Some cyclists love to learn about training theory and spend hours crunching numbers, but many cyclists just want to ride and have actually gotten pretty good by ‘just riding.’ For these more laid-back riders, more effort and thought is necessary to get the most out of your training when skills and fitness plateau.
Your first foray into training structure need not be intensive or confining but should provide enough stimulus for your body to adapt. While there is a lot of minutia around training, there are some broad concepts you can easily integrate into the typical ‘just riding’ strategy. Your goal with your first foray into training is to add some variety and consistency.
Think about where you struggle on a group ride or race, and tailor a workout or two each week to get stronger in that area. If your goal is to get to the next faster group ride or to go to the next category you might need to be ready for harder hill efforts. For example, take a recovery day on Monday after a Sunday group ride and then do a focused hill workout on Tuesday or Wednesday when your legs are fresh. The next day follow that hard ride with a low-intensity ride on flatter terrain where you can pedal most of the ride and avoid heavy breathing.
You might be tempted to start worrying about zones as you look to add structure to your training but this level of complication can zap your motivation. Instead, tune into your body — as humans, we have access to some great technology within ourselves.
Our breathing provides a great indication of how hard we are working. The ‘talk test’ helps us notice when we are pushing out of our comfortable all-day pace. Riding under that pace is a great spot for low-intensity endurance rides. For harder days, the point where your breathing is noticeable and you can only speak in short bursts indicates you are riding around your ‘threshold’ — or what is perhaps simpler to call race pace. Race pace is where you want to do intervals or hard rides.
As an example of using these zones to develop variety in your terrain and intensity, you could plan hard hill repetitions on Tuesday where you get breathing hard and time yourself up the hill to see how fast you can go and how consistent you can keep the efforts. Then, on Thursday, you can do a conversational endurance ride where you avoid coasting and breathing hard.
To achieve these objectives we can do some planning to choose the routes we ride based on our daily goals. Don’t ride hills on your easy days so you can avoid coasting and breathing hard. Save hilly routes and group rides for the hard days. This is easy to write, but requires your effort and discipline to take advantage of that you can use this simple but effective training strategy.
A simple training plan that incorporates variety may look like this:
- Monday: Core work/yoga
- Tuesday: Short hills ride (1–2 hours): 30 second–4-minute climbs. Push to the point of breathing hard, especially in the last half of the workout.
- Recover in between.
- Wednesday: Long and flat (1–3 hours): Avoid coasting and breathing hard.
- Thursday: Medium-long effort (1–3 hours): 5–15-minute efforts building to 40–50 minutes at a pace you can sustain but where breathing is
- Friday: Core work/yoga and/or 30–60 minute coffee/easy spin.
- Saturday: Endurance (2–4 hours): Group ride or hilly ride on longer hills (8+ minutes)
- Sunday: Long and flat (3+ hours): Avoid coasting and breathing hard.
Good luck as you follow this first plan concept. Ride often, at different paces, on a variety of terrains. Plan the objective for the day (easy or hard?) and pay attention to your breathing and effort to ensure they match those objectives.