Basic Bike Training

This article is designed for the beginner, to help in endurance type events – anything longer than about 4minutes!

1. Get on your bike.

If you want to get better at cycling you need to cycle. While there are cross training benefits from a variety of other activities (see later), you do need to do some cycling. So the good news is, your first step is only to get off the couch and get on your bike!

2. Endurance first.

When you start training, the most important aspect to work on initially is your endurance (unless you are training for sprint events). Endurance takes a long time to develop, upwards of 5 years to begin to reach your true potential. This type of training should be done at a comfortable pace, and you should be able to hold a conversation while exercising. A mistake many beginners make is doing their endurance training too intensely. The vast majority of your training should be at a comfortable 70-75% effort. While training a little harder may feel like you are doing more benefit, because you are more tired, it is not as effective for your long term endurance.

When building up your endurance, you want to aim at gradually building up a long session. How frequently you do a longer session will depend on your individual training. As a general rule, you should not increase training by more than 10% per week. For many their long training session maybe a Sunday morning group ride. If you are trying to balance a busy schedule, and perhaps other activities (such as running) are a major factor, your longer ride maybe every second week. For a Pro, a long ride maybe on the program 5 days per week!

3. Specific strength and intense workouts.

Once you have started to develop some endurance, you can start to work on specific strength and/or your anaerobic threshold. You should generally work on your strength then threshold, although there are many variations possible! We are not going to get too scientific here.

Strength is a little different, and it is perhaps best described as the ability to produce force. Sort of – how hard you can press the pedals down. If you are training for a bike course that has a number of hills in it, it may be necessary to do some specific strength work. This may also be the case if you just lack strength!

Anaerobic threshold, or lactate threshold, is a term often used to describe the point where you go from aerobic to anaerobic energy production. Without getting too technical, it is a pace you can hold for between 30 and 50 minutes, depending on your fitness. If you go any faster, the dreaded lactic acid arrives, which is that horrible burning feeling in your legs.

There are many ways of developing strength and your lactate threshold, in some cases both at the same time. What you do depends on what you are training for. An important point about intense training, is that you don’t have to do it very much to get quite good benefits. A mistake that many people make, is thinking that if a little is good, then a lot is better. This is how you get over trained! Another common error, related to the endurance training, is that the easy training is done too hard, and the hard training is done too easy. If you do your endurance training too hard, you maybe too tired to do your hard training hard! There should be quite a distinct difference in pace between your hard and easy training!

When doing these more intense workouts, it is important to warm up well before you start, and warm-down after you finish. The duration of the intense part of the workout will depend on your fitness, and what you are training for. For shorter events, and beginning athletes, I would recommend the intense portion of the workout (efforts and rest) to be between 20 and 40 minutes. If you are training for longer events, and doing lower intensity strength work, the session maybe upwards of one and a half hours (it maybe longer for a serious athlete, training for a long event). For very intense lactate threshold workouts, session durations of 50 minutes or less are usually optimal. Your muscle glycogen stores will normally be exhausted in this time, at threshold intensity.

Strength workouts.

Basically you need to be putting more force on the pedals than usual. This means riding in a bigger gear, so that your cadence is lower than normal. You don’t want to pedal so slowly that your technique becomes terrible (and you become good at riding badly!). Initially try 20-30 rpm less than your normal cadence. If you normally ride at 90 rpm, then do some training at 60-70 rpm. More experienced riders may get down to 40-50 rpm. Examples of some hard workouts: Riding on the flat in a big gear: 5 to 20 minute repetitions in a big gear, with half the effort easy between each rep. Hill repetitions: choose a hill, and ride up and down.

Lactate Threshold workouts.

Here you need to be exercising at or about your lactate threshold. This is a pace that you can maintain for 30-60 minutes. If you cannot maintain a pace – you have started out too hard.

Efforts or 3 to 20 minutes. The rest should be reasonably short, and your recovery between repetitions may not necessarily be complete. Use fifty percent of the effort as rest as a rough guide. The Spin classes may also be a good option for an intense workout.

Other training There are many other types of training that can be performed. As this is a beginner’s article, I don’t wish to delve too much further.

4. Cross training benefits.

Cycle training is a lot more time consuming than other endurance exercises, such as swimming and running. If you live in a very built up area, actually getting out on the road to cycle can be a life threatening exercise!

You may get cardio vascular benefits from other activities, such as running and swimming. If you are doing a number of other aerobic activities, you can get by with less actual cycling. However, you need to work more on you cycling strength and muscle endurance.

Take care not to do too many intense workouts – including all workouts, in one week. The human body can tolerate quite an incredible amount of endurance training, but in my experience, only a relatively small amount of intense training. Too much intense training is the main cause of over training.

Wind training options. Using wind-trainers, or indoor trainers, for cycling is becoming increasingly more popular. There are many advantages to training indoors. You can avoid the traffic, bad weather, darkness to mention a few. Wind-trainers also tend to be far more time efficient. You don’t have down hills, or stops at traffic lights. I find a one hour workout on the wind-trainer is equivalent to at least one and a half hours on the road.

5. Basic programs.

The following is a basic program outline to help an athlete be reasonably competitive in events lasting one to three hours. The level you start at will depend on your current fitness, so it may take some time to build up to this program (remember the 10% rule).

Semi competitive person aiming at 30-80km events





1 Distance 2-3hours 65-75%
2 Intense 1-1 ½ hours (total) 90-100%
3 Aerobic 40min-1 ½ hours 75-85%
4 Easy aerobic 40min-1 ½ hours 65-75%

I hope this helps a few of you beginners out there. If you want to optimize your training further, it is probably best to get yourself a coach. As you need to set a program to your own strengths, weaknesses, and ability.

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