Toby's Blog Series: Winter Training and Goal Setting

News Written by Toby Atkins

Hello Everyone!

Before we know it, a month has passed and it’s time for my second blog. I’ve been thinking about what to write about for a few days now but it dawned on me yesterday, why not discuss the challenges I face this time of year, because its more than likely you’re facing the same ones!

This time of year is challenging for a cyclist (and all endurance athletes for that matter!) The days are short and the temperatures are cold, so how do we go about mitigating these issues?

This leads me on nicely to what I do to get myself on the bike and pushing hard in training after some time off: goal setting.

What are your goals?

I would imagine most of the athletes out there have goals, but ask yourself the question:

"Have you ever sat down and put genuine time and effort into sculpted goals and implementing a plan to make them a reality?”

For the vast majority, the answer is usually no. They are in your head or written down on a note pad that hasn’t seen the light of day since January 1st!

So, this begs the question – how do we construct great goals that can be utilized in every training session? The first thing I do is get three separate documents and head them as short, medium and long term. It’s all too easy to say "I want to have a functional threshold power (FTP) of 360 watts by September", but that’s not going to help you in January when you’re struggling to get out the door because its dark and raining! You need to be able to have goals that you can see yourself working towards daily (short term goals).

I find I break short term goals down into 2 week blocks. For example, I may want to complete 2 x 600 'training stress score' (TSS) weeks on TrainingPeaks. TSS is a useful tool on TrainingPeaks (also another very useful tool for endurance athletes) that uses several physiological parameters to quantify the training stress of a particular workout or portion of a workout. This measurable goal is really effective in the short term as missing 1 session would make it much harder to complete those weeks – hence I’m motivated to get out the door!

Medium term goals can be a little broader; for example, targeting particular races or performance measures. I would define these as taking 4-8 weeks to complete. A good example of this would be a race that you have targeted as a ‘b’ or ‘c’ race for the season.

Long term goals tend to be much less measurable/quantifiable; they are centred around achieving an outcome. I would define these as ‘season’ goals or taking 6-12months to complete. A great example of this would be my goal of racing full time again in 2018. This is really broad but it’s this thought that really lights my fire and gets me through those seriously tough sessions. Personally, I split this category into season goals and ‘dreams’ as I find it really helps focusing on the long term. You may find the goal of ‘making it as a pro’ a dream goal that excites you. If so, don’t be afraid to say it – it makes things feel much more real.

What next?

So, we now have some guidelines as to the kinds of goals we want. The next question is how do we actually set goals? Over the years, I’ve tried several scaffolds for this but I’ve always come back to the tried and tested "SMART" goals method.

Think Smart

To be a useful and realizable goal, it must fit the below description:

S – specific – A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. To set a specific goal use the 5 W’s – who, what, where, when, why.
M – measurable – You must be able to measure its success, be it race result based, quantifiable measures or skill based.
A – Achievable – It must be realistic. There is no point setting the bar so high you set yourself up for failure. You want goals to be challenging but achievable so you can feel rewarded when you succeed in reaching them.
R – Relevant – Is your training actually helping your overriding goal? For example, if your long term goal is doing a 10 mile time trial in under 20 minutes, there is no point wasting valuable time and effort setting a goal about sprinting.
T -  Timely – It must have a time frame so that you are motivated to go and make it happen.

Time to train!

Finally, I thought I’d touch on one last factor in this blog: winter training. For those of us currently in the UK it’s a harsh reality that the days are short and cold, which can really put a dampener on our training. Thankfully, I’m currently writing this on a plane on my journey back to New Zealand (which is currently in summer, but I won't gloat!). Nevertheless, after experiencing countless winter's training hard, I feel I’ve got a pretty good set of ideas about conquering those wintering woes along with some good training tips for the colder months. Here are a few of them!

1) Long slow base miles are a recipe for disaster. Unless you’re a professional with 5 hours a day to train then this medieval method of training is riddled with problems. This kind of training has a massive energy system strain which is great for weight loss, but if you plan on doing anything other than riding a bike and sleeping you will be mentally drained! There is most definitely truth in the theory of base miles, however for the mere mortals with jobs, families and commitments its terrible bang for buck on training time!

2) Intensity: A common misconception is that you can’t train with any intensity early in the season as you’ll burn out way too soon. With good recovery and sometimes the help of a coach you can structure up to two hard sessions a week that include tough efforts less than 5 minutes long. This will get you to the first race of the season with the ability to be the protagonist!

3) Sweet spot/tempo intervals: Replace those long winter rides with 10 – 30 minute intervals. These are great for burning lots of energy and give the quickest adaption time to see great increases in FTP and economy in a short period of time. A session I regularly do is 3 x 20 minutes at 95% of my FTP with 5 minute recoveries between efforts. This is a far better alternative than all those long slow rides!

4) The turbo is your friend! Of my 6 rides each week, I’ve spent 4 of those on the turbo trainer this winter. It means you can get in a good quality session in the space of 1-1.5 hours! I’ve also discovered the joys of Zwift this winter, removing another down side to the typical turbo trainer blues. Dare I say it I would even consider going for a ‘social’ ride on Zwift now!

5) Core and Strength Training: Many people avoid this as they fear they will put on weight. This is another fallacy and couldn’t be further from the truth. Strength training is vital for those looking to increase their power. Increased power = increased watts! Plyometrics, Yoga and Pilates are also all brilliant for cyclists and the development of functional strength will be carried across to the bike. As an added bonus, it also reduces the risk of injury throughout the season!

6) Evaluation/goal setting: As we spoke about above, it’s the perfect time to sit down and think about how the last season went, what went well, what went wrong, identify where you want to improve and structure your season and goals around that.


That’s it from me for now. I hope everyone’s winter training is going well. The racing season is literally days away!

Keep the cranks turning!


p.s. If you have enjoyed my blog, please do share with your friends on social media, using the following tags:

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Thank you!

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