The 5 key areas of training for road cyclists

Focus on these five things in your training and you won’t go wrong

By paying special attention to these five areas of cycle training you'll be able to cope with most things, no matter what your level of ability. Give the routines a read through, then adjust your own training to make sure you cover each discipline.

You'll definitely need to find out your maximum heart rate for some of the exercises. To do this, climb a long, steady hill seated, upping the pace every five minutes. When you can go no faster, stand up and sprint for 15 seconds. Stop and take your heart rate.

These five cornerstones of training will set you up to make the most of your cycling, as long as you pay good attention to each specialty.

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1. Hill training

Hill training is a great way to get more speed with less training
Hill training is a great way to get more speed with less training

It’s all about power — you need more of it in your legs to fly up those inclines comfortably without leaving all your energy behind. Gym sessions that strengthen your leg and back muscles undoubtedly help, but you don’t want to put on too much bulk as this will ultimately slow you down on your bike. 

The best way to get stronger on your climbs is to target your training. One key is to avoid the temptation of standing up in the saddle, as it uses 10 to 12 percent more energy, according to research. Too much of that and you’ll have nothing left for the remainder of the ride.

Beginner workout

Choose a hill that takes two minutes to climb in a comfortable gear while seated. Climb twice, with two-minute recovery times in between.

Advanced workout

Choose a hill that takes four minutes to climb in a comfortable gear while seated. Climb three to five times, with four-minute recovery times in between each effort.

2. Endurance training

Endurance training rides are an essential part of your weekly mix
Endurance training rides are an essential part of your weekly mix

Road cycling is, for the most part, an endurance sport, so you need to spend most of your time training at endurance intensity. Ideally, an endurance ride should be between 60 and 120 minutes, and undertaken at 35 to 45 percent below your maximum heart rate. 

This will increase your aerobic capacity and help you burn fat more efficiently. Hot summer days are more attractive for long rides, but if you’re looking to improve your riding next year the best time to build your endurance is in the winter months, before the season starts.

Beginner workout

Two 60-minute rides a week at 55 to 65 percent of your maximum heart rate. Include one intense interval session too.

Advanced workout

Three rides of 120-plus minutes a week at 55 to 65 percent of your maximum heart rate. Incorporate one intense interval session a week.

3. Recovery training

Recovery is a crucial component of training
Recovery is a crucial component of training

Recovery is as important for getting fit as exercise itself. Only when you’ve completed your training session or race can the body repair damaged muscle tissue, refuel muscle glycogen and prepare for the next level of physical exertion. 

Recovery rides are a key component of this. They need to be flat and taken at a comfortable pace — you should be able to hold a conversation with your cycling buddies without struggling for breath. Oh, and don’t forget to stay hydrated.

Beginner workout

60-minute recovery ride, once a week.

Advanced workout

120-minute recovery ride, once a week.

4. Threshold training

Threshold training is painful, but effective
Threshold training is painful, but effective

Your lactate threshold is the point at which your muscles start to become overcome with fatigue, so raising the level of work that you can do before you reach it is extremely important. 

In sportives or gran fondos this is likely to happen on long, steady climbs, and in races having a higher lactate threshold will enable you to stay with breakaways or ace that time trial. Train at 15 to 25 percent below your maximum heart rate, which will be slightly above your lactate threshold.

Beginner workout

Thirty minutes at a constant intensity of 81 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate once a week.

Advanced workout

Twenty minutes at a constant intensity of 85 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate three times a week.

5. Interval training

Interval training involves short and regular bursts, alternating speeds from low to high. It’s an important training tool used for building up cardiovascular fitness and maximising your aerobic capacity, which is also known as your VO2 max. 

Everyone has a different VO2 max and it is largely determined by genes and age. It is therefore not possible to increase it beyond your genetic maximum, but it is possible to ensure that you are maximising your potential.

The good news is that training at your VO2 max also increases your endurance and strength.

Beginner workout

Three intervals of three minutes at high intensity, with three-minute recovery periods in between. No more than one session per week.

Advanced workout

Three intervals of five minutes at high intensity, with three-minute recovery periods in between. No more than one session per week.

… so what's your favourite training session? Let us know in the comments below.

Cycling Plus

Cycling Plus Magazine
This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine – the manual for the modern road cyclist. Try your first five issues for £5 when you subscribe today.
  • Discipline: Road
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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