Two Keys to Becoming a Stronger Cyclist This Winter

By Jana Richtrova, Coolcore athlete

You want to ride your bike, but winter’s snow, ice, and lack of daylight are making things difficult. You can either bundle up and head outside to battle the elements, or you can invest in a bike trainer, and enjoy riding your bike indoors where neither safety nor darkness is an issue!

You may be thinking, “But riding indoors is boring and my trainer sucks.”

Well, here are a few suggestions and recommendations regarding how to make your indoor riding a positive experience.

1. Get a Good, Quality Bike Trainer

I’m a big fan of the CycleOps brand of trainers for several reasons, outlined below:

  • high quality
  • ease of use
  • outstanding customer service
  • a wide variety of trainers to choose from

Not sure which trainer may be best for you? Check out their website! CycleOps will even help you to pick the right trainer for you based on your specific needs and your budget. Their product line up is extensive, so you won’t have trouble finding a trainer that suits you. Check it out here.

My suggestion would be to invest in at least a progressive magnetic resistance or fluid resistance trainer for more of a quiet and smooth road-like ride. My personal favorite is the Supermagneto Pro Trainer. I have had mine forever! It’s super easy to use and is pretty much indestructible. This thing has seen a lot of sweat puddles, trips to a local indoor track, and even trips across the country so that I could ride my bike in a hotel room during long work functions. Even after all that, it’s still like new!

Pool of sweat after a short 45-minute workout

However, the Supermagneto Pro is about to take a backseat (except for those occasional trips to the track or events) to its new brother, The Hammer. Take a ride for yourself and you’ll see that this trainer will take your indoor riding to yet another level and really provide you with an ultimate indoor riding experience.

Love to ride hills all year long, but your favorite mountain passes are under few feet of snow? You now can do just that from the comfort of your own living room—or if you are lucky enough, a dedicated pain cave—while feeling that 20% incline!

2. Keep the Cycling Sessions Interesting

Chances are you probably hop on an indoor trainer, put a movie on, and pedal away for as long as you can stand it. That can definitely get old very quickly, even for extremely motivated individuals.

Indoor riding doesn’t need to be boring, though. Unless you are signed up for a very early season race, there is no need to pedal mindlessly for hours. Winter (for most of us triathletes) is the time to address our limitations and develop important non-specific fitness. So, if you are racing an Ironman next summer, there is no need to spend hours upon hours on the trainer now. Trust me, that time will come.

Instead, I like to use the first few weeks of offseason to have fun, enjoy the ride, and not stress about heart rate or power. After a few weeks of unstructured rides, I start to focus on short but quality sessions geared toward improving anaerobic capacity and VO2 max for 6-8 weeks. These sessions are short, fun, very effective, and perfect for the trainer.

There is no need to worry about cars, stop signs, potholes, or lack of daylight. I can just focus on putting my head down and getting the work done.

Getting it done in the comfort of my own living room

Here are a couple of my favorite winter workouts:

The Lung Buster

These anaerobic sessions are geared at improving your maximal power and jump-starting your fitness. By doing some short maximal efforts, you’ll give your legs and body a good dose of intensity without the sessions being overly long or aggressive.

  • Warm Up: 15 min @ 55-65% FTP (z1-z2 for those using HR) followed by 5 minutes and 30 seconds @95% FTP (z4) & 30 sec @ 65% FTP (z1) to get the legs ready for the main set with 5 to 15 min @ 70 – 75% (z2-z3)
  • Main Set: 3 to 5 sets of the following: 3 x 20 sec ALL OUT with 40 sec @ 55% (z1) for recovery while each set of 3 intervals is followed by 3 min @ 60-70% (z2)
  • Cool Down: 5 – 10 min @ 55-65% FTP (z1 -z2)
  • Total Time: 45 – 60 minutes

For the first week, you start with three sets, increasing the number of sets every week. This workout looks easy on paper, but give it a shot and let me know how it goes! Sometimes I wonder how 20 seconds can feel so long.

Feel the Burn

These VO2 Max sessions are geared toward improving your maximal aerobic power and laying a great foundation so you can later work on your sustainable power (a.k.a., race pace).

  • Warm Up: 15 min @ 55-65% FTP (z1-z2 for those using HR) followed by 5 minutes and 30 sec @95% FTP (z4) & 30 sec @ 65% FTP (z1) to get the legs ready for the main set with 5 to 15 min @ 70 – 75% (z2-z3)
  • Main Set: 5 to 20 sets of 10 x 30 sec @110-120% FTP (z5) with 30 sec @ 55% (z1) for recovery followed by 10-15 min @70-75% (z2-z3)
  • Cool Down: 5 – 10 min @ 55-65% FTP (z1 -z2)
  • Total Time: 50 – 75 minutes

Depending on your fitness level, you can start with five sets in the first week and increase the number of sets weekly, to as many as 20. Again, this workout doesn’t look too intimidating on paper, but you may be surprised. It doesn’t take long before the 30 seconds of work feels twice as long as the 30 seconds of rest.


If you are still not convinced that indoor riding can be just as fun riding outdoors, you must check out the CycleOps Virtual Training app. This app lets you get outside while staying in, allowing you to ride your bike on the same real routes you are used to during the summer months. You can even ride with your friends if you all start the ride at the same time.

There you have it! By combining a great, quality trainer and fun, focused interval workouts (and throwing in the virtual training app of your choice), you can become a stronger cyclist over the winter months.