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Group Hug

Group Hug

8) Group hug:

On winter roads, a group of riders is far more noticeable than a lone cyclist. You’ll always have someone with you should you run into trouble, and a helping hand with mechanical issues. You’re also more likely to get out of your warm bed and onto your bike if you’ve arranged to meet a bunch of mates, and riding in a group, with the inevitable banter and competitive edge, will make the miles and hours pass far quicker.

Joining a club is one way to learn the etiquette and skills of group riding, or get a group of like-minded mates together. Add some spice by playing some informal games and racing: set a ‘rabbit’ off down the road as a lone breakaway and then work together to chase them down; agree on a number of sprint markers or King of the Mountains summits and dispute your own versions of the green and polka dot jerseys.

Riding for three or four hours on a Sunday morning is a challenge, so get together with your club mates and share the load. On your own it can just seem like hard work – in a group it’s good fun. Support each other; re-group at the top of hills, stop for any punctures, make sure no one gets left behind. Stronger riders can go on ahead, and then return.

Make sure you have some energy drinks and some food in your back pocket, a couple of spare inner tubes and a multi-tool, and you’re good to go. Enjoy the banter and the miles will tick by. Try a winter event; there are plenty of sportives and reliability trials for you to test your fitness. You might even have a tea stop, just don’t linger too long.

9) Turbo-boost:

When the winter really bites, using a turbo trainer indoors is a safe and effective option for interval work. Make sure your setup is right and conducive to training. Good ventilation and a fan are advisable, along with a sweat catcher to protect your bike and a turbo-specific rear tyre. Choose sessions that suit the turbo: long, steady sessions are always going to be a struggle, even with the distraction of a good DVD, but hard and short intense interval workouts are ideal.

This Tabata workout is the ultimate hard and fast hit:

Warm up with 10 minutes of easy spinning, increasing the intensity during the second five minutes
Perform eight 20-second flat-out efforts with 10 seconds of recovery in between
Cool down with 10 minutes of easy spinning

Music can be a great motivator and MP3 players and music downloads mean putting together a training mix is easy. Use tracks you know will put a smile on your face and have a rhythm similar to the cadence you expect to be riding (80-100rpm typically). Create a great music-driven interval workout by alternating fast and slow tracks.

Dr Costas Karageorghis of London's Brunel University has studied the relationship between music and exercise: “Although music doesn’t reduce the perception of effort during high intensity work,” he says, “it does improve the experience. It makes hard training seem more like fun, by shaping how the mind interprets symptoms of fatigue.”

If you're feeling creative, why not have a club turbo night? Set your bikes up in a circle, put the stereo on loud and off you go. Just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Plenty of fluids are essential and a fan will make it more comfortable.

A basic turbo will do the job but if you just can’t bear staring at the wall, get yourself a virtual reality trainer. Linked up to your PC, you'll be able to climb the Alps or compete against your buddies, all from your front room. Be careful not to overdo it though – the time for high-end training is later. Simply build your endurance for now.

10) Take a break every fourth week:

To keep things fresh it’s important to take every fourth week a bit easier. Taking a regular easy week gives you a chance to recover, so that your body can super-compensate for all the training you’ve done. Remember it’s during periods of rest that your fitness improves, not during training itself.

During the recovery week it’s the ideal opportunity to catch up on sleep, family commitments and all that admin that you never seem to get done. You should do less than half of your normal training during this period, and make sure you have at least two days off.

11) Get muddy:

Going off-road and hitting the trails is a great way to improve your bike handling, fitness and pedalling style. Nick Craig – multiple mountain bike and cyclo-cross champion, road and off-road Olympian, and last year’s epic 3 Peaks Cyclo-Cross winner – believes that getting off the roads in the winter is the best way to stay fit.

“One of the main benefits of being off-road is if you come off, you won’t get flattened by a car,” he says, “and you’re generally moving slower so there’s less impact from a cold wind. When it snows and the ploughs have been out, the gutters aren't an option and drivers just don’t seem to understand this, so I always think it’s safer off-road in the snow and ice. It also saves your bike from the onslaught of salted roads.

“If you fancy some racing, cyclo-cross is the best way of staying sharp through the winter. Race a winter of cyclo-cross and I guarantee it’ll make you a better rider. It’s easy to get into as you can often enter on the day, ride a mountain bike and it’ll only take an hour out of your Sunday.”

From a fitness perspective, riding off-road will develop cycling-specific strength and power. The higher levels of rolling resistance you’ll come across on the trails and fatter tyres will make your road bike feel like a friction-free magic carpet ride afterwards. On loose-surfaced climbs you won’t be able to get away with muscling up, out of the saddle, and will be forced to learn to sit and spin. This will translate to a more efficient climbing style when you return to the roads.

You can also explore the limits of braking and handling without the fear of looming traffic. Bad habits such as not pushing down through the outside pedal, not lifting the inside pedal and braking too much in corners are punished on slippery off-road surfaces and will be rapidly ironed out. Best of all, winter riding means you can rediscover the childish joy of getting covered in mud!

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