Couch to 20k Cycling Training Plan for Beginners (With PDF Printout)

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Starting any type of exercise or fitness program can be really challenging, especially if you’ve been inactive for a while. 

The first few cycling workouts for beginners can feel like an utter slog, with each minute feeling like an hour. 

A Couch to 20k Cycling training plan is an ambitious – but achievable – goal for anyone looking to boost their fitness and get back to being active.

If you stick with your couch to 20k cycling program, you become progressively fitter and stronger. A workout that would have been outright impossible in the first few weeks of training becomes totally doable.

In this training guide, we’ll not only provide a day-by-day couch to 20k cycling plan, but also provide tips and information on how to follow the couch to cycling 20k plan successfully.

Believe in yourself – you’ve got this!

In this guide, we’ll be covering: 

  • What Is the Couch to 20k Cycling Plan?
  • Why Aim For A 20 Km Target?
  • Why Does the Couch to 20k Cycling Plan Have Cross-Training Workouts?
  • Why Does the Couch to 20k Cycling Plan Have Rest Days?
  • The Couch to 20k Cycling Training Plan
  • 10 Top Tips for the Couch to 20k for Beginners

Ready to get back in the saddle?

Let’s dive in! 

Couch to 20k Cycling Training Plan: Title Image

What Is the Couch to 20k Cycling Plan?

Modeled after the same concepts of the well-known Couch to 5k running plans, our Couch to 20k Cycling Plan is designed to help safely and effectively progress beginners who have been inactive or are new to cycling up to the 20 km distance.

This program is appropriate for athletes who are new to cycling but are coming from other sports, such as running, walking, swimming, or weightlifting. You can also take on the Couch to 20k Cycling Program if you are truly coming “off the couch” without having worked out consistently for some time.

Three cyclists take an easy morning ride past some fields.

Why Aim For A 20 Km Target?

First of all, if you’re new to the sport of cycling, it’s worth covering the basics: 20k refers to 20 kilometers, or 20,000 meters.

For cyclists who are more accustomed to miles, 20 km is approximately 12 miles. Therefore, you can also think of this as a Couch to 12 Mile Cycling Plan.

20 km is a great target for a number of reasons.

Firstly, a tough but achievable target cycling pace for most beginners is to average about 20 kilometers per hour, so the Couch to 20k Plan essentially builds your endurance and strength to ride 60 minutes or so without stopping.

20 km is also a popular distance for amateur bike races you can enter, so if you want to set a goal to complete one of these events, this is a good training plan for that aim.

Depending on your average cycling speed, 20k may take a little more or less than one hour, but this is a good ballpark for most beginner cyclists.

A couple ride through a dappled forest on mountain bikes.

Why Does the Couch to 20k Cycling Plan Have Cross-Training Workouts?

You’ve come to this Coach to 20k Cycling Challenge to get on the bike, so you might be wondering why there is a cross-training workout each week on your training schedule.

Cross-training, which is essentially any non-cycling exercise, is an important component of training for cyclists, especially beginners. It enables you to develop your aerobic fitness base and endurance without placing more of the exact same forces and stresses on your muscles, joints, and connective tissues. 

Even though cycling is a low-impact exercise compared to something like running (which, therefore, has a higher risk of injury), it’s still very repetitive. You use the same muscles and perform the same motion pedal stroke after pedal stroke.

Most cross-training activities use somewhat different muscles and motions than cycling, so cross-training can reduce muscle overuse and soreness and prevent the development of muscle imbalances from cycling only.

Examples of good cross-training activities for cyclists include:

  • Hiking
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Pilates
  • Elliptical Machines
  • Circuit Training
  • Cross-Country Skiing

If you’re really sore and tired from your cycling workouts, choose a cross-training activity that’s particularly gentle on your joints and muscles, such as swimming, walking, or yoga. 

A couple pause for a drinks break during a ride.

Why Does the Couch to 20k Cycling Challenge Have Rest Days?

Since this beginner cycling plan is only 30 days, it might seem unnecessary to have two rest days per week. 

However, rest days are an important part of a training program, especially for beginner cyclists who haven’t been exercising consistently or are new to cycling itself. 

We want this to be a safe, sustainable program that builds confidence and consistency as much as it does fitness, endurance, and strength.

