How to make the most of your Autumn cycling training

Rebecca Bland
8 min

The leaves are crisp, conkers are falling, and the long summer evenings are starting to feel like a distant memory. The end of the road and mountain bike season is here, with autumn drawing in and winter soon to follow. Summer months sportives are making way for club runs and paceline practice, and while it might feel like your best cycling for the year has passed, we're here to talk about how to make the most of the next few months with an autumn cycling training plan to get you race or sportive ready for 2023.

The ‘off-season’

So what exactly is the 'off-season'? And how does it relate you to as a racer or non racer?

Essentially, the off-season is the time away from racing, typically over winter. Many professional cyclists use this time to first take a break from the bike completely for a couple of weeks. This is an important time for mentally resetting and reflecting on the season so far. How did you do, was it a successful season? Did your performances stack up to what you expected?

Many professional cyclists take up to a few weeks off the bike, but it depends on their race programme - are they racing cyclocross? Are they done for the rest of the year? And has it been a really long season or have they been coming back from injury and can afford a shorter break? There's plenty to think about, and it'll depend on your upcoming plans as to how long you take off the bike.

Once riders have taken a well-earned break, they usually begin their autumn or winter cycling training plan. A winter training plan is generally used over the autumn/winter months to help build your base fitness until you begin to include some intensity again in the early new year.

You can learn how you should build your winter cycling training plan in our blog.

In Spoked, select the winter base training plan
In Spoked, select the winter base training plan

If you're keen to let a coach or app make your plan for you, then Spoked is really useful for this. You can select the specific winter cycling training plan and choose your length of time and hours a week you can ride. It'll then create personalised workouts tailored to your goal.

The off-season is also a great time to work on your weaknesses - think strength training, fixing imbalances or niggles you've picked up during the year, and you can always think about trying a new discipline now you're not racing or training towards an event.

But what about if you're not a pro? Do you need to take a break?

That depends. Just because you don't spend 100 days of the year on the road or at races doesn't mean you can't wear yourself out! Sometimes, you might need to take a break from a mental perspective as well, as it's important to feel like you're not pushing it to the max constantly. While this doesn't mean necessarily resting completely off the bike, it does mean less structured time on the indoor trainers and more time enjoying some easier rides, and riding more of a foundation phase. This means not riding as many hours, and doing about 20-30% less volume for a certain period of time.

In Spoked, you can view your plan overview
In Spoked, you can view your plan overview to check out what phase you're in

But how do you know when to get back to more structured training? The vast majority of riders once they've had a long enough break will know. They'll feel a fire in the belly and want to start feeling the sensations of intervals again. When this happens, it's time to start training in a structured way again.

Training tips - remember that it is okay to lose fitness! It is something that goes up and down, and you can't expect to be in form all year round. So don't get disheartened if you see the numbers fluctuate.

Curious to implement structure into your cycling? Spoked is free for the first 14 days so you can download the iPhone or Android app and create a plan today.”

Resetting your goals

Before embarking on a winter training plan, it's a good idea to sit down and reflect on your year so far. If you made any goals prior to the season, did you achieve them? How did your year on the bike go for you? And what have you learned that you can take into next year?

Think about what went well and what didn't. As athletes, we tend to learn more from our losses than our wins. And this is one of the many things that makes cycling such a great sport! There is always a way to improve, and something to learn and move forward with.

For example, perhaps you had a sportive as your goal event. The day came, and it rained hard the entire time, leading you to not achieving the results you wanted. That's okay - if we re-frame it, we can think about how you managed to overcome riding in the rain. You might not have enjoyed it per say, but you made it through and that's progress.

A goal sets the direction of your cycling training, but it does not mean it's the ultimate judge of your success - contrary to what many cyclists may think. Focus more on the process of what it takes to achieve the outcome you want in cycling, and this will build momentum.

Once you've done a bit of reflection it's time to reset and consider what you want to achieve next year. Now is the time to start to lay the foundations to next year’s plans.

Luckily, we have a blog just for you, Cycling goals: how to set them and how to achieve them.

If you want to learn in depth how to set cycling specific goals, read the blog but for clarity's sake, we'll quickly cover it here.

You may be familiar with the SMART goal setting system, which stands for: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based. As long as you fine tune your goals to this acronym, you'll be starting on the right path, and lay a good foundation for planning your winter cycling.

Winter racing

Of course, for some riders, winter is when they begin their racing! If you're a hill climber, a cyclocross racer, or a zwift racer, your season is just about to begin. If this is you, you'll now be looking to increase your intensity ahead of the first race of the season.

In Spoked, you can select the cyclocross training plan
In Spoked, you can select the cyclocross training plan

Alternatively, you might be a multi-disciplined racer. So the transition from summer to autumn might present you with the chance to race something different. Why would you race more than one type of discipline? It can keep your motivation high, varies your training sessions, and keeps things lively.

However, we would suggest being careful so that you don't burn out. If you're an experienced rider you probably have an idea of what this looks like, so notice the signs and pay attention to your how your body responds to this continous racing or training.

Want to give your winter racing the best shot? Spoked is free for the first 14 days so you can download the iPhone or Android app and create a plan today.”

