Not every cyclist can afford to hire a private coach to create a custom training plan, and many of the free online cycling training plans simply don’t work well for your individual needs and goals.
Therefore, learning how to build a cycling training plan – whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced rider – can save you money and more importantly, ensure you’re following a program geared specifically towards your goals, needs, and lifestyle.
With that said, learning how to build a cycling training plan can be a little intimidating if you’ve never done it before. There are quite a few factors to consider when designing any sort of workout program, including cycling training plans.
The good news is that with a little planning and thoughtful consideration, almost all cyclists can make their own workout program.
In this guide, we’ll discuss how to build a cycling training plan, and give you some of the nuts and bolts of creating cycling training plans for beginners, intermediates, and advanced riders.
We’ll be covering:
- 4 Factors to Consider Before Building a Cycling Training Plan
- The 7 Key Elements of a Great Cycling Training Plan
- Tips On Building A Cycling Training Plan That Works For You
Let’s get started!
4 Factors to Consider Before Building a Cycling Training Plan
If you’re a cyclist with big goals – whether riding a century, competing in a race, losing weight, or taking a long road trek – you don’t want to jump into your big endeavor on a whim. After all, “failing to plan is planning to fail!”
Before building a cycling training plan, you should consider your goals, availability, and your physical abilities. Ask yourself the following questions:
#1. What Is My Goal?
The first thing that must be nailed down before building a cycling training plan is your goal, as this determines the destination and shapes your workout program.
Pick a goal that is meaningful to you and realistic. Be as specific as possible, using the SMART acronym for goal setting: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
Do you have a specific race in mind? Perhaps you want to have an “A” race, which is your top goal race, along with a few less important races along the way, which can be thought of as “B” and “C” races.
For each race, set a realistic goal time or goal distance completion based on past performances.
For example, you may strive to break 2 hours in a 30-mile road race if your last effort was 2 hours and 6 minutes. However, unless that last race was far from your best effort, it may be unrealistic to set out to break 90 minutes in your next race.
Be sure to plan your “A” race far enough out that you’ll have time to progress your fitness. Most cycling training plans are 6-20 weeks long for a specific goal race, with some deviations depending on the race distance.
However, you can also build an annual cycling training plan with phases throughout the year based on different fitness goals, such as weight loss, mileage targets, or completing a long-distance group ride.
For example, perhaps you have your sights set on completing your first century ride next summer. In this scenario, your cycling training plan will be structured towards gradually building your base throughout the year, along with increasing your strength and stamina.
#2. How Much Free Time Do I Have to Train?
One thing you need to consider both when determining the appropriateness of your goal and when building your cycling training plan is your availability or the amount of time you want to dedicate to working out.
Unless you’re already riding plenty for the distance you want to train for, starting a cycling training program may be a step up in terms of time demands than your current workout routine.
The amount of time you’ll need to devote to your training depends on the race or event distance you want to tackle, your average riding speed and fitness level, and your goals.
Of course, the more lofty your goal and the longer the distance you hope to race or ride, the higher your weekly mileage and time commitment for training should be.
In general, if you’re just cycling for fitness, 2-5 hours per week should be sufficient. If you’re cycling for weight loss, aim for 4-5 hours per week, depending on whether you are doing other forms of exercise to supplement your bike workouts.
Most beginner cyclists can train for amateur cycling events for 5-10 hours per week. Intermediate riders usually fall within the 6-10 hours per week range, while advanced riders may fall within the 6-15 hours per week range, depending on your target distance.
#3. How Long Do I Want My Cycling Training Plan to Be?
Some riders prefer to make a year-long cycling training program, with macrocycles and mesocycles throughout the year.
Other riders prefer to focus their cycling training plan on a specific event or for a specific number of weeks aimed at a set goal, after which the effectiveness of the training program is evaluated and a new cycling workout plan is created for another goal.
Neither approach is necessarily better than the other; it all depends on what works for you and how far out you have planned goals.
When you make an annual cycling plan, think in terms of macrocycles and mesocycles – which simply refer to structured building blocks of your training program.
A macrocycle is a large training block. It might be your whole season, or it might be the whole cycle of preparation for a particular race within that season.
A macrocycle contains shorter mesocycles, which are different training phases. These can include:
- A base-building phase in which aerobic endurance is developed.
- A build phase, where the intensity and duration of rides are increased to build strength, speed, and fitness.
- A peak phase, where you are in top shape to race, so workouts are designed to keep you sharp and fast but the volume is reduced.
