One of the most frequent questions asked of cycling coaches regards the “best” way to train during the fall/winter or typical off-season months. Old school thinking goes that you need to pound away the miles at a slow endurance pace in order to build your “aerobic” engine before the competitive season. New-school thinking points toward the benefit of high intensity training as well as explosive “anaerobic” efforts typical to cyclecross racing. Old-schoolers will tell you that you shouldn’t “ride too hard” during the off-season or you’ll compromise your “aerobic” fitness development. New-schoolers will tell you that spending a bunch of time riding slow might not be the best way to get faster on the bike. So who is right?

What Is Your Reality?

My problem with the “best way to train” question is that it’s the wrong question to start with, when it comes to training in general. The better question to ask is “what is my reality”. Let me explain…

Focusing on your own training reality guides you to perhaps the most valuable pieces of information when it comes to constructing a training plan. Here is an example…

The Important Questions

  1. How much time do you realistically have to train during the week?
  2. With fewer daylight hours, how much physical and mental energy do you have to complete workouts either before or after work in less than ideal training circumstances?
  3. What is your tolerance for extended training indoors?
  4. What family commitments do you have that might impact your ability to train?
  5. Does your spouse/family support you coming home from work and immediately hopping on the bike to train, or do you need to make some compromises that might reduce your weekly training volume?


All of these questions will get you closer to your training reality. When you lay out the details of your daily and weekly schedule, you should be forced to focus on what is real rather than what might be ideal. The sooner you are realistic, the sooner you will be able to get the most out of your available training time.

You’ve figured out what real is for you, now you’re ready to construct the best off-season training plan. It’s the “best” because it is centered on your weekly time constraints, not what might be ideal for a European pro or a local hot-shot.

Basic Guidelines

You’ve nailed down your reality. You’ve sketched out the slots of time that are realistic for you to train , now back to that “best” off-season training approach…Here are a few basic guidelines.

  1. If you’re only training 5-8 hours a week, riding slow endurance miles doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you have the opportunity to get a longer ride on the weekend great. If all you’ve got is small pockets of time during the week you might as well hit it hard and maximize your training time with some higher intensity training.
  2. If you’ve got 8-15 hours a week to train you’ve got some more flexibility. Mix things up with some longer endurance rides as well as some higher intensity work during the week
  3. If you’ve got 15-20+ hours a week to train then you’ve got more options. The world is your oyster. Experiment with some new concepts, find a cross-training activity you enjoy, throw in some intensity to keep things interesting. Focus on staying mentally fresh and motivated.

It Depends

As with most training-related questions, the answer to “the-best” usually starts with “it depends”. The sooner you can nail down your reality, the sooner you can maximize your available training time and be confident you’re following “the best” off season training plan. A plan that is specific to you and your goals as an athlete.

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Nate Dunn, M.S.
Data Driven Athlete