The perfect training plan will be different for each person and goal. A Tour de France pro needs a different plan than a beginner mountain biker. One athlete might like really specific workouts, while another might thrive on simple workout descriptions. Another athlete will look forward to following wattage zones each day, while many others will do best with no gadgets and a simple RPE or terrain goal for the workout.
With all these variables there are still a few main ones all good training plans should have in common. Knowing these four themes helps you when shopping for a training plan or coach and when you are working to keep your current routine on track.
If your training plan has huge workouts that leave you in a heap on the ground, or if you can’t even finish the workouts, then you won’t be able to practice frequently. Going that hard leads to fatigue, soreness and low motivation, which means you’ll need many days off. Instead of overdoing it, look for a plan that almost seems too easy so you can arrive healthy and fit on race day.
A plan you can complete will be more motivating and let you work out consistently. Getting in your workouts regularly lets you practice more so you’ll get better. As you go through each week or block of the plan you can continue to add load by adding intensity, repetition, better form or even adding some extra volume on the days you have extra time, energy and motivation.
To progress in any cycling goal there needs to be a variety of intensities and durations. If every ride is one-hour and hard, then your workouts won’t be quality and you will get really bored. While it is trendy to do moderately paced efforts around functional threshold power to address the time-limits many cyclists have due to work and family, it is still important to have variety in your plan to allow for solid workouts. For busy adults who will be mentally, and likely physically, fatigued after work and all of the kids’ activities, it is even more important to have this variation in workout type through the week.
For the busy adult cyclists I coach, I include a mix of intensity and also a varied workout focus each week. You could have a short and hard workout early in the week, a moderate threshold workout toward the end of the week and then a longer endurance or tempo workout on the weekend. On the days between, use strength training, cross-training and easy endurance with drills for one-leg pedaling and cadence. By using this method, you are working on your cycling and fitness each day but, by mixing up the load and focus, you will boost motivation and results.
In keeping with the idea of variety, you want your season to have variation in your level of focus, intensity and duration. If your goal event is still many months away, then you don’t need to be simulating the race or pushing your body to its limit. Rather this general preparation period (or base phase) is a time to be practicing being a good cyclist and athlete (or human). While there can be days where you are working on elements of your race, you do not want to be working so hard and with so much focus and intensity (or duration) that you will be unable to push your limits in your specific/race phase. As an example, a mountain biker might still do 2-minute hill repetitions in their GPP but they might be spread over a fun MTB workout and do fewer repetitions than during the months before their big race. In race season they might do a very focused 5 x 2-minute hill repetition workout on the same hill. You want to save those big workouts and race efforts for when they matter.
A good plan makes room for fun — and while race season can demand a little more focus and a restraint in food choices and group rides, there should still be room to go out for dinner with a friend, ride your favorite trail or do something you really enjoy. If you find yourself using a lot of willpower to avoid something you enjoy then your plan might need some adjusting, especially if you are in the general preparation period. For some riders, this concept requires some reflection on their goal and whether their goal is motivating the habits, training and adventures you want to tackle.
The specific race phase can quickly become not very fun. Using the mountain biker doing 5 x 2 minute hills in their race phase as an example, it is easy to see how your love of fun mountain bike rides could conflict with 2–3 days of intervals on your mountain bike. These riders could warmup and cooldown with fun mountain biking, and they could use the hill intervals to get to the top of a fun and technical descents they can repeat many times.
While this may not be as enjoyable as long trail adventures, it is likely enough ‘fun’ to get to your goal race happy and fit!