After each mesocycle, there’s a recovery phase before the next mesocycle begins. Building a cycling training plan with phases is referred to as periodization.
#4. What Other Workouts Do I Want In My Cycling Training Plan?
Most riders will want to include other types of exercise in their cycling training plan, such as strength training, flexibility, and cross-training.
Depending on your goals and experience, you may cycle nearly every day, or cycling might just be one of the several types of exercise you do per week.
When you’re learning how to build a cycling training plan, it’s important to spread out strength training workouts and stack them on days that make sense in the context of your biking workouts.
For example, don’t plan to do a heavy leg day in the gym the morning before a hard interval ride on the bike.
Likewise, don’t put two total-body strength-training sessions back to back on your training plan; leave at least 48 hours between hard resistance training workouts to allow the muscles ample time to recover.
The 7 Key Elements of a Great Cycling Training Plan
Any two cyclists will likely have quite different training plans based on differences in goals, fitness level, availability to train, injury risk, and preferences.
However, most cycling training programs contain the same basic elements in varying proportions, speeds, and distances or durations.
#1. Easy Rides
Easy rides (or recovery rides) should follow long rides and hard workouts. You may choose to program in cross-training or a rest day instead, depending on your target distance, level of fitness, injury history, personal preferences, and availability.
Easy rides can be thought of as Zone 2 training, and should make up the majority of your mileage per week, especially during base-building phases of your cycling training plan.
#2. Long Rides
You should plan to do a long ride just about every week no matter what distance you have your eye on. This is your primary endurance-building workout that gets progressively longer and closer to the goal race distance.
If you’re training for your first attempt at a certain distance, with the goal of simply finishing, your long rides will progressively approach this distance – though you might not hit the full distance until race day.
Don’t worry though; you’ll be physically prepared for the distance on the day of the event or race even at these shorter distances. For example, if you’re training to ride your first century (100 miles), your longest training ride may be only 80 miles.
You’ll want to do one long ride per week, gradually increasing the distance each week, with a drop back every four weeks or so to give your body a break. The distance should also taper starting 2-3 weeks out from race day.
#3. Threshold Workouts
Typically, tempo rides or threshold intervals should occur once per week, but more advanced riders may throw in goal race pace miles during long rides as well.
These workouts increase your anaerobic threshold and allow you to cycle faster for longer without fatigue. Gradually increase the duration of these workouts during the build phase.
#4. Speed Workouts
If you’re trying to chase a specific goal time, your training program should also have workouts that have you cycling faster than your target race pace to improve your speed and lactate threshold.
Hill repeats, VO2 max intervals, and fartlek rides are good examples. These should only be done once per week, unless you’re training for a very short race.
#5. Strength Training
A good workout program should be balanced and develop your strength as a well-rounded athlete. Make sure you are doing core work, mobility exercises, and doing full-body strength training workouts 2-3 times per week.
Resistance training helps prevent injuries by correcting strength imbalances and building functional stability so that your body can handle the miles in the saddle.
Cross-training is a great way to get an aerobic workout while using different muscles, which can prevent overuse injuries, muscle imbalances, and tightness.
Depending on your experience level, injury history, and goal, you may want 1-2 cross-training workouts per week. These typically follow hard rides.
#7. Rest Days
A smart cycling training plan should have at least one rest day per week.
Tips On Building A Cycling Training Plan That Works For You
Here are a few final tips to help you build the best cycling training plan:
- Periodize your training: Look at when your “A” race or event is. The Base phase should start 6 months out from that, the Build phase should be 12-16 weeks from the event, and the Peak phase should be about 6 weeks out.
- Follow a template. It’s usually a good idea to follow the same general template each week for your workouts. While the distances and paces will change from week to week, the same elements will remain. For example:
- Monday: Easy Ride and Strength Training
- Tuesday: Tempo Ride
- Wednesday: Cross-Training
- Thursday: VO2 Max Intervals
- Friday: Easy Ride and Strength Training
- Saturday: Rest Day
- Sunday: Long Ride
- Be adaptable. Things change. Always prioritize listening to your body over adhering religiously to your workout program.
Now you know the basics of building a cycling training plan, it’s time to get going for yourself – whatever your targets or starting point!
Though there are countless cycling training plans available on the internet, nobody knows your body better than you. Having the tools to build your own training plan sets you up to take control of your cycling and your goals, which can only help you progress further as a cyclist!