How to optimise training this winter

I’m a 45 year old male who’s been cycling for about 2 years now. As winter approaches I’m thinking about how to optimise my winter training. My main goals are to lower my heart rate while training - it seems to be absurdly high (with averages of around 150 on my Sunday rides) and to improve my VO2 Max (which Garmin says is 35 - while I’ve never done cardio sport before, I can’t believe this).

I’m thinking of signing up to Trainer Road and doing Sweetspot base (probably 2 blocks if I can manage that) or signing up to Zwift and doing a mixture of SST / 2x15 / The Gorby / The Wringer sessions.

Any thoughts? Suggestions welcome!

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Yes. Sign up for TR. Put in your goals and let the app do the rest. Everything will increase, your fitness, your FTP and VO2Max.

I am 50. I am not a pro nor am I hanging in the front with the super fast guys/women however, I can hang and dangle off the back. Taking an occasional pull in the front to slow the group down.

I have been using TR for 7 years after an elderly man dropped me in San Diego with ease! I am not sure the elderly man probably would still drop me but not as fast!

Admittedly, I will race on Zwift on weekends to change things up. Also, admittedly I sand bag and still have people flying by me.

Sign up and enjoy the gains.


How many hours/week are you planning to train?

TR’s sweet spot approach may or may not give the results you want. It is basically a one size fits all approach to base. Keep in mind adaptive training doesn’t change the approach, it just gives you appropriate workouts.

Optimizing base with stock plans can be somewhat hit or miss, there are several approaches and TR SSB being more threshold weighted.

My experience with TR SSB was both positive and negative, ended up finding a better approach (involving more zone2/endurance). FWIW I’ve got almost fifteen years on you and if training stops for a month or more, a couple weeks after restarting my Garmin vo2max is in 35 to 37 range. This year it steadily climbed from 41 to 43 on average of 7.5 hours/week training, which was higher than two years on TR. But others see really good results on TR plans.


Good question. I can probably manage 2 of 1-1.5 hour sessions in the week, and then hopefully and outdoor ride on Sundays, or a 1.5-2 hour session if it’s raining.

Endurance performance scales with volume. On 3 days and under 5 hours I’d suggest experimenting with HIIT vs SSB.

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It’s hard to know what to suggest without knowing what you have been doing previously. You say that your HR seems to be absurdly high averaging 150, which may or may not be true depending on your overall HR range from rest-max. Some people are naturally large diesel engines and others high revving sports cars. For me 150 bpm is only around 78% of my HR max, so not particularly high. I can literally ride all day at an average 150 bpm. So it’s not necessarily a problem, unless your HR max is not far above 150 bpm.

If you are looking for VO2 improvements, then I think you really have to do some HIIT to start pushing that up. But I doubt that would have much effect on your perceived high HR issue in longer rides. They are two different things really. Are you looking to improve VO2 based on your actual riding weaknesses or just because Garmin suggests it is relatively low? If the latter then I would suggest not taking too much notice of Garmin. But if you are gasping for breath on 5 min hillclimbs while getting dropped then it is worth working on it.

Sweetspot base seems like a good place to start for general winter training, but I’m not sure doing multiple blocks of it is “optimal”. Mixing it up a bit with some HIIT and lower intensity sessions might give you more improvement across the board. I would definitely choose any TR plan over Zwift as the latter is not very well structured. It’s like doing random structured training sessions, which is not really very structured at all!

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Thanks for the replies.

So far my riding is on semi-hill roads… Normally short up hills and descents with limited flats. I normally do rides of 50-110km depending on time available.

My max heart rate is 182, and then I’m literally dying. The reason for wanting to reduce my heart rate is to exert myself less, recover faster and be able to ride more.

I’m not the best hill climber, probably in the bottom 1/2 to 2/3 in my age group in strava. Given that I’ve never really done cardio activity before cycling, I probably don’t have much of what Chad calls an “aerobic engine”.

Do I get HIIT sessions in the Sweetspot Base program or is it pretty much all sweetspot overs and under?

Becareful, indoor structured training is alot more intense (even easy sessions) than outside riding.

If this is your first time on a trainer I’d suggest starting with a few 30min rides and building up rather than a 1.5hr ride just becuase you have the time (or used to do this time outside)


With time like that the best approach from a TR perspective would probably be a SSB Low Volume plan. It will generally be 2x1hr during the week and then a 1.5hr session on the weekend. You could just skip the weekend session and get your outdoor ride in but then if the weather is bad you have an indoor workout ready for you.

I would do it through the plan builder so that adaptive training will work to try to give you the correct ‘level’ of workout. And don’t forget to complete the post workout surveys so the system knows how you’re doing.

And as others mentioned, indoor trainer sessions can be unexpectedly intense and mentally draining so keep an eye on that and remember that no workout is important enough to dig a hole that causes you to skip the next 4. So recognize if you are getting burned out on your current approach and change something up.

EDIT: if you want to try out TR for a month I have a referral code you can use. Just send me a DM on here and I can get you the link.

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If your HR is high when doing training outside, without knowing what type of riding it is, it might be due to a lack of base.

If so I would train base during the winter with something like the Polarised plans :slight_smile:

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I think my lack of base is my main issue.

Is polarised training the best way to build a base?

Personally I’d say that the Polarised Plans could be hard work on a trainer if you aren’t used to indoor work. Two hours of endurance would be, well to be endured :roll_eyes:

The suggested Sweet Spot Base, (SSB) Low Volume would be a better intro IMO. Also as suggested, if the weather is good you can push the weekend ride to “outdoors” The plans changed earlier this year to be a lower stress base for use with Adaptive Training.

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Unless you have a lot of time to ride your bike, i.e. 8 plus hours, i’d avoid polarised.

I’d do the sweetspot base plans as part of plan builder and turn on Adaptive Training to progressively build your workout levels. I personally, have 3 to 5 hours per week and find 2 sweetspot sessions through the week work well with a steady (no all out efforts) outdoor ride at the weekend.

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It can be a good way for some people but not necessarily for others. As @bobw said I think it can be a lot harder for a beginner as the hard workouts will be much harder and the easy workouts will be much longer compared to SSB.

I would start with SSB and if you have a reason for switching then maybe give the polarized a shot.

How long are the short up hills? A minute? Two minutes?

I should have said that this will be my second winter cycling, and definitely not a fan of sitting on the indoor trainer. 1.5 hours is probably about all I can manage!

Aounds like sweetspot base is what I’ll go for.

Hopefully this will add to my base and to my vo2 max.

How often would folks measure ftp? At the beginning and end of the 6 week training block?

It sounds to me like you may be over-reaching on your current rides. I presume it’s the hill climbs that are pushing you out of your comfort zone or are you riding in a group and struggling to hang on?

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Just follow the plans - they usually have an FTP test at the start and the longer (8 week) ones will also have a test after the halfway recovery week.

If you want to use Adaptive Training then you need to do the following:

Turn on AT via your profile page, under the early access link.
Create a plan using Plan Builder, AT won’t work unless you do this. (at the moment)

I mostly ride on my own, with a group ride occasionally. My garmin says I’m overreaching and apparently have 4 days recovery from the last ride… But inevitably my recovery times speeds up and I expect I’ll be recovered by Wednesday evening.

My last FTP was 225, which is about 2.9W/kg. My last ride, I had a nominal power of 190W over 3hr20 which doesn’t seem to really warrant 4 days of recovery + overreaching (aerobic and anaerobic). As pointed out above, average HR of 150 on this ride.

ignore the garmin. It’s useless for this purpose.