Cyclist climbing Cime de la Bonette climb in rain on Marmot Tours fupp support cycling holiday

Winter training for cycling – without cycling!

How has your winter training been going? I imagine it’s been the same for you as it has for me: a hard slog, battling with the elements, lacking motivation, and sometimes just the seasonal sadness that comes with winter in the northern hemisphere.

I haven’t been out on my bike for four months. “Four months?!”, you say, and yet I’m not sad, depressed, unfit, or worried. How so?

Emma Tiptaft Marmot Tours cycling guide

I’m Em, the boogieing Marmot Tours guide who loves dancing upon mountain tops – you will have met me if I’ve supported you on one of Marmot’s epic road cycling holidays.  I’m an ex-runner, a road cyclist of 16 years, and still a hard-core Marmot client.  I began my romance with Marmot Tours back in May 2013 when I went on my first European road cycling holiday, Raid Corsica.  Quite ambitious for a first trip. “How hard could it be?”, I thought, having never ridden outside of the UK. It was tough but I adored it, and after seven more years of Marmot Tours holidays, I loved the company so much I decided l wanted to work for them!

In 2019, I joined the Marmot guiding team! When I’m not guiding a trip, I still try to squeeze in a Marmot tour, having racked up 11 trips so far. I think I’ve got the best of both worlds and even if I do say so myself, I’m somewhat of an expert in ‘The Marmot Way’, experiencing it from both angles.

Emma Tiptaft Marmot Tours cycling guide with bikes on bridge over stream

Winter training for cyclists

As you can probably tell, I LOVE cycling, but also all-round fitness.  I’ve been a gym bunny for years and have completed four London marathons,  so I’m used to winter training. Training for the London marathon during the winter was a necessity with it taking place in April, and I vividly remember the feelings of dread as I prepared to pound the streets in the dark on cold, wet, windy days. Just grim.

I’ve always been a loon when it comes to training.  I’ve never been one for statistics, data, or gadgets but I do have an obsessive personality!  I would often overtrain in the gym and go out on my bike in all weathers regardless, just to get the miles in.  But as I’ve got older, more educated, and less insane, I’ve learned that less is more.  Winter riding out on the road doesn’t have the same appeal anymore, not just because of the weather but the safety aspect as well.  Ice, slippery leaves, wet roads, potholes – all potential hazards that just add to the winter gloom.  Also, as a woman hurtling toward her 50s, it’s now less about the miles and more about the muscles.  Cycling is still my passion, but I now do it for the right reason for ME: enjoyment!

Emma Tiptaft Marmot Tours cycling guide cheering at Port de Bales cycling climb Pyrenees

Cycling training plans: good or bad?

In the past I was a sucker for training plans that I saw in the media – for cyclists and otherwise; the ‘How to…’ and the ‘You can get a body like this’ articles, spending copious amounts of money on books and magazines, long before the internet and social media, which is now awash with information, videos, reels, and Tik Toks etc.  There is so much information out there it can be confusing and contradicting.  We’re all different and from my experience, one size really doesn’t fit all.  We’re different mentally, and physically, and we have unique motivations for training.

Quite often, trying to stick to a standard training plan can become laborious and ultimately demotivating.  They do work for some people and if that’s your thing, fill your cycling shoes, but I’m in the camp that says DWYF and KIR.   You can probably tell that l just made that up! It stands for DO WHAT YOU FEEL and KEEP IT REAL!

I’ll explain. Diversity and change make life more interesting, and enjoyable, and by mixing things up, you’re more likely to stay committed and not get bored. Despite the title of this blog, my alternative to off-the-bike training for cyclists isn’t just for the winter months.  What with climate change and the weather being somewhat erratic, we just can’t expect the seasons to be what they were. The training I suggest can be used all year round when the weather isn’t playing ball, you don’t want to go outside, or you just want to spice it up! That good old saying by William Cowper, ‘Variety is the spice of life’, springs to mind.

Medicine ball kettlebell boxing gloves push up pads step and Marmot Tours training towel

Training for a cycling challenge in the gym

As I said above, I’m a gym bunny and now indulge in that pleasure in the privacy of my own home, although it’s taken me many years to build up all my gear. I now have a very equipped gym at home where I’m surrounded by dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, sandbags, pull-up bars, medicine balls, stability balls, a FITT cube, stepper,  bench, Bar Jak grips, power bars, slant squat wedge boards, rotating push up handles, an Urban Fit balance board, a punch bag, oh, and a Power Plate!

