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Ask Levi: For a Better Workout, Start With Headwind or Tailwind?

Today’s question is about wind direction and getting a better workout with headwinds and tailwinds…

Hello Levi, Quick question: on a windy day, which gives a better workout, heading into the wind on the way out or into the wind on the way back?

Thanks, Harriet Cane Irene

Hi Irene,

Interesting question – normally people just ask about how to make a ride in windy conditions feel easiest!

Technically speaking, you can get an equivalent workout either way.

Say you are using a power meter to measure your output. You’ll still do whatever effort is prescribed in your training plan. Your output will be the same into a headwind or tailwind, but your speed will vary depending on the wind direction.

It’s the same principle as, “which is a better workout, riding a heavy bike or a light racing bike?”

Realistically speaking, though, I think it depends on you personally.

Say you start out into a headwind. You will be taking on the wind when you’re fresh, then the tailwind can help you home on the way back. That’s good if you like to go “gung ho” and basically do a hard TT type of effort into the wind. Then when you think you can’t go anymore, the tailwind saves the day to get you home.

Say you start out into a tailwind. You’ll have it easy at the beginning, then later on in the ride when the going gets tough, it gets really tough! This could be good if it normally takes you a long time to get warmed up and feeling strong. It could also be better for an interval workout, because your rest periods will feel like rest. But hitting the headwind for the way home might be demoralizing.

What I’m getting at is, pick whichever way makes you feel stronger mentally, because then you’ll probably work harder, which is what will give you the better workout.

Now, if you’re training to race in windy conditions, you’ll want to vary the way you tackle windy days in training, because who knows which way the wind will be blowing come race day! You don’t want to start every training ride into a headwind, only to have a race start into a tailwind.

If that happened, you might be in trouble. You’d be used to going hard at the start to counter the strong wind, so you might push too hard, expecting an easier second half, rather than saving your energy for the storm ahead! You might end up looking like a fish out of water when you hit the headwind for the second half of the race!

For me, the “specificity of training” principle takes precedence over anything else in this situation. So I say, train both ways!

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2 Comments
  1. Hi Coach Levi,

    I was wondering if you’ve ever tried deer antler spray? I’ve been taking it for 2 weeks and must say that my recovery time seems to be cut in half. Maybe this is a placebo effect, so I thought I’d see what your thoughts are on it.

    Thanks,
    Chad

  2. @Chad

    I’ve heard of it but never used it. Someone else asked me about it too, but I don’t have enough info to do a full post on it. (I doubt I will try it.)

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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Hometown, PA