Although many new cyclists get so excited about their training that they want to ride every day, rest days give your body time to rebuild, repair, and recover. 

Regularly taking rest days reduces the risk of injury by allowing sufficient time for your tissues to recover before loading them with the impacts, strains, forces, and stresses of cycling again. 

Taking time off enables you to safely hit the next cycling workout with renewed energy and strength. 

Couch to 20k Cycling Training Plan for Beginners

Couch To 20k Cycling Training Plan Printout

10 Top Tips for the Couch to 20k for Beginners

If this is your first foray into cycling, you might well have a few misgivings taking on the Couch to 20k Cycling Plan. 

Fear not!

We’ve put together some tips to help you complete the cycling plan for beginners successfully (and hopefully enjoy the process).

#1: Cycle By Effort, Not By Pace

Don’t worry about how fast you are riding during your run intervals. Just keep moving and use effort as your guide.

#2: Establish a Routine

Choose a time of day for your workouts that works best in your schedule and then try to be consistent with that routine. Although not a necessity, it’s often easier to make and keep a habit if you’re consistent with when and how you do it.

Perhaps you will find it’s easiest to get your workouts in as soon as you wake up. Or, maybe you have a long lunch break and enjoy breaking up your day with some exercise. Other people like to blast away the stress of a long day at work with an evening workout. 

Whatever works best for you, try to carve out the time every day as your sacred workout time to ensure there are no excuses or conflicts that get in the way of your training.

#3: Invest In Some Cycling Gear 

Just because you’ve never considered yourself a cyclist before doesn’t mean you aren’t one the second you commit to this Couch to 20k cycling plan!

Make sure your bike fits you and is tuned up and adjusted correctly. You absolutely need a helmet, and clothing such as padded bike shorts will make you much more comfortable than riding in regular shorts.

You’ll also want a water bottle or hydration pack for biking. A bike computer or cycling app on your phone can be a valuable way to track how far you’re riding too!

#4: Wear a Heart Rate Monitor

It’s certainly not a requirement, but wearing a heart rate monitor can help you gauge the intensity level of your workouts.

#5: Plan Your Routes Ahead

Some cyclists really enjoy variety in their routes to keep things fresh.

Other bikers prefer a small handful of routes or riding indoors on a trainer or exercise bike. Find what makes you comfortable and feels motivating and fun.

Don’t be afraid to try new routes because if your routine gets too repetitive, you may get bored or feel unchallenged. 

A cyclist stops by a lake on her road bike at sunset.

#6: Recruit a Friend

Cycling mates offer a lot of perks, from added safety, to accountability, to companionship. 

Chatting also makes time fly by, and If it’s pouring rain on Monday morning when you wake up at 6 am for your ride, you’re less likely to hit snooze again if you have a partner, neighbor, or friend scheduled to ride with you. 

#7: Ride Indoors

Although it’s arguably more exciting to ride outside, there are no requirements for the type of cycling you do during this beginning cycling challenge or where you ride.

Whether you head to the trails on a mountain bike, ride a hybrid bike around town, fix your road bike to an indoor trainer, or use an exercise bike, do what works for you. Nothing is off-limits!

#8: Fuel Like An Athlete

As soon as you take your first ride of the Couch to 20k cycling plan, you become a cyclist.

It’s time to treat your body like the athlete you are becoming. Be sure you are fueling with nutritious foods and hydrating enough, especially before and after your workouts.

#9: Push Through the Hard Days 

Not every day will feel great.

If you’re finding you’re really struggling to make it through a ride without stopping early, feel free to slow your pace as much as you want. Remember: your speed isn’t important here, you’re just trying to train your body to keep cycling. 

You’re building a habit of being active as much as you are building your fitness, so commit to yourself and keep at it!

#10: Believe In Yourself

You – yes you – can do this. Take on our Couch to 20k cycling plan and give yourself the opportunity to become a cyclist.

You’ve got this!

Inspired to learn more? Check out the latest from the BikeTips experts below!

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With over a decade of experience as a certified personal trainer, two Masters degrees (Exercise Science and Prosthetics and Orthotics), and as a UESCA-certified endurance nutrition and triathlon coach, Amber is as well-qualified as they come when it comes to handling sports science topics for BikeTips. Amber's experience as a triathlon coach demonstrates her broad and deep knowledge of performance cycling.

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