Being a cyclist, I do of course also have a turbo.  It’s a Tacx flow and it’s 16 years old!  It’s VERY basic and all it tells me is the mileage, time and I can alter the resistance levels. Old school, innit.   But that’s all I need! I don’t have Zwift or Peloton, I don’t do Strava.  I’m not competitive and I don’t need an all-singing and dancing gadget-fest piece of technology to get me going. If that’s your thing, then go for it. Find what’s right for you; whatever it is that makes you want to stick with it. 

“Come on then, Miss Alternative, what’s the crack? How do you stay fit when not out riding your bike?”

Well, I’m not going to give you a list of things I think you SHOULD do because as I explained above, we’re all different and you’ve got to find what works for you, but I WILL tell you what l do, what gets me going and what I enjoy. From that, you can take ideas, inspiration, and motivation as you so wish.  You may find that doing something different will actually complement your bike work or indeed improve it.  

How long do you spend training for cycling?

The answer to this is, it depends.  I aim to train every day.  I don’t always (for various reasons), but it’s always my intention.  If you can’t or don’t train then it doesn’t matter, there is always tomorrow so don’t fret.  If I’m tired or time-restricted, I’ll do, say, 20 mins but if I’m fresh and keen, then it can be up to two hours.  

What time of day is best for training?

For me, always in the morning. That’s my window of opportunity.  That’s when I’m most motivated. Anytime between 8 am and midday.  That’s my prime exercise time. You’ll know when’s right for you, but I do find that mornings get it out of the way and set me up for the day ahead. Obviously, this needs to fit in with your lifestyle, and mornings fit in with mine.

Bike on turbo with Marmot Tours training towel

What’s the best routine?

Again, you’ll find what’s best for you but my structure tends to be as follows: 

  1. I warm up on the turbo. Again, depending on how I feel and my time constraints, I’ll do between ten and 30 minutes.  I start with light pedalling just to get the legs going then work my way up the gears on the hardest resistance out of the seat, and then work my way back down again.  That’s it. Simple. 
  2. I practice weight training, strength training, calisthenics, balancing, and Pilates.
  3. I finish with stretching – the most important bit! 

What are the best cycling training apps or platforms?

Wait for it … I still use DVDs. “WHAT?!” I hear you shout. I know, I like them, what can I say?!  I have a handful of favourites which l rotate weekly. Weight training, strength, or balancing workouts of varying degrees. From tempo to build to bulk to isometric and eccentric exercises. A real mixed bag.

On other days I will go off-piste.  I whack on my happy tunes and just do what I feel!  Music is a great motivator for me.  For example, I’ll pick a piece of equipment or a weight and for the duration of that song, I’ll exercise with it, chucking it about or whatever, to the beat of the music.  When the next song comes on, I choose a different bit of equipment and exercise a different body part.  I mix it up.  I don’t count reps or sets, I let the music dictate that.  You could make a playlist with great beats and rhythm and before you know it, you’ll have worked out for an hour without even realising. Boom!

In summary, it’s not all about cycling!

So that’s it. If you’re not feeling like cycling outside in the winter for whatever reason, and you need to keep up your fitness or train for an upcoming cycling challenge (maybe even a Marmot Tours road cycling holiday!), think out of the box, to coin a much-overused phrase. Don’t just think you need to be cycling. Mix it up and do what you enjoy. 

Remember this people, at the end of the day, it’s got to be about you and whatever makes you tick, not just what an influencer or pro tells you.  You’re only here once so just enjoy it!  Don’t be constrained to the ‘Must do’s’ of training. You’ll have less chance of sticking with it, at the end of the day, and then you’ll just beat yourself up, lose your motivation, and quit, which leaves you back at square one.

As long as you’re moving and grooving, you’re improving!

I hope I’ve inspired you and that I see you on one of Marmot’s epic cycling holidays in the mountains of Europe this year. This season I’m going to be supporting riders on some fantastic cycling tours in the Alps, on the epic Raid Pyrenean and Raid Alpine, supporting cyclists climbing Mont Ventoux and exploring her foothills in Provence, and experiencing the fantastic cycling in Corsica for the first time. I can’t wait!

Emma Tiptaft Marmot Tours cycling guide with sunglasses

Emma Tiptaft.

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Who wants to escape the winter and go road cycling in the Canary Islands next year? (Answer: we do!) In February 2025, we’ll be heading back to TENERIFE, a firm favourite and one of our itineraries that always sells out very quickly. Check out the itinerary and get in touch pronto if you’d like to reserve your place on this fabulous fully supported tour! In addition, we’re beyond excited to be heading back to GRAN CANARIA … … Continued

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