Starting From Scratch

by CyclingTips


For much of my life I’ve prided myself on constantly keeping fit and never letting myself go such that I’m starting from scratch. Until now. I’m many kilos overweight and I went for a flat 80km ride yesterday which I struggled to finish. There might be some of you out there in this same situation and now is a good time to start to be fit for summer.

The one mistake I see many people making (and I’m tempted myself) is to panic and to throw some intensity into their riding straight away. The trap is that you’ll be motivated, form will come quickly, but you won’t have the aerobic base to back it up and build upon. It’s called “cheap form“.  A common mistake all endurance sports is doing your fast work too slow, and your slow work too fast. I wrote about the intensity trap last year and it’s something I need to keep in mind now more than ever. At the beginning of training, the only thing to worry about building that aerobic base and focus on three things: endurance, strength endurance (force), and speed.

Aerobic Endurance

Keep it in zone 2 for much of your riding time (being able to hold a conversation). No coasting, no highs, no lows, keep your cadence at ~95rpm. 4-6 weeks of this type of riding should be sufficient for someone like myself, but it depends on where you’re coming from.

Strength Endurance

Climb all hills in the saddle and focus on engaging your glutes, hamstrings and lower back. I’m not talking about doing Strength Endurance intervals just yet. We’re just “riding” normally at this point. This is a simple stepping stone to do wonders for building strength improving your sustained power. After a few weeks of this you will be stronger – just in time to start the high intensity training.

Speed

Put a 27T cassette on and consistently spin at ~95RPM for much of your riding. Stay away from the big steep climbs. If you encounter a steep climb, do as noted above – stay seated and engage those glutes, hams and lower back.

How Much?

How much riding should you do? That depends on what you’re training for and what your personal life can handle. What I would recommend is that you focus on time, not distance. Not all distances are created equal. For me, my longest race won’t be more than 3-4 hours so I won’t often do much more than that. Consistency is more important than the length of the rides at this point.

Everyone is different, but for myself it’s much better to ride three days in a row rather than one day of 250kms. Backing up consecutive days is where the training stimulus lays.

One tip I can offer to maximise the effectiveness of your training is that if you like to ride in the bunches, make sure your legs are moving at all times. Bunch rides are full of surges and periods of coasting. I’ll sometimes ride my breaks during these periods just so I can maintain a constant spin. Take note of many of the other guys in the bunch. They’re only moving their legs ~50% of the time.

Example Training Week

This isn’t a “perfect” schedule that would be recommended to a committed athlete, but is a realistic schedule that will get someone like myself 80% of what I’m looking for. Ideally some of these sessions (Tues and Thurs) would be 4 hours, but I’m no longer interested in that type of riding nor do I have the time.

Note: It seems that many people are interpreting this as being a training plan for everyone. This is what I’ll be doing for the next 4-6 weeks but I have nearly 20 years of bike racing experience to work with. This is probably too much volume for somebody coming from inactivity for many months or years.

Monday: Easy 1.5 hour coffee shop ride (keeping cadence at 95RPM) along a flat road (eg. Beach Road).

Tuesday: Sit on the back of a 2hr bunch ride and spin at 95rpm always mindful to keep spinning. What I’ll do is sit on the back of a Beach Road bunch and do another 30-60mins extra alone. Coffee afterwards.

Wednesday: Wake up early and do a 3hr ride. Ideally go out to somewhere with a few small hills (keeping seated over those hills). For those of you in Melbourne, going around Eltham or Kew Blvd (north) or to Frankston and 2Bays (south) is perfect. Don’t get caught up with the pace if you’re joining a bunch ride. It’s okay to put in a couple efforts, but if you can’t hold a conversation you’re going too hard. Don’t forget the coffee after.

Thursday: Same as Tuesday. If you can explore the hills for 2 hrs, that would be even better. The goal here is to string together three solid days. For someone like me, this is where the training stimulus lies.

Friday: Same as Monday

Saturday: 3-4 hour ride into terrain with some longer (but gradual) climbs. For those in Melbourne, Dandenongs with a couple 15-20 minute climbs is perfect. Don’t ride the climbs too hard, but make sure you’re staying in the saddle. Have a big breakfast at the cafe after.

Sunday: 2-3 hour aerobic ride avoiding going into any discomfort. Head to coffee shop straight after.

Summary

Patience is the key to success in an endurance sport such as cycling and you’ll hear coaches stress this aspect of fitness more often than the high intensity intervals. When all your mates are smashing it up the hills or in the bunch rides, don’t be too proud to do what’s right for you in this period. If you skip straight to the intensity then you’ll never reach your potential and you’ll most likely come crashing down. Intensity will come as your aerobic form improves and motivation will naturally rise. Training for cycling is not rocket science at our level but is a different mentality than than say soccer or footie. Keep it steady and easy for the first couple months as it underpins the whole of your top end training and racing. Start now and you’ll be flying by the summer crits.

Note: I am not a qualified cycling coach and am only describing what works for me throughout the years of advice and training that I’ve done. What might work for me may not work for you.

You can find a list of all cycling tips posts on this blog here.