If you are racing indoor cycling, there's a propensity for riders to do a bit too much on their smart trainer. Particularly if you race on the infoor training platform Zwift, there are races available every single day, throughout the day. This makes it rather tempting to take part in as many as possible. We would suggest you don't do this - the 80/20 rule still applies (80% low intensity to 20% high intensity) in a week. You might see an initial spike in your overall fitness as your race and training load goes up, but pretty soon you'll be knackered and won't be able to get the best out of yourself over the rest of your winter training.

Tips for autumn and winter training

So, it's colder than it was a week ago and suddenly the days are short. Bugger. But, just because the evenings are a little bit shorter and the temperatures are dropping, doesn't mean you need to retreat inside just yet.

Make the most of the warmer autumn temperatures. Particularly through to November, the temperature will not be quite as harsh as it will be for the few months after. You might even get a few days where you can wear short sleeves!

Layers

Use layers to your advantage. You don't need to be dressed up like the Michelin Man just because it's dropped to below 15 degrees celsius. And, the weather usually isn't as bad as it looks when you're inside your house. Invest in some good quality winter kit like base layers with merino wool in them. Quality clothing will keep you warm but not overheat you.

Similarly, a decent rain coat will keep the majority of the water out if you do get caught in a downpour, but remember that the more 'waterproof' something is, the more likely it is boil in the bag when you're working hard. Overshoes are also something to look for. Look for taped seams and water repellant material to help keep your feet drier and warmer for longer.

Indoor cycling training

Indoor cycling is a great way to get your winter training sessions done at this time of year. You don't need to mess up a whole training plan because you don't want to risk breaking a bone on the ice. Software like Zwift, Wahoo SYSTM, MyWhoosh and more are all great training tool for training indoors.

They might not have the excitement as a ride outdoors, but using an indoor trainer paired with some of this software is ideal for completing your indoor workouts and higher intensity efforts. Furthermore, using a smart trainer can be a great way of using a power meter as many of these types of turbo trainer have them built in.

That being said, indoor training isn't for everyone. So during this time you could vary your winter training by trying out a different discipline like mountain biking, cyclocross or gravel riding. Or even...running.

In Spoked, you can select a free ride to cater for online cycling racing
In Spoked, you can select a free ride to cater for online cycling racing

Fix any imbalances and strengthen your muscles

Furthermore, this winter training period is ideal for strength training. It's the ideal time to work on any imbalances you may have in your body after a hard season, and winter means you can allow some extra time to spend on strengthening your muscles. Read our blog on the best strength exercises for cyclists.

Other things like pilates and yoga complement a cycling training plan quite nicely throughout the year, but you can really hone in on things like flexibility during this less intense training time.

And if you're really struggling with niggles on the bike from the previous season, consider getting a bike fit. They can vary in price, but can really help you to get the most out of your position on the bike - particularly if you're a road racer or a time triallist. If you find yourself struggling with pain, for example on longer rides, then a bike fit will be able to identify the areas you need to change. It could be as simple as a new stem length or handlebars, but getting the right equipment is key to motivaton on the bike and improving your performance.

Other things that might be good to address during the off-season includes nutrition. Some riders use the winter training to drop some weight. But if you're training well and eating right, don't start messing about with weight before the season starts. Sure, a couple of kilos lost might make the hills more palatable, but this should be done in a controlled way and only if you actually need to lose them.

Set some benchmarks and build your base training

All of these things, of course, are about building a solid foundation for your next year of racing and riding. The bst way of doing this is by knowing where you're starting from. What sort of power output are you doing? Where is your fitness level at right now, and what is your power profile looking like?

We highly recommend setting yourself some benchmarks to check your post-summer form. If you've been following a training plan you'll probably have an idea of where you're at but it's a great way to reset your training zones and properly assess your functional threshold power before the bulk of your winter training sets in.

Spoked readiness can help you decide when you want to test yourself
Your Spoked Readiness score can help you decide when you want to test yourself

Furthermore, you can use these to measure your progress after your winter training plan has finished, your hours upon hours of base training are complete, and you're getting ready to up the intensity ahead of the racing season.

In the olden days, cyclists used to use this training time to build their intensity throughout the winter. How? By using things like fixed gear bikes, keeping the cadence high and the gear light. Now we don't suggest you go out and do that, but what we can take from this is that they didn't ride too hard in November. Winter might seem like a long time to be training for, but if you look to progress the intensity/volume slowly until spring then you won't be burnt out by the time your goal event comes around.

Final thoughts

Coming into winter from autumn doesn’t have to be scary (we know it’s cold if you’re in the northern hemisphere). Think of it as an opportunity. Now is the time to rebuild your base fitness, get some good quality winter training in and mentally prepare for the year ahead .

Whether you spend your winter training on your road bike, indoor training, or building your fitness elsewhere, it's key to stay motivated and focus on your goals ahead of the next season. Work on your weaknesses, build some muscle strength, and use indoor training where it's unsafe to ride outside.

The weathermight be crap, but the work you put in now will pay dividends come the springtime. There is a reason the saying goes, 'winter miles = summer smiles'!

If you want to try and structure your winter training this year, why not try Spoked? It's free to download and use for 14 days from the App Store and Google Play.