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Training Tips

Holiday Season Training for Cyclists

By: Jim Rutberg  December 02, 2021

The Holiday Season can be a joyous time of year, but those family gatherings, after-work parties, and holiday trips can also be very disruptive to an athlete’s training. Here are some strategies to minimize holiday disruptions.

The Holiday Season can be a joyous time of year, but those family gatherings, after-work parties, and holiday trips can also be very disruptive to an athlete’s training. For the most part, the disruptions are minor and may provide a much-needed break. However, for athletes chasing ambitious goals or who just love to ride, here are some strategies to minimize holiday disruptions.

Focus on consistency

Training frequency is one of the most important things to hang on to during the Holiday Season. Even if you must adapt your individual rides and workouts to fit your changing travel, work, and family schedules, aim to keep the number of weekly training sessions as consistent as possible. Although recovery time between training sessions is necessary, fitness also decays when there is too much time between exercise sessions. Less training stimulus is required to maintain existing fitness compared to gaining or regaining fitness, so even less-than-perfect training sessions can be effective for maintaining fitness through the Holidays if you maintain your typical training frequency.

Protect your sleep routines

Sleep is often the first casualty of the Holiday Season. Whether it’s shortened sleep from late nights at holiday parties, disturbed sleep from a few too many cocktails with friends, or early wakeups to get to the airport on time, it can be difficult to get high-quality rest during the Holiday Season. However, preserving your sleep routine can be one of the best things you can do from a training and recovery perspective. Things to keep in mind include:

  • Wake up at the same time every day: Maintaining a consistent wakeup routine is more important than having a consistent bedtime.
  • Bank sleep when you can: Instead of trying to make up for lost sleep, it is more effective to pre-emptively bank sleep if you know you have a late night coming up. You can do this by adding 1-2 hours of sleep in the 2-3 days beforehand or adding daytime naps.
  • Minimize alcohol consumption: Though you might feel sleepy after a few cocktails, alcohol leads to restless and less restorative sleep.

Short rides are better than not riding at all

Some cyclists think that a ride is not worthwhile unless it is longer than 60 minutes, or 90, or some other arbitrary duration. Going back to the idea of maintaining the frequency of applying training stress, shortened rides are better than no ride at all. If you only have 30 minutes, get on your bike and spin. Throw in a few high-torque standing starts or sprints to get a little intensity, or use the time for some low-resistance, high-cadence pedaling drills. Most of all, these short rides keep your body moving so you don’t feel stiff and stale the next time you get the opportunity for a longer training session.

Hiking and strength training travel well

Although bike transport services like THRU, the Official Bike Transport Sponsor of USA Cycling, make traveling with a bicycle easier than ever, you may not always be able to take your bike with you on holiday trips. When that’s the case, look for alternative activities that are complementary to cycling. Hiking boots or running shoes are easy to pack, and so are strength training devices like suspension systems (i.e. TRX) and resistance bands. Don’t try to match the energy expenditure or training stress of the cycling workouts you would have otherwise done at home. The point is to stay active and compliment your cycling-specific workouts with some generalized exercise.

Plan training and recovery around trips

Traveling can be stressful on its own, but hopefully your holiday travel plans include some well-deserved time for rest and relaxation. You can plan ahead and schedule substantial training blocks to end a day or two before a holiday trip so you can use the down time for recovery and adaptation. This can also mitigate the pressure you might feel to take your bike with you, or the need to negotiate for exercise time during a family trip. Train hard, then put your feet up, eat good food, and enjoy time with friends and family!

Do not exercise specifically to burn off holiday calories

One of the most toxic fitness messages around the Holiday Season is the idea that consumption of seasonal treats must be balanced by specific amounts of exercise to burn off the extra calories. Although you don’t want to be completely oblivious to the amount of junk food you’re consuming, don’t avoid your favorite foods or schedule exercise sessions with the specific objective of burning calories. The primary purpose of training is to improve fitness, not burn calories, and viewing exercise as a punishment for perceived indulgences can contribute to the development of a disordered relationship with food.

Don’t try to “make up” missed workouts

One mistake athletes sometimes make – at any time of year – is trying to “make up” for missed workouts by doubling up on training the following day, adding interval sets, or increasing intensity. This is often counterproductive because the now-more-difficult workout would require additional recovery time, which then alters your training schedule even more as you move forward. If you occasionally miss a day, chalk it up as added rest and proceed with your planned training as scheduled. If you’re going to miss multiple days, consider adjusting your schedule to include a training block beforehand (see above) or consulting with a USA Cycling Coach to help you create a plan. Now is also a great time to get started with a coach so you can get the initial consultations and testing out of the way before the start of the new year.

Training through the Holiday Season can be a challenge for some cyclists, and for others the added time away from work provides opportunities for more riding! Whichever is the case for you, ride often and occasionally hard, stay safe, eat well, and always have fun.