How to Boost Cycling Fitness this Offseason: The Working Triathlete Winter Cycling Program

The days are getting shorter, the air is getting cooler and you’re wondering what to do this Fall/Winter that will allow you to crush your cycling goals next season. 

Many athletes view Fall/Winter as a time to lay off the training throttle entirely, or to focus on building the token “aerobic base” for next season by putting in hours of relatively unstructured, easy training.  Although extremely high volume, low intensity plans can effectively boost fitness for some, the time requirements to truly see impressive gains are substantial.  The vast majority of athletes (triathletes especially) would be better served executing a structured cycling plan focused on building strength, power and high-end cardiovascular fitness.   

The Working Triathlete Approach

It doesn’t matter how many hours you spend in the saddle.  It’s what you do while in the saddle that matters.   The Working Triathlete approach to cycling training is grounded in the concept that developing a superior aerobic capacity, a higher lactate threshold and more powerful pedal stroke will ultimately make you a better cyclist.  If you do specific workouts that improve these high-end metrics over the winter, your output within lower intensity zones and race-pace targets (for everything from sprint to iron distance races) will improve along with them.  Race-specific work is important as key races approach, but doing that which maximizes threshold and VO2 in the Fall/Winter—while still emphasizing recovery—will lay the foundation upon which monster bike splits are built. 

The Plan

Most Working Triathlete plans revolve around short, high-intensity sessions with adequate recovery between each session as well as transition microcycles every few weeks where the training load decreases.  Although every athlete is unique, a typical plan would include two to three build weeks followed by a down week composed of shorter, generally less intense intervals.  Each week would include three to four cycling workouts (Average of 45-60 min each).  Below is an example of the general structure of a ~12 week plan.

Build One (2-3 weeks):

-Short intervals (10 min or less) in Z3/4 

-Very short intervals (2 min or less) in Z5 for the neuromuscular benefit

-Culminates in an FTP or THR test

Transition 1 (7 days)

- TSS decrease of 10-20%. Emphasis on Z2 and Z3 work with short builds to Z4/5

Build Two (2-3 weeks):

-Longer Z3/Z4 intervals of 10-20 min.  Emphasis is on sweet spot training (Upper Z3).

-One short VO2 (Z5) session per week with intervals of 3-4 min in duration

Transition 2 (7 days)

-TSS decrease of 10-20%. Emphasis on Z2 and Z3 work with very short builds to Z4/5

Build Three (2-3 weeks)

-Longer Z3 intervals of 15-30 min and Z4 intervals of 10-20.  Continued emphasis on sweets spot training (Upper Z3).

-One VO2 (Z5) session per week with intervals of 3-5 min in duration


You can continue the above structure for additional weeks as long as you unload fatigue and avoid burnout/overtraining.

Remember that fitness is built over time and through consistent stress and adequate recovery.  Not only do workouts build upon one another, but so too do training macrocycles.  This means that if you can raise your high-end fitness levels — i.e. your aerobic capacity (VO2 Max), threshold and muscular power—this winter, you will retain these adaptations and enter each new build with a potentially higher fitness ceiling. 

For a targeted plan tailored to your lifestyle and fitness level, reach out to Working Triathlete for a free consultation. 

Conrad Goeringer is an Ironman Certified Coach based out of Nashville, TN. He is the founder of Working Triathlete and author of the book The Working Triathlete. His passion is helping athletes of all levels and with all schedules achieve their endurance goals. Reach out to learn more about coaching packages and for a free consultation.