How windy days can boost your training
Spring winds are your friend, not your enemy. Try these 5 wind-assisted training sessions to become a faster and stronger cyclist
When the wind whips up and you can see the trees swaying outside, it is tempting to stay indoors and do a ride on the turbo trainer instead. But windy days can be an excellent training tool, helping you to develop raw power, leg strength, lightning speed, a more aerodynamic technique and solid bike control. If you know how to work with – not against – the wind, those howling gusts will become your training partner, not your nemesis.
Wind – and the extra air resistance it causes – can have a huge influence on your cycling performance. Even in normal conditions, aerodynamic drag is responsible for around 90% of the resistance you experience when riding a bike. But strong winds tilt that equation even further against you.
So in a race situation fierce winds are going to make things extra hard for you. But if you are on a training ride the extra resistance caused by those winds can actually be converted into an incredibly positive and powerful training tool.
Here are five wind-assisted workouts to blast your fitness to new levels this autumn.
1. Headwind power sessions
A strong headwind can slow your riding speed by around half the wind speed. So if you usually ride at 30kph on the flat in still conditions, a 32kph headwind will leave you crawling at around 14kph. As you ride into the headwind, you will probably feel as though you are climbing a steep hill. And that is exactly why that dreaded headwind can be such a powerful training tool.
Rather than get angry and frustrated, use the wind to boost your power and leg strength. The extra resistance caused by the wind helpfully simulates the power and strength needed to climb a hill. That is why pro riders from the Netherlands refer to strong winds as “Dutch hills.” Used correctly, these winds can simulate the challenge of climbing a mountain, helping riders who live in flat landscapes to prepare for the mountains.
So when you are next riding into a headwind, drop down a few gears and do 6-8 reps of 30-60 second power efforts into the headwind. Aim for as high a cadence as you can manage – ideally 60-80rpm – but allow a good recovery time of 3-5 minutes in between each effort.
Riding into headwinds like this will boost your leg strength, your power output and your cardiovascular endurance, so you will feel strong enough to take on a steep climb, or to unleash a long solo effort to catch up the pack in front during races and sportives.
2. Tailwind speed efforts
If riding into a headwind feels like hell, racing with a tailwind blasting you forwards feels like a gift from the heavens. Riding with the wind behind you gives you the rare chance to experience the speeds enjoyed by pro cyclists. But as well as being a fast and fun experience, riding with a tailwind can also improve your cycling technique and leg speed.
Riding with a tailwind injects free speed into your ride, so make the most of that extra speed by turning it into a unique training stimulus. Riding into a tailwind is a great chance to do speed sessions which will improve your leg speed and high-end fitness.
So next time you are riding with the wind behind you, crank up your leg speed from the standard 90rpm to 110-130rpm. This will boost your cadence and fire up your fast-twitch muscle fibres to help sharpen your speed. Aim for 10 efforts and allow 2-3 minutes of rest in between each blast. You will notice your improved leg speed next time you have to accelerate during a ride.
3. Windy group rides
Every road cyclist knows that winds increase air resistance, but it is only when you go out for a ride on a windy day that you realise quite how big an impact those winds can have. And that invaluable lesson will teach you the importance of following a wheel, finding shelter and riding efficiently in a group.
A study in the Journal of Wind Engineering and Industrial Aerodynamics found that the aerodynamic drag at the mid to rear of a peloton is slashed to just 5–10% of that faced by a solo rider. So group dynamics really do matter.
Windy days are therefore the perfect chance to refine your group riding skills. Get out for a ride with friends and practise riding behind the wheel in front, then notice the difference when it’s your turn to take the lead. Riding in a group on a windy day will encourage you to follow a wheel safely and securely, seek shelter and preserve energy – all key lessons which will stay with you all the way into the racing season.
4. Windy intervals
Wind is an unpredictable force. It blows straight at you then wheels around and hits you from the side. You can either get annoyed at the fickle nature of the wind, or use those unpredictable gusts to your advantage by shaping them into a wind-assisted interval workout.
So if it is a blustery day, do an interval workout with the help of the wind. Think of the wind as a particularly vicious spinning class instructor, giving you random orders which ensure you keep pushing yourself harder.
Whenever a headwind blows, do some high-power efforts in a big gear to build strength and power. When the gusts die down, drop down a gear and increase your cadence to 120rpm to work on your leg speed and cardio fitness.
These wind-assisted interval sessions are an intelligent way to simulate the chaos and unpredictability of a race, but they also serve up a fun autumn workout. Riding on blustery days is also a great way to practise gear selection, so you instinctively adjust your gearing to the changing winds in the same way you adjust your gearing to the changing gradient.
5. Solo spins
Riding alone into the wind can seem like a crazy thing to do, and it certainly would not be recommended during a race. But doing a solo training ride on a windy day is an excellent chance to improve your aerodynamic position on the bike.
Reading about the importance of keeping your back flat or your elbows narrow is one thing, but only when riding alone on a windy day do you realise just how important those small details are. A cyclist’s body accounts for 75-80% of the drag on a road bike, so keeping your back flat and your elbows narrow – and avoiding the temptation to sit up – is really important.
If you train regularly with solo rides on windy days, it is like having your own personal wind tunnel session, teaching you all about the marginal aerodynamic gains that will ensure you perform at your best during the race season.