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Intelligent Cycling Training—Training

Benefits of Base Training

Training to improve your endurance and overall cycling!

by John Hughes
© John Hughes 2012, All Rights Reserved

John Hughes is the author of Distance Cycling and many articles on training, nutrition, psychology and medical issues for RoadBikeRider.com. He is a veteran of Paris-Brest-Paris ’79, ’87, ’91, ’95, ’99, Boston-Montreal-Boston ’92 (course record), Rocky Mountain 1200 ’04, Furnace Creek 508 ’89 (course record) and ’93 (first place) and the Race Across America ’96.

Training at an easy endurance pace brings about important physiological changes, changes which don’t happen if you ride harder. How easy? This is classic LSD (Long Slow Distance) endurance training at a conversational pace. You should be able to carry on a full conversation at a relaxed easy pace. It should almost feel too easy! On a 1-10 Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale where 1 is a slow walk and 10 is a full sprint, endurance training is at an RPE of 2-3. If you are using a heart rate monitor, ride at 75-87% of lactate threshold.

Ed Burke, Ph.D., the author of Serious Cycling, lists these benefits of endurance training, which I have annotated:

  1. The endurance of the cycling muscles by increasing the number of mitochondria.
    • The mitochondria are subcellular structures in the muscles where aerobic energy is produced.
  2. The respiratory system, providing more oxygen to the blood supply.
  3. The efficiency of the heart so it can pump more blood to the muscles.
    • Endurance training improves the stroke volume, the amount of blood pumped per heart beat.
  4. The capacity of the liver and muscles to store carbohydrates.
    • Your body can store approximately 1800 calories worth of carbohydrate as glycogen. You can exhaust your glycogen stores during several hours of hard riding. Through endurance training you can increase your ability to store glycogen by 20 to 50%!
  5. The neuromuscular efficiency of pedaling.
    • Power is a function both of the strength of the muscles and coordinating the firing pattern of the nerves to activate the right muscle fibers at the right time so you go forward with less wasted energy.
    • Early season endurance training is also a great time to work on pedaling with a rounder stroke and being able to spin smoothly at a higher cadence.
  6. The capacity to burn fat during long rides.
    • Through endurance training your fuel mix on endurance rides shifts to more fat and less glycogen, sparing precious glycogen stores. Note that this doesn’t automatically result in weight loss; that is a function of calories in and calories out.
  7. The thermoregulatory system by increasing the blood flow to the skin.
    • Your skin is your largest organ and ability to dissipate heat will pay off later in the season.

Ed Burke, Serious Cycling, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 2002

The benefits of endurance training accrue over time; however, even seasoned pro racers take a break of a few weeks after the season ends and then spend time improving their base. We amateur endurance riders will benefit from spending several months training almost exclusively at this endurance pace, say 70-80% of our time in the early season. Even during our main season most of our time should be spent training at this easy endurance pace with some brisker tempo and intensity riding.

Get more information from my three articles on Endurance Training and Riding covering training, nutrition and the skills for finish rides of 100km and longer. 48 pages available for just $13.50 from RoadBikeRider.com.