Or at least, thats what the Starks would say! Winter is definitly coming. Leaves are falling off trees and they are covering the trails. The riding at this time of the year is beautiful and there is some more good rides left.
I've been sidelined with illness for 2 weeks now. I have had time to work on my winter training and document myself a little more. Just like last year, I will jump right into a high intensity approach using somewhat of a polarized patern even though I have a lot less available time during winter because of the outdoor conditions. I thought I'd use this blog post to lay out the hows and whys of my approach, given a few people are asking me questions and are seeking advises.
How do I plan the intensity throughout the winter season? I mostly start with very high intensity micro-intervals using wide intensity targets and low total work volume. So I might do some 20 seconds or 30 seconds efforts at intensity well above FTP, averaging ~175% of FTP. The work/rest ratio is often a 1/1 or 1/2 at best and the total work volume varies from 4 minutes to 8 minutes. Some would say I do L6 anaerobic intervals but they are not. The short rests play a major role in the energetic demand of such efforts. The early efforts draw more ATP derived from the anaerobic glycolitic system whilst the subsequent efforts are produced using more and more energy derived from the aerobic glycolitic system. That way, a complete block ends up being heavily aerobic despite the relatively high power output.
After a while I will progressively introduce longer L5 efforts until I reach 2 sessions per week. I then may plan a very intensive L5 block followed by a few days of compelte rest to force adaptations from the intese block.
This is where you might ask youself: "why is he using a high intensity approach?". Basically, intensity is scaled with time available. It is mostly based around the weather conditions in my neck of the wood. Tons of snow means I can barely ride outside. If im lucky, I can find some snowshoe trails and ride them but the conditions are so unstable I can't rely on that for a reliable training plan. So my regime is mostly intensity on the trainer. Intensity because I won't be riding the trainer for 3 hours day in day out. I might do a few longer trainer rides during the winter but they are quite rare (and boring).
Why am I not using the highly regarded sweet spot approach might you ask? There are many reasons for this, some personnal, some more objective. This is a very vast topic and I will keep that under the wrap for another blog post
It is an uncommon approach. Most folks will use the sweet spot approach for many reasons. Among other, because that particular approach is often discussed on training forums and seems to be supported by highly regarded coaches from popular coaching groups. I think it is wise to diversify one's training stimuli and therefore explore new apparoches. It is also a good idea to document yourselves and not only listen to coaches out there who earn their living prescribing cookie cutter plans or training plans based off one particular training phylosophy, not to mention the softwares and other training metrics, but that's a whole other topic!
To finish off this article, here are some informations regarding why I use such high intensity efforts during winter:
-They are specific to my racing demand on many aspects: muscle recruitment and firing patern, metabolic demand and intensity/rest racing patern.
-They are a good aerobic stimulus to keep things sharp but they should not burn someone out given the low total work volume.
-They are a form of whole body conditioning, or central nervous sytem for that matter. You smash yourself with high intensity but low work volume. It is like telling your brain: "Feel that burn eh? Well, better get used to it, cause there is plenty more to come!". Makes a good preparation for further intense block during winter.
-It has been shown they are a good stumulus to induce skeletal muscle adaptations. Probably just as much as longer, steadier efforts. That remains debatable.
-I personnaly seems to recover better from L5 training versus sweet spot training. It might be related to glycogen depletion. L5 intensity uses more glycogen then L3 or L4 intensity for the same duration. The relationship between L5 and L3-L4 total work volume is hard to establish but I think it is safe to say you may pile on less total L5 volume during a single session then you may do with L3 or L4 intensity.
-It may push the upper boundaries of one's aerobic system, leaving more room to fill the tank afterward.