Getting stronger riding into a headwind

Good morning all :slight_smile:

Hopefully you guys can give me some advice on improving my riding into a headwind.

I’ve found it a glaring weakness in my riding skills and one that I’d like to improve. Myself and my main riding buddy are pretty similar levels of riders. We climb at similar speeds and on neutral flat at similar speeds. However, once the headwind blows I’m spat out of the big style. It’s very noticeable and has been for a year or two. My heart rate flies through the roof too.

What types of workouts should I be concentrating on to get stronger into those long headwind stints? Anything guidance would be greatly appreciated. I’d like to be better at taking long turns on the front into the headwind and not counting down the seconds until I can slot back into a pack.

Thanks all.

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My guess is:

  1. Muscular endurance workouts (sweetspot and threshold)
  2. Train in your big ring
  3. A bit lower cadence then normal. 5 to 10 rpm less.

This will simulate riding against a headwind. And will improve your muscular endurance which seems lacking compared to your riding buddy.

ps. Is there a weight and power difference between you and your buddy? Because your watt/kg could be somewhat equal. But if he weighs 90 kg and you 60. He will always be faster when it comes to raw power. Especially on the flats against a headwind.

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Flatland (and headwind) riding is always about W/CDA and how long you can hold it… Basically this is when us bigger and heavier guys get to have fun and mess with the mountain goats :smiley:

The advice above is good I think. Ultimately this is where absolute numbers matter eg higher the FTP and longer your TTE, the more you’ll be able to do on the front on the flats. Work on sustained tempo and SST efforts if thats the pace you are hoping to ride at in the wind and anything thats going to increase your FTP and TTE.

Of course it may be that when you hit the front you are expecting to do efforts >FTP before slotting back into the pack, and in that case you may benefit from over/unders more. My club organises a 9-up TT on a F1 racing circuit every year, and when we hit the front for a turn we are at +/- 120-140% FTP,and when we tuck back in we are probably still hitting 90% FTP for a while, so being able to clear lactate and ‘recover’ at that intensity is the key. Hence the o/u sessions and the need ultimately for a lot of z2 work to maximise mitochondria density.

Ultimately your solution will probably depend a little on how long and how hard you plan to ride on the front, but ultimately its all about big FTPs…

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I don’t know why but a headwind my power output just plummets and with a tailwind it shoots up. Anyway I always get low in the drops and shift down with a headwind but that might not be the way to do it…

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Could it be that you are more trained/programmed to deliver power in a higher cadence then a lower cadence?

Maybe that’s why RPE differs when riding against the wind or with the wind in your back.

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I have the exact same thing. Pretty sure it’s a mindset problem (“ugh, I hate headwinds” vs “wheeeeeeeeeeeee”) but no idea how to tackle it.

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Above advice about raw watts and aero is likely to be the main area for improvement. Some technique things to think about as well though:

  • Staying relaxed and smooth. Especially if the wind is gusty. Can be easy to tense up into the wind (especially if you’ve already convinced yourself that you’re not good in headwinds!) which wastes energy and makes it harder to put out good power
  • Keeping an eye on cadence and power. Slightly lower cadence is often better into the wind, but you don’t want to be letting it get so low that you’re really muscling the bike along. Also very easy to spike power into the wind
  • Make sure you’re getting as much benefit as possible when drafting. Hug your buddy’s wheel, and if it’s a cross wind and it’s not dangerous to do so then move to the downwind side a bit to get more protection. If it’s a pack then this applies even more so. E.g. if it’s a group ride and you’re rotating turns then try and get yourself behind somebody who is smooth and similar strength to you. Being behind somebody who is stronger or spiky can be painful as being second wheel on their pulls means you’re the one having to do the most work to stay with them or close them down if they surge through and open a gap, so you’re gassed before you even start your pull (plus feel the pressure to maintain their speed after they rotate off). Being behind a weak rider who is struggling can also be problematic if they’re on the limit and not riding smoothly. Or they let a gap open up and then wave you through to close it!
  • Positive mindset. Linked to being smooth and relaxed, but thinking that something is a weakness can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I.e. if you’re going in with an expectation that you’re going to get dropped, then it’s much easier to accept that outcome when things get hard instead of settling in and suffering. Used to ride and race with a Dutch guy who just loved a windy day as that’s what he grew up with, whenever the wind blew he’d be relishing the thought of the hurt he was going to dish out. Strong rider but honestly it was his mindset that set him apart on those days more than anything else.

If you and your buddy do a lot of alternating turns in a 2 up ride then have you looked at your respective power data when on the front vs tucked in? Be interesting to see how they compare.

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Thanks for the info. I had typed our height and weights but somehow it didn’t appear in the thread. Weird, but sure that was my fault haha.

I’m 6’4" and around 76kg and he’s shorter at 6’0" but weighs about 95kg. We climb at a very similar speed. My FTP is 280 so about 3.6-3.7 watts per KG. He reckons his FTP is about 250-260 but I think he’s not tested properly on zw***. In normal climbs, he’s a power climber, faster on anything under 10% but my lower weight see’s me quicker on the steeper stuff.

