Coach Hughes: Spring Training for Cycling
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Intelligent Cycling Training—Training

Spring Training for Cycling

Train smarter, not too hard, not too long!

“Base endurance cycling training should feel almost too easy!”

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 the the former director of the UltraMarathon Cycling Association and editor of UltraCycling, has been certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a personal trainer and by USA Cycling as a coach.

Top racers don’t just have bigger engines and stronger legs, they train smarter!

Training Phases
Coaches often divide the year into different phases with different purposes. You can improve your riding by doing the same. Spring is the Base phase:

  • Off-season or pre-season. The purpose is to recover from the previous season and to build general fitness.
  • Base phase (Spring). The purpose is to build bike-specific endurance.
  • Build phase. The purpose is to build power and speed while maintaining the endurance developed during the base phase.
  • Peaking phase. If a rider is training for a specific event or events, there may be a phase of specialized training.
  • Main season. The purpose is to meet your riding goals and to have fun doing it!

Base training is the 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 feel almost too easy! Riding at this endurance pace brings about important physiological changes, which don’t happen if you ride harder. Benefits of base training.

Training Principles
Rather than just telling clients to ride a lot, coaches follow a set of principles in designing a season, a training week or a workout. These should guide your spring training:

  1. Training overload leads to adaptation: When a rider asks the body to do more than it is used to, the body adapts so it can handle the new workload. When asked to do too much, the body may break down rather than getting stronger.
  2. Progressive overload: Training is most effective if the overload increases progressively and follows a pattern of stress and recovery to allow improvement. The cyclist can increase:
    • How much he/she rides, or
    • How often he/she rides, or
    • How he/she rides
    • How hard he/she rides.
    Increasing all four variables at the same time risks overtraining or injury.
  3. Individuality: Cyclists have various fitness levels, goals and time available for training, so fitness programs should take into account their individual needs. You shouldn’t necessarily train the same way as your buddies.
  4. Specificity: The muscles, aerobic and neurological systems adapt specifically to the demands placed on them. Playing other sports is fun and can build general fitness; however, to improve a cyclist needs to ride most of the time.
  5. Frequency: To continue to improve an athlete needs to engage in a specific activity, for example, cycling at least four times a week. Three times per week is only sufficient to maintain fitness.
  6. Variation: All riding is not the same. The body responds differently to different intensities of riding.
  7. Recovery: Recovery is an integral aspect of conditioning because most adaptations occur when the body is resting, not during the training sessions. To keep improving, the body needs time to rebuild.
  8. Enjoyment: Most of your riding and other activities should be fun—you’re not being paid!

Types of Workouts
During the spring you should be doing primarily three types of rides:

  1. Endurance rides. Progressively longer rides at a conversational pace. How long? No more than 10-15% longer than you did last week.
  2. Tempo rides. Somewhat brisker rides to build your cruising speed. You should still be able to talk, but shouldn’t be able to whistle.
  3. Active recovery. Short, very easy rides to help you recover from the other rides.
If you have already built a good endurance base and want to ride competitively, either racing or on hard club rides, then you can also do a little speed work. Here’s more information on varying the intensity including how to gauge intensity.

Typical Week
During the spring your training should be divided roughly as follows:

  1. Endurance rides. One long ride that is 40-60% of the total volume.
  2. Tempo rides. Several moderate length rides that total 20-50%
  3. Active recovery. Several short rides, walks, etc., that total 10-20% of the volume.
  4. Day off. Every week take at least one full recovery day.

Recovery
You don’t get stronger while you are riding. Your body only repairs and strengthens your muscles while you rest. Recovery is especially important after high-intensity workouts, because some micro trauma occurs in the muscles. Further, work, school, family, and other obligations all draw on a cyclist’s physiological and psychological capacities. The additional training overload may be too much at times. If you do too much too soon you risk developing spring knee, tendonitis around the knee. To avoid spring knee and other injuries:

  • Each week do no more than three hard rides. A hard ride is a long ride or an intense ride.
  • Mix hard, easy and moderate days each week.
  • Increase your weekly long ride by no more than 10-15% per week.
Here’s how to optimize your recovery for most effective training.

More Information
Get more information on spring training including four different 10-week plans for riders with different goals and fitness in my 27-page eArticle Spring Training: 10 Weeks to Summer Fitness, which is available for just $4.99 from RoadBikeRider.com