Building the Cycling Base

Building the Cycling Base

So you have yourself an indoor trainer and a target race or a fitness goal.

Great! Now what?

There are countless plans and programs available. There’s the complete DIY option. There’s the full coaching option. If you have a coach, then listen to your coach! Otherwise, the safest and smartest way – in the opinion of this coach – is to start by working on your aerobic and muscular base.

Below I’ll present a few possible cases with relevant workouts at the end of the article.

Just starting out?

If you’re very new to cycling, you will likely make fitness gains just by the simple action of riding your bike. This is the blank slate effect. You don’t need to overthink it. You just need to do. The more you ride, the fitter you get. Don’t believe people who talk about junk miles. The only junk miles are the ones you didn’t ride.

But if you are that newbie cyclist, keep intensity low.

If you’re training with power and have done a threshold test, a good place to be for most of your training time is between 60% and 70% of that threshold. Important physiological adaptations happen at that intensity, plus you are more likely to be able to tolerate more training duration if you keep the effort modest.

If you don’t have a power meter, then ride by feel. These efforts should start by feeling easy and never feel anything above moderate in terms of perceived exertion. Chances are your bum endurance will be the limiting factor here. That’s how you want it.

Have a bit of a bike background?

Then ask yourself about how much time you have available to train. If you can devote more than 10 hours per week on the bike, then my advice for beginners holds for you as well: spend most of your saddle time at 60% – 70% of threshold with the rest of it working on low-cadence muscular endurance.

If you’re limited to fewer hours, then tempo or sweet spot work is your best bet. The idea here is to simultaneously work on aerobic endurance and muscular endurance by performing relatively long intervals at intermediate intensity. Yes, polarized training this is not!

Sample workouts

  1. Bread and Butter Aerobic Endurance

As simple as it gets. Hold 60%-70% of threshold for progressively longer duration. Make sure to drink plenty of water and supplement with carbohydrates when you exceed 90 minutes. To break it up, feel free to add very short (less than 10s), all-out sprints – just no more frequently than every 5 minutes.

  1. Muscular Endurance

After a thorough, 15+ minute warm up, complete a total of 20 – 30 minutes of work (that’s duration at target power, excluding warm up, cool down, and recovery intervals) at 80% of threshold keeping cadence down at around 50 rpm. Split the work into 5-minute intervals with recovery between the intervals as needed.

  1. Tempo / Sweet Spot

After a thorough, 15+ minute warm up, complete 30 minutes of work (again, that excludes all warm up, recovery, and cool down) at 80-85% of threshold. Keep cadence for this work at 10-20 rpm below what you would consider your normal, self-selected value. Build duration over time. Once you can comfortably complete a total of 45-50 minutes, consider increasing intensity by a few percent.

What next?

This is, of course, far from exhaustive. You can – and should if you have the opportunity – do testing to identify your specific intensity prescriptions that will narrow down the ranges I prescribe above. If you have any questions or want to talk about your specific case, send me a note.

Happy Training!

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