A Sample 3-Month Training Plan for Cyclists

Act 1—Strength Endurance

The goal here is to build endurance and more specifically, muscle endurance. The actual muscles in the legs are often the weak link for a rider, not because they are not strong enough but because they give out too quickly. Once the muscles go, the rider is going to see a big drop off in performance, no matter how fit they are otherwise.

To that end, I recommend low cadences ranging from 60 to 70 rpm for all rides during this first three-week period, This puts a greater stress on the muscular system in all your riding. This is a good time to train this because any sort of muscular work should be done when the intensity is relatively low, because otherwise it will hurt your ability to hit the high red zone when you are closer to your event. The muscles just don't recover as fast as the heart and lungs.

This phase is actually the most complex one in that it has four different types of intervals. Let's start with a brief description of each.

More: A Simple Cycling Training Plan

Muscle Tension (M.T)

This is a 10-minute interval done in a big gear so that 50 rpm is your top cadence. The effort level is low zone 4 or just at your anaerobic threshold.

(Anaerobic threshold is the point where you can feel your body start to go into oxygen debt but it is a pace that you could maintain for up to 30 minutes if you really had to. If you can go longer than 30 then you are not going hard enough and if you can't maintain it for at least 15 then you are going too hard.

Anaerobic threshold is something you can figure out pretty easily for yourself simply by finding a long climb and inching up your intensity until you hear your breathing change. Whatever your heart rate is at that point is going to be your zone 4 and all your other zones will be built around that. I would put this detection method up against any expensive lab test you've got.)

You will want to find a steady grade without any rollers so that you can stay in the right heart rate and cadence zone for the entire interval. The key to this interval is the tension part. Keeping tension on the muscles for the entire time is the key to making this an incredibly effective early season interval.

Also, keeping a nice steady pedal stroke with a still upper body is key. This is going to be the same pedal stroke that when sped up to over 100 rpm is going to give you peak cycling performance. If it's not close to perfect at 50 rpm then it's going to be a real mess when you get up to 130.

Two to three intervals per workout. Recovery time should be at least 10 minutes.

More: Breaking Down the Pedal Stroke

Max Effort (M.E.)

This is a 30-second, all out sprint effort. I do them on a slight grade using optimal gearing so that if I start at a rolling pace of 15 mph, I can stand up, accelerate, get up to speed and hold it to the end without having to shift. The idea with these is to stimulate the muscles in a slightly different way and get a little red zone training even though most of your workouts are endurance based.

This is actually the shortest interval I do all season and I do it in the winter (another benefit is that it is a nice distraction from the long boring days of winter training). Once again, form is key here. Make a nice smooth acceleration, settle back into the saddle without missing a pedal stroke and then keep a nice, fast steady cadence to the end. Since looking at the computer can be tough in such a short hard effort, you might want to use a starting point and a stopping point that gives you about 30 seconds between.

Two to six intervals per workout. Recovery time should be at least five minutes.

Tempo

This is somewhat like a motor pacing interval but I do it at low cadences and I don't bother with the car. The car is a mental trick anyway and I think any rider can teach themselves the focus and discipline to do a good long tempo interval just using their heart rate or power meter. These can last anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours depending on the rider and what you are training for.

I recommend starting at 30 minutes and adding 10 minutes to each successive interval. Effort level is high Zone 3 or just a notch below anaerobic threshold. Keep a nice steady cadence of 60 to 65 rpm. The ideal terrain is flat to slightly rolling and a nice tailwind never hurts.

One interval per workout.

High Spin (H.S.)

This is an interval that you will do almost every week for the entire three months and it is the only interval that crosses the different training cycles so that tells you how important it is. The High Spin interval, otherwise known as No Load Revving is done with almost no tension on the pedals. So a flat road in your easiest gear is perfectly fine. If you've never done one before, start at 100 rpm. You can inch it up until you start rocking a bit in the saddle and then back it off just a notch. The target cadence is going to be 120 to 140 rpm.

These are Zone 2 intervals but don't worry if your heart rate goes all the way to Zone 4 when you start. The body adapts incredibly quickly to these. You'll notice that your heart rate will drop dramatically after the first few sessions, even at a higher cadence and speed. Because of the high cadence, you can actually do these on your easy recovery days or your endurance days. During this first phase we will limit these to 10 minutes, as we don't want your speed to peak too early.

One interval per workout.

Now that you have the basic workouts, you need to know how to put them into your schedule. First, you should always warm up for at least 20 minutes before you start your interval session but I would recommend 40 minutes to an hour. For this training plan you will need to be riding at least four days per week so in the schedule below the priority days are the interval days. The other days can be added if you are riding more than four days per week.

In terms of the length of the rides, figure out how much time you want to devote to this and count backwards from there. The longest week of the program is going to be the third week of the first phase so use that as a jumping off point.

Phase One Schedule

Weeks One-Three

  • Monday: off or easy (bottom of zone 1) recovery ride
  • Tuesday: M.E. Start with two or three and add one interval each week of the cycle.
  • Wednesday: M.T. Start with two but never do more than three. If you can do more, you aren't doing them right!
  • Thursday: endurance
  • Friday: recovery with 10 minutes of H.S.
  • Saturday: endurance ride
  • Sunday: tempo; this can be the longest ride of the week.

Week Four

  • Recovery

Week four is always an easy recovery week. This means at least three days of riding with 70 percent of it in the bottom of zone one. This pretty much means riding as easy as you can possibly ride. Most riders don't get this and the plan won't work without it. The other 30 percent can be done in low zone two. Don't let your training partners screw this up for you, no matter how much pressure they put on you. Remember what you are training for.

More: Everything Cyclists Need to Know About Recovery

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