cyclist riding in snow

4 Things Cyclists Need to Do in December To Be Fit in January

January is traditionally when endurance athletes in the Northern Hemisphere dig in and recommit themselves to goal-oriented training. The months of November and December are often less structured, even for time-crunched athletes who rely more heavily on shorter, higher-intensity workouts to maintain and improve fitness. It’s a smart idea to think of the next three weeks as pre-season training for January, so do the following four things in December so you hit January 1 ready for high-quality training.

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Do Intervals at least twice per week

While you may do interval workouts 3-4 times a week during the height of your event-specific training, you only need to commit to two interval days per week in December. The purpose of these workouts is to halt any potential decline in the most important component of your fitness: your lactate threshold power/pace. The two workouts below are good choices for December:

SteadyState: These are cornerstone lactate threshold intervals. They are not complicated nor all that exciting, but they are incredibly effective. Three 10-minute intervals at your SteadyState intensity (86-90% of CTS Field Test Power, 92-94% of CTS Field Test Heart Rate, or an RPE of 7-8/10) is a standard cycling workout for moderately-fit cyclists and triathletes. More advanced riders can increase the duration of the intervals to 12-15 minutes. Recovery between intervals is half the interval time, so 5 minutes recovery between 10minute intervals, and so on.

ThresholdLadders: We love these interval sessions for athletes who have some early-season event goals because they add a maximal effort at the beginning of the interval to generate a lot of lactate. Learning to adapt to that high lactate environment gives your lactate threshold training a significant boost. These 12-minute intervals start with two minutes at maximal intensity (10/10), then transition to 4 minutes at ClimbingRepeat intensity (95-100% of CTS Field Test Power, 95-97% of CTS Field Test Heart Rate, 8-9/10 RPE), and then a final 6 minutes at SteadyState intensity (see above for SS intensities). Take 6 minutes easy spinning recovery between intervals. Moderately-fit athletes should do three 12-minute intervals. More advanced athletes should add a fourth interval.

Get CTS Field Test instructions, intensity calculations, and workout descriptions here.

One challenging endurance ride per week

Getting out on longer rides is a challenge in December because of the weather, and it is sometimes difficult because of competing priorities (holiday shopping, travel, family events, etc.). It’s likely that your overall training volume will be relatively limited during December, but commit to at least one challenging 2-4 hour ride per week. When we say challenging, it might be a ride incorporating significant climbing, or a fast group ride, or simply an endurance ride where you push the pace to Tempo-SteadyState intensity for at least one hour (not necessarily all at once, but aim to spend at least 60 minutes during the ride in these ranges).

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One 5- to 7-day endurance block

If possible, try to schedule a significant endurance training block in December. Many athletes find the week between Christmas and New Years to be a convenient time for this block, but if you’re going to be traveling during that time consider doing it the week before. Aim to ride at least two hours per day for 5-7 consecutive days, and try to make a few rides of these rides 3-4 hours. Be careful not to go too hard or too long in the first two days; you’ll be excited and tempted to do this, but remember that you want to ride strong on the final two days and that won’t be possible if you’re exhausted.

Start tracking your nutrition

You may think it’s counterintuitive to start tracking your nutrition during a period of time when you know you’re going to be indulging in holiday foods, but tracking it over the next few weeks will open your eyes to how dramatically these nutritional anomalies impact caloric intake. We don’t think you need to get too wrapped up in trying to make perfect nutritional choices over the next few weeks. Food is part of holiday celebrations and some of it isn’t very good for you. But indulging a bit during the holidays and getting back on track in early January is a more achievable and sustainable plan for amateur athletes than making yourself crazy about nutrition during the holidays. The benefit to tracking your intake during these weeks – including the holiday parties and dinners – is that it gives you a few weeks of baseline data to base your January nutritional decisions on. There are innumerable nutrition tracking apps out there. If you’re not already using one you like, we’d recommend trying MyFitnessPal. It’s free, has a huge food database, and it’s easy to use. For December, set your target weight as your current weight and just record the foods you eat. Once you get to January, set a target weight and adjust your intake accordingly.

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Comments 18

  1. 12.10.16
    At my age, (female, 64) consistency, core strength, health, recovery and nutrition are keys. I never–ever— lay off work outs —-seasonally—with either strength (weights) or cycling.

    Older athletes can lose a lot of muscle mass at the cellular level very quickly and once gone..well…it’s gone…. for good….so sorry.

    HGH is easily recruited naturally when one is younger–especially male so keep at it.

    Routine in the gym:
    3x per week: Free weights upper body and lower body: squats, ab roller, leg raises, shrugs, weighted step ups; dead-lifts, 10 reps.

    I alternate weights standing on a BOSU 1/2 ball to help balance, develop core strength; the constant “adjustments” to correct balance on the ball work out lower leg, back and core. Try working out on a 1/2 ball; it forces you to balance and make micro-corrections to not fall off.

    3 X a week, stationary trainer, HR monitor-heavy-duty, gasping, indoor work outs.

    On weekends: High cadence low mph, long distances outside Saturdays and Sundays, unless it’s raining or super cold.

    Females must be especially vigilant about weight training; it’s the only way to prevent skeletal cell loss. Weights. Get over this and suck it up. Ya wanna be a short, humped over old lady… Be on some stupid med for bone loss?

    Prevention. Weights. Yes. Heavy weights.

    Been on this routine for about 10 years and it keeps me competitive.
    boulder, co. USA

  2. For me December is time off from the bike. I would never do intervals in December. I think it’s important to a take break from the intensity of a structured program and attend to other aspects of life. Also great time for weight/core training,running etc. Hit it hard now and burnout by March. The body and the mind need a rest. I find when the new year arrives I’m excited to train again.

  3. Thanks for these amazing tips! Will put into practice and RE-start myfitnesspal!
    Have not used in awhile and will keep me in check over the holiday party season.

  4. Have used Lose It for several years and agree it is an exceptional app. Also, interval training indoors on trainer is a very specific way to control power and time parameters without sacrificing w/o load.

  5. I find that MyFitnessPal’s database is full of unrealistic crowdsourced calorie counts. I prefer LoseIt, which seems somewhat better — there are free and paid premium versions.

    1. That’s the recommendation I’ve heard before. You can’t get gains from both strength training and endurance training at the same time, so you’re better off separating them as much as possible.

    1. Trainer is a great way to do any sort of interval work in my humble opinion. I live in souther California – but do the vast majority of my hard interval work in my garage – even when we can ride nearly every day of the year and still have 10 hours of daylight in December – I have found Trainer Road or Zwift as a diversion with a good high powered fan make the pain cave more tolerable.

      1. Yes, so true. Indoors on trainer or indoor cycle with power is so precise and great for intervals. Living in CO & doing longer 10 min + intervals up hill, creates for some very drastic cold descents on the recovery back down in-between, so another reason indoor is more tolerable 🙂

      1. Agree. Best winter investment you can make is a fattie. Especially for the “endurnace” training/rides ….. not sure about trying interval training in snow?

  6. It’s a motivating article, because the program seems to be feasiable. Keeping motivation high is nearly the most difficult in december. Thanks, CTS.

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