Utilizing winter sports for BWR training

I’m going to paint a picture and it may resemble your situation. Minnesota in February. You’re working during the day, watching the weather, and it does not look good for your weekend ride like it did in July. Looks like another evening on the trainer. You’ve found Zwift, you’ve tried TrainerRoad, your coach writes some amazing specific workouts for you to do on the trainer, but how many more hours on the trainer can you take? You’re not overtrained but your brain is starting to bake with cabin fever.
There’s a better way to get fatigue, a better way to train. Differentiate. Yes I know, this is the antonym to specificity, a major training principle we try to stick by, but we aren’t aiming to change your sport, you’re still a cyclist, but we need to change the game to gain fatigue and keep you mentally fresh.

Case Study: Matt Bosman's Winter Training Regimen

Let’s use a case study. Matt Bosman of Minnetonka, Minnesota. Cat 1 cyclist with mostly criterium and road racing goals. With Matt we want to gain fatigue but we only have a certain amount of trainer mojo to go though the whole winter season and we can only get a certain amount of CTL from trainer rides.
When I say mojo, this is different for everyone. Some people have the mental fortitude and motivation to be at 90 average TSS per day (CTL) in February and they are rolling strong. One thing I have learned as a coach is this ability to do big hours on the indoor trainer doesn’t make an athlete better or worse, rather everyone has different motivation and therefore a different amount of total trainer time possible for the year.
Back to our example, Matt is very motivated and a very good athlete in terms of workout completion but comparing this year to last year we have a bit less pure road bike trainer time but a higher fitness level and a high CTL. How is that possible and are those stress points from fat biking and skate skiing really applicable?
Short answer, yes, we can use fat bike racing and skate skiing as really great tools for Matt to gain fatigue without pushing him to the edge of cabin fever in winter. Here’s a side-by-side of a criterium file and a fat bike race file. Pretty similar on his heart demands and intensity. Tactically different entirely but the overload stimulus is very similar.

Fat bike race - .97IF 79TSS

Intelligentsia cup race 1.06IF 87TSS

You can tell there is a bit more going on as far as tactics and recovery time in the road race. The higher intensity and TSS is likely from having a power meter and more accurate metrics but what we are seeing is that racing a fat bike is not dissimilar to an early season criterium for a SoCal Cyclist and is a great training tool to keep motivated and replace a trainer ride.
Heart rate-wise, here’s a ski race versus a criterium. All other variables aside, we are at the very least creating an overload stimulus that would be another really hard trainer day but instead we have a fun outdoor activity that is extremely close to cycling’s physiological demands.

Skate Ski workout with some short hill work:

Medium hard interval workout on the CompuTrainer:

The intensity factors and therefore fatigue are pretty close here so we know we can use the ski’s to gain fatigue without pushing the athletes mental indoor trainer state. The O2 demands are high on the skis as there’s more working muscles demanding oxygen so we see a bit higher heart rate for what could still be considered endurance pace in a completely different sport. High oxygen demands are a good thing as we look for overload stimulus to demand more and stronger mitochondria to process that oxygen and make fuel for our muscles. Very simplified there but the short and sweet is that this athlete is more fresh than last year and mentally ready to keep pushing after not being flat from over working the trainer.

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Zack Allison earned his bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science at Colorado State University. As part of his education, he participated in many hands on exercise science practicum and internships, coaching many types of athletes, specifically cyclists.
Zack’s affinity for cycling started at the early age of 14 racing on the east coast. He quickly moved up the amateur ranks to race on the elite national circuit. This level of competition sparked his interest in exercise science, taking him to Colorado State University. While racing for his alma-mater and on various amateur teams he saw many podiums at the Collegiate Championships and Pro/Am events. Zack is currently living in Fort Collins, Colorado and has raced for Elevate Pro Cycling and currently races for Clif Bar.
Growing up with great mentors and coaches, Zack has a goal of paying it forward. He hopes to use his education and racing experience to bring success to Source Endurance and his clients. Zack also owns and operated the Source Endurance Training Center of the Rockies, a training and bike fit studio in Fort Collins, CO.