a program that was based on this philosophy, but athletes have sought my help after being on a high intensity training (HIT) program. These athletes are in two categories that include those that were injured by HIT training and those that felt both overtrained and undertrained at the same time. Athletes in the second category underperformed in their longer races.

    What should you do for your preparation (base, off, winter) season training?

    • Reduce overall training volume.
    • Keep one long workout in the mix.
    • Include some intensity in two or three workouts, but the volume of intensity should be significantly lower than during your final pre-competition and competition phases of training.

    You can find a list of ready-to-use training plans in all of my books or online.

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