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Thanks pal. Very detailed info there much appreciated and your point about the Dutch guys reminds me of a guy in our club. He also loves the headwinds, he’s an absolute animal into the headwind. He lives on the coast and every club ride he ends up having to head back to the coast, invariably into a headwind for 10 miles on his own so it’s made him superstrong into the wind. I’ve asked him about it and he also states mindset is key. He treats a block headwind like putting in a big climbing effort

In Belgium we have a saying that says riding against the wind is just like riding up a mountain :muscle: Good training and you will profit from it :blush:

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I’m assuming you are using a power meter. One thing you should watch out for is when it is your turn to do a pull. When we feel “slow,” like when into the wind or a false flat or something, we often feel compelled to increase the power. Your threshold isn’t gonna change because you are going into the wind, so increasing the power is likely only going to result in your blowing up. A key is to maintain the same power you would normally even if you feel like it’s too slow. If you are overreaching, the reason you get dropped is perhaps because you wear yourself out on your pulls and you can’t keep the wheel.
Power is power regardless of how fast you are going. Your buddies in the draft may feel like it’s slightly easier because they don’t feel the headwind as much, but probably not as much as you think they are. They will likely appreciate the chance to recover a bit before their turn in the wind.

I think you’ve answered your question. If you have similar W/kg, but he is 19kg heavier, he has higher raw watts. And as a result, his W/CdA will be higher, meaning he rides faster into a headwind.

Note: it’s hard to measure frontal area. Possible his frontal area is bigger than yours as he is heavier, but you are taller, so that works in the other direction. Position on the bike also impacts frontal area (and Cd, but measuring Cd is even harder). All-in however, his higher watts more than offsets any higher CdA, leading to higher W/CdA, hence higher speed into the wind.

Best thing you can do is practice riding in an aero position in the drops - i.e. get your CdA as low as possible.

He said his buddy’s FTP was lower than his, so unless that is incorrect, his buddy doesn’t have higher raw watts. Which seems to make this discrepancy even larger.

I don’t think his FTP right at all Russell. He’s completed the Zwift equivalent of a ramp test and don’t think he did it to failure. (Having said that it could be mine that’s wrong - I’m pretty confident on mine though as I’ve tested regularly over the past 3-4 years without massive fluctations).

Although he says it’s 250-260 and mine is 280 based on our climbing being similar speeds, his FTP in my estimate should be 340-350.

100% this.

Most people don’t realize how much they up their power when they hit the front, especially with a headwind. Riding outside, it is very easy to ride by speed vs. power. You feel like you need to keep the same speed (which is easy to do) and your power skyrockets.

Also, watch how long you are on the front…get off well before you are stretching yourself. It is very easy to pull hard and gas yourself, not realizing you still have to drop back and then be able to get onto the back of the paceline. If you are getting dropped in the headwinds, just go “through and off”.

Finally, also learn how to hide well…find bigger guys to slot behind and learn to position yourself just off the wheel in front of you, depending on wind direction. Not so much a full echelon, just subtle positioning differences.

All good advice. I have had the same issue and long, consistent tempo efforts, riding in the drops, and mindset have helped a ton. I also realized the point mentioned - pushing out high watts at relatively slow speeds on flat roads is demoralizing and can lead to pushing too hard. I also believe even though there is wind, there is less cooling happening since you are going slower, which could play a role as well.

Do you have a power meter? Do you know how much power you are putting out on the front?

There is a strong mental component to thriving in a headwind. It’s also about pacing and rotating off the front quick enough to not blow up. Tensing up will drive up HR, so will going over threshold.

A couple articles I reference from time to time:

and

W/kg doesn’t mean anything on flat windy roads.

Practice makes perfect, go out and ride solo into a headwind.

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I prefer to up my cadence by 5-10rpm when riding in winds above 10 knots, especially when it’s an positive gradient.

Some thoughts on top of the bits above which are great:

  1. Smaller guys spend proportionally more energy than bigger guys in windy conditions simply keeping the bike going where it should go. W/kg or total watts does not tell the whole story for smaller guys in winds. I raced at under 60kg and in harsh conditions had to be very careful about positioning and energy use.

  2. Windy conditions are undulating. I don’t have data, but suspect folks who do a lot of indoor training in erg mode will find dealing with winds more difficult because the power demands are changing. Literally changing with the wind - heh heh heh. Sorry.

  3. Winds are a mental challenge as well as a pedaling challenge. Need a positive mindset. Not unlike bigger guys who hate climbs. Show the wind who’s boss!! Embrace the suck!!

  4. If you are a smaller guy in a headwind on a group ride… Do Not take hero pulls and get yourself dropped. Just hit the front, do a reasonable pull and get off. Pay the group back later by setting a nice pace on a climb or other terrain and conditions which favor you.

Obviously the size of the group and relationships with the other riders will dictate how much effort you put in. I typically ride with guys who are stronger and larger than myself. That’s life when you are smaller size person. I put in my work as appropriate, but we’re all buddies out for a good ride. There is no issue with uneven length of pulls and keeping things together.

I ride with people of all sizes in a lot of wind. Large vs small doesn’t matter much, and W/kg is worthless measure. Slippery people or people with good power-to-aero are going to drop others. On our Wed night ride the lead group has a tiny guy, a small guy, medium guy, lanky guy, and dude that looks like an American football linesman :man_shrugging:

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