Endurance Cycling for Beginners – Building Different Phases For Cycling Endurance
Training for endurance cycling is lots of long rides. On paper, this makes sense, but in practice, it isn’t the most effective way for your endurance training plan. A targeted approach will improve your endurance cycling faster than long steady endurance rides. You need high cycling threshold power, high aerobic endurance and increased muscular endurance. If any of these areas are weak, you will find your cycling performance drops quickly in your during your race.
Long rides do need to be part of your cycling training program but not the foundation. A periodized approach that builds your functional threshold power and speed is the better way to go. While speed is the hardest thing to build up, we spend a fair amount of time over the winter, increasing sustainable speed and force development. Making your longer rides to be ridden with a higher average power.
The training year will break down into several phases with different goals. Here is how the average endurance cycling training plan looks like:
Training To Train Phase (4-8 Weeks)
At the end of each cycling season, you should have time off, reducing the training to allow the body to recover from the previous cycling season. The training to train phase gets your body back into the swing of things. Throughout this phase, you will gradually increase the training workload for the harder workouts to come. Bike workouts will include Aerobic and Tempo riding, light cross-training and core/balance training.
Speed And Muscular Building Phase (12-16 Weeks)
Speed building with cycling training is about increasing your functional threshold power and building full-body muscular endurance. The intensity is high with an overall training volume at 6-10 hours per week. Most of my athletes will be on the bike at least five days per week mixing 2-3 hard cycling workouts and 2-3 aerobic rides or tempo rides.
These harder cycling workouts are a mix of threshold repeats, V02max Intervals, Tabata Intervals, 4×4 intervals and time trials. If you did four v02max intervals this week, do five next week and continue to this progression for three weeks, then have the fourth week off for recovery. During the recovery week, try to lower the intensity and do 4-5 aerobic endurance rides, this allows the body to recover without losing cardiovascular fitness. In fact, after a recovery week, you will see an increase in cycling performance as the fatigue built up goes away.
Endurance Cycling Phase (8-16 Weeks)
This is the time to start building your cycling mileage. Beginning in the spring means you can do a few hours a night and the endurance rides on the weekends. The interval workouts should be split between one high-intensity interval and one longer interval. Just like the previous phase, build your cycling endurance volume over three weeks and have the fourth week as a recovery week. Make sure you keep increasing no more than 10% per week to allow for adaptation and recovery.
During this phase, you want to keep doing a couple of cross-training workouts with a focus on the core and upper body muscular endurance.
For endurance cycling, people think in terms of a steady pace. But unless you are riding a perfectly flat course, you will have repeated muscular efforts with every hill. There is no way to do hills at the same level you do flat terrain. You want to build “Fatigue Resistance” which is the ability to make repeated efforts without a decrease in performance. Pacing your yourself on the climbs are still harder than riding on the flat, which is why we have to work harder during the Endurance building phase.
Cycling Competition Phase (4-8 Weeks)
This is the time to put finishing touches on your endurance cycling plan. We know its hard to maintain peak fitness for an extended period, so it’s essential to plan what endurance cycling events you are doing. During this time, we want to complete some over distance training and multi-day blocks to build capacity in the body. With block training, 3-4 days is spent with long and hard workouts and the same amount of days recovery. Time this phase a few weeks out from your event for the best results.
During the final week before the cycling endurance event, your fitness can’t be improved anymore. Focus on rest and recovery, so you are as fresh as possible. With experimentation and trial, you will find the perfect tapering period. Cut hard intervals to one short session, then reduce your training volume by 20 % to allow recovery, thus helping you to build a higher level of fitness.
Recovery Phase (2-8 Weeks)
The recovery phase can be at the end of the season or used midseason. It lets you recover after the season or rebuild for the last half of the season. All rides should be light and fun while keeping the workload mainly aerobic.
After an event like a 24 hours solo Mtb race, it can take up to 2 weeks for the fatigue to go away. When you start feeling like you want to go hard again, plan a few more days rest. You are at the end of the competitive season, so its good to give yourself a week off the bike.
There is a lot of variation to how much time you spend in each phase, and this depends entirely on how long your competitive season is. While the actual mechanics of a program can be pretty complex, the basic outline is pretty simple. Get the body ready to train, build speed and add endurance. Then peak for your event and the focus on recovery.
If you are self-coached, it can take a few seasons to see what works for you. But if you start with a plan, you will get much further ahead than just trying to cycle more.