Train in the Cold

Get off the trainer and en­joy win­ter on two wheels

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - TRAINING TIPS - By Stephen Che­ung

While we may have en­joyed record-break­ing heat this past sum­mer, pay­back has ar­rived in the form of win­ter. We can curse the cold and hi­ber­nate in­doors on the trainer, or we can stay ac­tive out­side and en­joy what win­ter has to of­fer. Is cy­cling out­doors safe for your health? Does gulp­ing in big lung­fuls of cold air dam­age your res­pi­ra­tory sys­tem? One look at Nordic ski­ing and biathlon should put most of those fears to rest. Also, stud­ies show that ex­er­cis­ing and breath­ing -35 C air has no dif­fer­ence in oxy­gen up­take, breath­ing rate or core tem­per­a­ture com­pared with breath­ing nor­mal room air. Cold and dry air, how­ever, can be a ma­jor trig­ger for asth­mat­ics. If you suf­fer from asthma, one way to min­i­mize the risk is to per­form a long and grad­ual warm-up, along with breath­ing through a ban­dana or mask to help slow down and hu­mid­ify the air. An­other com­mon ques­tion is whether cold af­fects your mus­cle func­tion. Cold mus­cles or a de­crease in body tem­per­a­ture will in­deed de­crease mus­cu­lar en­durance, re­sult­ing in de­creased power out­put. In a re­cent study in my lab, my 15-km time trial power dropped from about 240 W in nor­mal 22 C tem­per­a­tures down to about 210 W in 0 C, and af­ter I had al­ready cooled down by about 0.5 C. To coun­ter­act the ef­fects of cold, make the in­vest­ment in qual­ity ther­mal cloth­ing. If your hands and feet are prone to cold, make sure they are prop­erly pro­tected with mit­tens for the hands and pos­si­bly plas­tic bags around your feet to trap heat.

So, if it is phys­i­cally safe to ex­er­cise out­doors in the cold, what kind of out­door rid­ing might be most ben­e­fi­cial for keep­ing fit­ness through the win­ter? Over­all, the best op­tion may be to em­pha­size longer low-in­ten­sity en­durance rides. If you are the type who dis­likes in­door train­ing any­way, you won’t re­ally build aer­o­bic en­durance in­doors dur­ing an hour-long, or less, ses­sion. Rather, the best bang for your hour will be to em­pha­size short and hard in­ter­val ses­sions in­doors, and leave the en­durance train­ing for out­doors.

Do­ing in­ter­vals of hard work, even out­doors, will gen­er­ate heat and sweat. Dur­ing the re­cov­ery pe­ri­ods, that sweat tends to get trapped within your cloth­ing, caus­ing much greater heat loss com­pared with ex­er­cis­ing at a lower but steady rate. Ex­er­cis­ing at a rate that gen­er­ates mild but not heavy sweat­ing is a trick well-known to po­lar ex­plor­ers.

If you are a roadie, the win­ter is also a per­fect time to break out the moun­tain or fat bike. The wider tires will give bet­ter grip and trac­tion on po­ten­tially icy or snow-filled roads. Hit­ting the trails and rid­ing into the woods is a ter­rific way to keep your­self out of cold winds on ex­posed roads. An added bonus is that rid­ing on slick snow can greatly in­crease your bike han­dling skills and con­fi­dence cor­ner­ing and in slip­pery con­di­tions once you are back on the open roads.

Ul­ti­mately, win­ter is no rea­son to hang up your wheels. A long and fun en­durance ride is a great break from end­less in­door rid­ing, and can make you more con­fi­dent and skilled on your bike come spring.

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