How to Avoid a Winter Workout Slump

Feeling bored, down, unmotivated or uninspired? Let these tips add a little life to your rides. 


BY MOLLY HURFORD |

It gets dark early and stays dark late. The temperatures are in the single digits. Cosying up in front of the fire and watching Netflix on the couch sounds a lot more tempting than hauling yourself down to the garage to do an interval session. The winter workout blues are a very real thing, but you don’t have to succumb.

Here, three coaches (and serious cyclists) share their best tips to keep your mental motivation up in the dark winter months so you can avoid a slump—and share a few specific ways to shift your training to suit your mood.

Take a Real Break (If You Haven’t Already)

It used to be obvious when it was time for a cycling off-season: racing was over for the year, and it was too cold to ride, so you took a few weeks off the bike entirely. When you returned, you were caught up on “life stuff” (like finally organising the garage) and you were feeling excited about getting back in the saddle. But now there are events (mostly gravel) peppered throughout winter. The line between in-season and off-season has become blurry. Indoor trainers are also getting smarter and easier to use.

“Take a week off the bike and see how you feel after that”

But you need a break! If you’re low on motivation, one of the best questions to ask yourself is simple: When was the last time you took a few days off the bike? Ryan Kohler of Fast Talk Labs says that he sees this often in his coaching practice: Riders simply don’t stop until they’re mentally or physically burned out. If you fall into this category, don’t panic about dwindling motivation, just take a week off the bike and see how you feel after that!

READ MORE: 4 Strategies to Beat Indoor Trainer Boredom

Make sure nothing more serious is happening

A little slump is normal; but if you’re feeling a lack of motivation, a lingering sense of fatigue, or if you have a cold that just won’t go away, it might be time to check in with a doctor and get some bloodwork done.

Charlotte Backus, cycling coach and Wattbike ambassador, says that sometimes these symptoms can be indicative of a more serious issue, whether it’s a vitamin or mineral deficiency or a cold that has actually developed into pneumonia. (Backus herself has suffered from this, and admits that if she’d gone to the doc earlier, she would have saved herself weeks of recovery time.)

Put your ‘why’ somewhere visible

We know that having a ‘why’ – whether it’s a fitness-based goal (like improving your power-to-weight ratio) or a race-based goal (like doing the 100-mile Around the Pot gravel race in July) – can be helpful in getting motivated to train on a daily basis. 

Backus recommends figuring out a way to make that ‘why’ visual and visible. You could put a countdown to race day on your phone – there are various free apps that do this. Or you could put a certain power number on an index card and tape it next to the screen in front of your indoor trainer. You could even write your goal on your bathroom mirror with a whiteboard marker.

Find a way to remind yourself daily of the reason you ride, and getting on the bike will become a lot easier.

Gather friends, for accountability

During the winter months, former pro Christian Vande Velde can be found in his basement chatting on the phone – and riding up steep climbs. Vande Velde may not be in the World Tour any longer, but his indoor cycling community still looks like an early-2000s Tour de France breakaway.

Vande Velde now works with the Breakaway App, which provides AI-based coaching for cyclists; and he regularly hops onto a virtual ride with a few fellow former racers, including George Hincapie, and the group of TDF retirees chase each other ruthlessly all over Zwift Island. He says that having friends expecting you to join in for the ride makes it more fun, and much harder to skip.

Have a permanent set-up

Motivation comes in part from being prepared: if you know it’s going to take you 15 minutes to get your trainer set up so you can start your ride, you’re more likely to skip the ride, in favour of… literally anything else. 

That’s why Backus is a big fan of having a permanent trainer set-up somewhere in the house. It speeds up the process of getting started, which leaves you less room to lose what little motivation you can muster.

READ MORE: 8 Mistakes You’re Making With Your Indoor Cycling Setup

She also recommends having clean cycling kit at the ready, along with the other essentials, such as towels, water bottles and shoes. Streamline the process of getting on the bike, and you’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to convince yourself to do a spin.

Know your bare minimum

Often, we become demotivated because the amount of work we need to do seems daunting or overwhelming. This is especially true when you’re supposed to be riding the trainer in the garage, but work or family life is demanding too much time. 

In these cases, don’t ditch your workout entirely: rather, know what your ‘bare minimum’ or ‘maintenance mode’ version of training can look like. Kohler points out that it only takes a few hours of riding per week – broken into sessions as short as 45 minutes – to maintain your cycling fitness. 

So if you’re struggling to motivate yourself to improve on the bike this winter, just downshift to maintenance mode for a couple of weeks, and see how that feels. 

Just start moving

Still not feeling motivated? You might need to just get on your bike and start pedalling. 

“Get dressed, get on the bike and go through the motions,” says Vande Velde. “That first 15 minutes of riding is always the hardest. But before you know it you get the blood flowing, the adrenaline takes over, and you’re fine. 

“You have no idea what your limits truly are. Action breeds motivation: You might feel demotivated; but once you get on and you get moving, suddenly, you’re going to find that you’re a little more motivated than you thought you were.”

 

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