What is the best advice for cycling beginners?
It’s simple: Take action! However, getting started with road cycling and bringing the total return for your effort is not easy. Therefore, I’ve made this introduction to serious cycling training helping you step-by-step through the following topics:
Cycling Training Plans for Beginners – Structuring and Planning
The Principle of Super Compensation
Frequency, Intensity, and Duration
Intervals: How to Interpret them
What is the right training philosophy?
One of the best ways to improve fast as a beginner cyclist is to get structure into your cycling. However, building a cycling training plan as a beginner is not easy. Instead, the most effective way to structure is to take advantage of other riders’ proven methods.
My riders have often told me that they feel much more potent when they’ve started on one of my cycling training plans.
In the beginning, they believe that it is because of the unique combination of intervals, but I keep telling them that the single best explanation for their progress is that they now have a structure on their training plan.
If you are a hard-working cyclist, you deserve to achieve good results with your work. You don’t (necessarily) have to train more or harder to achieve better results.
If you get the right structure with proper amounts of interval training on the good days, there is a good chance that you will improve fast and continue doing so. And, yes, I believe interval training should be an integral part of almost any training plan – also part of cycling training plans for beginners.
I like the idea of being more innovative, not training harder. I know it is a cliche, but there is definitively some truth waiting for you in this slogan.
When you’ve performed a hard training ride, your body will have to recover before it gets stronger. How much time you need for recovery depends on the type of training, your overall fitness, and your nutritional status.
Some other factors influence your recovery time, but for a beginner, it is essential to know that hard training takes more time to recover from than light training.
When you have trained for a while, you will start to experience that your legs might feel sore the day after a hard interval workout and feel fresh the day after a light training session.
Thus, you are about to get the idea about super-compensation. To get the best progress, you will need to find the perfect training sessions and recovery combination.
There are mainly three ways to change the total workload in a training week: Frequency, intensity, and duration.
For example, if you train more frequently, ride with a higher intensity (more races, more intervals), or increase training volume, you will force your body to adapt to these challenges.
This way, you can reach a higher level of fitness, but your body will not allow you to increase the total workload too fast. Good cyclists use these buttons to turn up and down the workload all the time.
Remember that consistency makes you a strong cyclist, not just one hard week of biking. Minor adjustments over time will help you to become a better cyclist.
The most popular training method to improve your threshold power is interval training. It is crucial to know your power output and heart rate at threshold power and use these values to pace yourself throughout intervals at the same intensity. You will have to do a performance test or a time trial as a reference.
The trickiest part of doing intervals is to remain at the right intensity throughout. Going a bit too fast at the start makes it impossible to maintain the right power to the end. On the other hand, if you go too slowly, you will not get the improvements you deserve.
Interval sessions are one of the main parts of any training schedule.
But if you see them written down, it can sometimes be challenging to understand what they are and how to do them. Some riders are put off by this and left baffled by explanations that resemble complex mathematical formulas.
Take this example interval session:
3x (6+4min) Threshold power / active recovery
It may look confusing and meaningless to the uninitiated, especially if you read it in a book or on the internet, so let me explain.
The equation means: doing 6 minutes at threshold power pace three times with three recovery periods of four minutes in between each effort. (6min hard work, 4min recovery, 6min hard work, and so on)
So you would do the following three times:
- 6 minutes at threshold power pace, followed by;
- 4 minutes recovery
In this example, threshold power refers to an intensity you should try to maintain throughout each interval. Although you are unlikely to know your actual threshold power, it will become much easier to pace yourself correctly when attempting these intervals a few times.
It is advisable to do some light pedalling for the recovery periods to remove metabolites and keep your oxygen consumption at a moderate level. Also, it is easier for you to perform the next interval at the right intensity (and get more time at the proper oxygen consumption.
If you don’t pedal in the recovery periods, the beginning of the next interval will become more anaerobic.
Intervals are typically performed at sub-threshold, Threshold, and VO2 max intensity as described below.
Before beginning with interval training, it is good to perform two tests to get a better picture of your current fitness. These tests help you get a better pace during intervals and make tracking your progress easier (and more motivating).
