By Coach John Hughes

Brent Bookwalter, who races for BMC, advises that if you have a choice between an extra 20 minutes of riding or spending that time recovering, choose recovery.

Think of the holidays as time for quality recovery, a time to gain freshness. Freshness means that you are fully recovered from all of your fall activities and ready – physically and mentally – for the next round of training.

The holidays are a precious time to spend with family and friends. I give all of my clients at least a week off from training around Christmas and New Year’s. Enjoy your time off, too!

Riders are often afraid to take time off because they fear they’ll lose fitness. Fortunately, you gain freshness much faster than you lose fitness. Further, the fitness of your slow-twitch muscles, which you use for endurance riding, lasts longer than the fitness of your fast-twitch muscles, which you call on when you need power and speed. [Slow- and fast-twitch refer to how fast the muscle fibers fire, not to your cadence.]

To gain freshness you need to cut back your total training volume significantly, by as much as 50 to 75% for a week or two before the holidays. To maintain fitness you should cut back your endurance riding more than your intensity volume, which includes both hard riding and time in the gym, but you should still cut back your intensity volume by 25 to 50%.

What could you do with your limited time?


Here’s a simple 20-minute trainer workout to do once or twice a week with at least a day of recovery in between.

  • 5 min warm-up
  • Repeat 3 times
    • 20 seconds flat out
    • 40 seconds very easy
    • 4 minutes steady – the third time this serves as your cool-down

You can make this harder by adding one or two reps and reducing the 4 minutes steady to 3:30 or 3:00 minutes.

Leg Strength

  • Lunge:  The lunge is the best single exercise for cyclists. Standing straight up, feet together, step two to three feet forward with your right foot and lower left knee toward the floor. Go down until your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Keep your right knee over your ankle, not in front of your foot. Return to standing and repeat with left leg. To make the lunge more difficult, step forward with each lunge like you’re walking. Or lunge backward.

    If you have weak knees, then only lower your knee part-way to the floor.

  • Split Squats: If you have bad knees like I do, then do split squats. Step forward with one foot like your doing a lunge, do a set of squats while maintaining that position and then reverse feet.

Core Strength (click the link to see photos of these and other core exercises on my website):

  • Plank: The plank, done correctly, is one of the best core exercises. In the plank position be sure to rotate your pelvis like you’re pulling your belly button to your anus — this should flatten your back. For variations, do the side plank, resting on your elbow and sides of your feet, or the back plank, resting on your elbows and heels — both are much harder than the front plank!
  • Bridging: Bridging is another great core exercise that also works the glutes, which provide much of the power when riding. Bridge up with both feet on the floor and then slowly lower for 3 - 5 counts each repeat. To make it harder bridge up with both feet on the floor, lift one foot off the floor and lower your body with that foot still off the floor. Even harder: lift one foot off the floor and bridge up and down, keeping that foot in the air the whole time. Switch feet each set.

Upper Body Strength (click the link to see photos of these and other upper body exercises on my website):

  • Pushups: The pushup is another great core exercise. Rotate your pelvis and flatten your back just like doing the plank and then hold your core in that position through the whole set of pushups.
  • Single Arm Row: This is a great exercise to strengthen the upper back muscles that support your neck and head. Bend over with a flat back, rest your right hand on a chair and hold a dumbbell in your left hand with your arm hanging down. No dumbbell? Fill a cloth grocery sack or a backpack with canned food. Pull the weight straight up to your shoulder without moving your shoulder or back. Pinch your shoulder blades together, hold for 3 to 5 counts, release and lower the weight. Do a set with your left arm, and then switch arms.

Fitting It In

  • Get family permission: In most families if you participate actively in the family events, they’ll graciously allow you to sneak off for two 30-minute intensity workouts (but probably not for a multi-hour ride!)
  • Seize opportunities: Park in the far corner of the parking lot instead of close to the store, use the stairs instead of the elevator, go for an after-dinner walk with someone. At a minimum, get out of your chair every hour and walk for a minute or two (going to the fridge for a beer doesn’t count!)
  • Use TV commercials: The holidays often include watching specials and sporting events on TV. During commercial breaks do one of the strength exercises.
  • Welcome the New Year: New Year’s Eve often includes imbibing and staying up to welcome the New Year. Practice a bit of moderation on New Year’s Eve and tell your family your plan for the morning. Get up (relatively) early New Year’s Day and go for a ride, walk, whatever you can do for a while. Leave all of your electronic gadgets at home, including your cycle computer, cell phone and watch. Reflect on the past year and what you did that was fun and satisfying. It was a great year, wasn’t it! And start thinking about the new year and what you’d like to do. Don’t use this time to make specific resolutions or target particular events.  Just let your mind wander and think, “Hmm, that might be fun!”

As a coach I’m giving you permission to take time off and enjoy the holidays!

Additional Resources: See our New WINTER CYCLING BUNDLE, which includes 12-week plans based on rider goals; how to Winter Cycling Bundleextend your "riding season" outdoors by learning how to properly dress, eat, ride safely and stay motivated throughout the off-season; and how to use sports psychology to improve your cycling (even long after you've plateaued physically) by focusing on the often-overlooked mental side of the sport. Just $13.50; $11.48 for Premium Members!

Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.

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