Charles River Wheelers

12 Common Off-Season Cycling Mistakes

2023-11-20 4:32 PM | Anonymous

By Coach John Hughes

Winter is here in the mountains of Colorado. This is the view out of my living room window. Last week I was zipping around on my bike.  Now it’s time to wax my cross-country skis, pump up the tires on the trainer, and get out the dumbbells.

What should you do during the off-season? Avoid these mistakes:

#1. Lack of consistency.

When I was in my 20s I’d stop riding around Halloween. On Super Bowl Sunday I’d start training for the Davis Double Century, which was timed back then. Three months off the bike didn’t affect me much. Starting in about our 30s we lose fitness faster and consistency becomes more important. As a rule of thumb exercising three to four days a week is enough.  If you’ve worn out many pair of cycling shorts then three days are sufficient. If you’re relatively new to the sport then four days are better.

#2. Not losing fitness.

Losing some fitness in the winter is fine. Even the pros take a short break. They don’t just lie on the beach. They stay active but don’t train specifically. After the break they start riding but with less volume than in the spring. You need to be consistent but don’t try to ride as much as you did earlier in the year.  A week off the bike now and another week off the bike a couple of months later are good.  You can read more here:

#3. Doing too much.

Each year Ray, Sam, Gary and I rode the Davis Double trying to go faster. Our goal was to finish in the top 100 so we’d be seeded at the front of the field the following May and could jump into a fast paceline. We followed Eddy Merckx’ advice: in order to improve, ride more. So we started training more. I lived at the base of the Santa Cruz mountains in California. Climbing in the rain wasn’t too bad but descending wasn’t. So I figured out a relatively flat century route and started riding centuries the first of the year. You guessed it. I was very fast for the Primavera century in April and burned out by the Davis DC a month later.  

If you get out of bed, groan and keep delaying your training you’re doing too much.

#4 Not enough recovery.

If you’re an experienced roadie you need at least two recovery days a week and three are better. Active recovery on those days is fine. If you’re new to the sport then take three recovery days. For new roadies full recovery days are better than active recovery days.

#5 Mindless trainer workouts.

Properly designed trainer workouts can improve your cycling, but mindless ones sap your motivation with minimal benefit.  A good trainer workout has a specific purpose. You can read more in this column:

#6. Too much intensity.

Intensity is like prescription medicine. The wrong kind, or the wrong dose, or the wrong frequency doesn’t make you better and may make you worse.  Intensity workouts a couple of times a week are fine as long as you have at least two days recovery between each ride.  You can read more in these columns:

#7. Wrong intensities.

Spinning classes and smart trainer workouts are good for motivation but often have you riding too hard. Effective intensity training is a pyramid. You should start with longish sweet spot efforts. After about a month you can step up the intensity with shorter efforts. You can read more in these columns:

#8. Counting miles.

Your cycling computer or smart trainer may tell you that you’ve ridden X miles. But you know from experience that a so-called 25-mile ride on the trainer is much harder physically and mentally than 25 miles on a summer day. Instead of counting miles, which doesn’t mean much, keep track of the number of days and how many hours you ride a week.

#9. No variety.

Riding for hours on sunny days is fun. Riding for hours outside in the wintery weather and indoors on the trainer isn’t fun.  Here are 10 ways you can cross-train for aerobic fitness:

Weight bearing activity is important for strong bones.  Eight of the ways of cross-training help your skeleton.

#10. No strength / resistance training.

Including strength training will improve your cycling come spring. Fortunately, you don’t have to join a gym or buy a set of dumbbells.

#11. Wrong weekly program / not enough recovery.

Above I explained you should only do intensity twice a week with at least two recovery days in between. You decide to add a couple of days of cross-training. Your cycling club has winter rides that include either a coffee break or lunch stop so you join them on Saturdays. Five days of aerobic exercise are enough and you know the importance of strength training so you include resistance training on your two recovery days. But then they aren’t recovery days. Do some of your strength training on days you cross-train or do moderate (not intensity) rides. This column explains the benefits of combining both cardio and strength and how to combine them into an exercise program.

#12. Neglecting non-cycling activities.

Flexibility and balance become more important as we age.  These activities are good for your recovery days:

Motivation to exercise is easy when it’s warm and sunny; not so easy when it’s gloomy.  Here are a couple of columns to help:


My eBook Productive Off-Season Training for Health and Recreational Riders explains in detail what you can do to become a better rider this winter. The book includes:

  • A 12-week off-season exercise program to keep you healthy during the winter months.
  • A 12-week, more intensive off-season program for recreational riders to build your endurance, power and speed, preparing for base training.

The 28-page Productive Off-Season is just $4.99.

If you’re in your 50s, 60s, 70s (like me) and beyond my eBook Off-Season Conditioning Past 50 includes recommendations for outdoor and indoor cycling, cross-training, circuit strength training, flexibility and core strength. I include a sample 12-week program incorporating all of these. I explain how to tailor the program to your own interests: health and recreation rider, club rider or endurance rider. You can also tailor the program if you have limited time to train or are a beginning cyclist. The 26-page Off-Season Conditioning Past 50 is just $4.99.

My 3-article Off-Season bundle includes:

  • Productive Off-Season Training with:
    1. A 12-week off-season exercise program to keep you healthy during the winter months.
    2. A 12-week, more intensive off-season program for recreational riders to build your endurance, power and speed, preparing for base training.
  • Gaining a Mental Edge: Using Sports Psychology to Improve Your CyclingMost cyclists can get greater improvement from investing some time each week in practicing mental skills than they could investing the same amount of time in training! I show you how.
  • Year-Round Cycling: How to Extend Your Cycling SeasonI give you six factors to successfully ride year-round, with in-depth information on all: 1) Goal-Setting and Planning; 2) Training; 3) Clothing and Equipment; 4) Nutrition; 5) Technique; 6) Motivation.

The 60-page Off-Season bundle is $13.50, a savings of $3.50 off the full price of purchasing all 3 articles individually.

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