When it’s cold outside there’s always a question about whether to go out or stay in. Here are some tips to help you with your “in-or-out” decision, and a great and quick workout you can do outdoors on a cold day.
Cold Day Outdoor Workout
When it’s cold out and I still want to do an interval workout outside, I stay close to home and focus on short, hard uphill intervals. Why? Hill Sprints are slower than PowerIntervals or sprints on flat ground, so you don’t get as chilled from the speed. They’re max-intensity efforts, so they generate plenty of lactate – the stimulus I’m after – and plenty of heat. And since the hill is short, the descent is quick so you don’t freeze (like you sometimes do descending from long ClimbingRepeat intervals on a cold day).
The workout I like to do is 10x90seconds HillSprints. Find a steep hill (6% grade or more, preferably) you can climb in about 90 seconds. Start accelerating about 100 meters before the pitch steepens and use your shifting to stay on top of the gear (don’t bog down). You can stand or sit; I like to start out standing and then sit about halfway through. The recovery should be at least 90 seconds, but can be longer it takes longer to circle back to the base of the hill. For me, it takes about 3 minutes to get to the base of the hill, so I’m doing 10x90seconds with 3min recovery between intervals.
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Inside or outside?
There are a few questions you need to ask yourself when you’re deciding whether to venture out for a ride on a cold day:
How cold is it outside?
Temperature isn’t everything, but it’s a good place to start. There are some people who ride no matter what the temperature is, but I’m not one of them. My minimum is about 30 degrees; below that I feel like I’m going through the motions but that I could get more high-quality work done indoors. Your minimum temp might be higher or lower than mine, but I’d encourage you to consider your effectiveness on the bike (as well as your safety) when establishing your minimum.
How are the conditions, aside from the temperature?
In Colorado, when it’s sunny and calm, you can ride comfortably at 30 degrees. However, 30 degrees, cloud cover, and a 20mph wind gets cold and miserable quickly. In areas where the humidity is higher (ours percentage is in the teens), like the East Coast, a 30-degree day feels colder – even if it’s sunny – than 30 degrees in a drier climate.
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Will it get warmer or colder while you’re out there?
A cold start can turn into a nice ride if the air temperature increases as your working out. This is especially true if you’re going out for an interval workout, because you’ll work up a sweat during the intervals and be riding home at a lighter intensity level. Cruising home while the temperatures are plummeting (late afternoon, incoming cold front, etc.) isn’t the end of the world, but it’s not great either. If temps are going to fall, be sure you’re carrying additional layers (preferably wind resistant) to put on. Remember, too, that you get hot in a tailwind and cold in a headwind. Plan your route with this in mind. Going home in a tailwind as the air temperature is falling would be more comfortable than going home into a cold headwind as the sun is going down.
Do you have the right gear for the conditions?
If you don’t have the gear for cold rides, do yourself a favor and ride inside. You’ll be more effective on the bike, more comfortable, and you won’t get yourself in trouble with either hypothermia or frostbite. If you’re going to ride outdoors, invest in high-quality gear. It’s expensive, but you only wear it for a portion of the year so it lasts for several seasons at least and it makes winter training much easier.
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What’s your goal for the day?
If your goal is to go out for a moderate-intensity endurance ride, then going out on a cold day can be great. You might not have as much “spring in your step” as you might on a warmer day, but you’ll stay warm and you don’t have to worry about the power or pace very much. If you have a very specific interval workout planned, I often recommend doing it indoors when it’s bitterly cold outside. The results are typically better. Now, if you’re racing cyclocross or preparing for an even that’s going to be cold, then you have to get out there and do race-pace efforts in the cold. But if you’re going to be racing in the summer, you’re better off completing higher-quality intervals indoors compared to mediocre ones outside on a 25-degree afternoon.
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