Five-minute and 30-minute performance tests
VO2 Max intensity refers to your avg. Power output (Watts) in 5min test. Threshold power intensity refers to avg. power output (Watts) in 30min test. (30min test might at least, in theory, overestimate ‘functional threshold power,’ but from a practical point of view, you shouldn’t worry about it.)
When you perform one of these tests, try to estimate how much power you can produce for, let’s say, five minutes and then keep a consistent pace. Of course, it might be necessary to adjust your speed throughout the test, but that’s how performance tests (and time trials) are.
If you use a heart rate monitor as your primary pacing tool, your average heart rate during the last 20 minutes of the 30-minute test is an excellent indicator of your threshold heart rate.
If you don’t know your maximum heart rate, then there is an easy protocol to find out:
1. Warm-up for 10-15 minutes 100-150W
2. Every 2 min, increase workload ~35-50Watts depending on fitness level.
3. Ride until exhaustion. Notice your maximum heart rate.
Heart rate: Below 65% of maximum heart rate.
Power: Below 55% of threshold power.
The most effortless training intensity. It should reflect that you want to train without conflicting with the recovery process from previous intensive training sessions. Correctly made recovery rides may provide a slight boost to your overall recovery.
Heart rate: 65-80% of maximum heart rate.
Power: 55-80% of threshold power.
Your primary training intensity. Sometimes you can push more power, but you should always maintain this intensity throughout the training session.
Heart rate: 80-87% of maximum heart rate.
Power: 80-90% of threshold power.
This training intensity is just slightly below your threshold power and is a secure way to improve your aerobic engine.
Heart rate: 87-92% of maximum heart rate.
Power: 90-105% of threshold power.
This training intensity is close to your threshold power and boosts your aerobic engine.
Heart rate: 92-100% of maximum heart rate.
Power: 90-105% of VO2 max power (five-minute maximum test).
This training intensity is close to your VO2 max power and is the most time-effective training for VO2 max gains.
Heart rate: Not valid for pacing.
Power: 90-102% of maximum capacity corresponds to the interval you train duration. For example, if you plan an anaerobic interval of 30 seconds, you should base your power output on your power output in an all-out 30-second sprint. So your target power should be in the range of 90-102% of your power output in an all-out 30-second sprint.
Please note that the intensities mentioned above are only general guidelines.
As you get used to these different training levels, you might begin to make more training zones, e.g., low-end Threshold power, high-end sub-threshold, etc.
If you feel you can maintain a higher intensity than the intervals prescribed, there is only one way to find out. If you cannot preserve power, you may need to analyze whether there is a good reason for this. Have you fully recovered from your last training session? Are you slightly dehydrated?
If you feel well but have a general problem performing the prescribed intensities, re-adjust the intensity levels mentioned in this article to fit your unique physiology.
Many coaches develop training sessions targeted to improve your threshold power. Intervals with an intensity around your threshold power are the most common, and they are very time effective, too. However, other coaches believe in intervals slightly below threshold power – sometimes referred to as ‘sweet spot training.’
As you can see, there are many ways to train to boost your aerobic engine. Some riders prefer a high training volume (LSD cycling training), others prefer structured and focused interval training.
Most of my cycling training plans are built in a way that increases threshold power using a combination of
- VO2 max intervals.
- Threshold power intervals,.
- Sub-threshold power intervals.
- Endurance rides.
I agree that threshold power is often the most critical parameter for endurance athletes. However, it is essential to remember that most cycling races are not won at an intensity around threshold power.
So don’t forget to train your anaerobic endurance, sprint skills, and VO2 max as well. These skills are all required when to race goes on. However, performing all your training at an intensity below threshold power is insufficient to build superior VO2 max / anaerobic endurance/sprint skills.
Still, as I also wrote initially, the first and most crucial step to getting better is taking action.
Are you ready to act? If you don’t train – nothing happens.
As soon as you realize that you are responsible for your results, you will start to move. I won’t push your pedals.
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