How to Start Training for Cycling as a Beginner

How to Start Training for Cycling as a Beginner

The cycling community is in a constant state of change. Seasoned riders may retire their bikes, while newcomers embark on their cycling journey. Within our cycling camps and events, we encounter a diverse range of participants. As coaches, we firmly believe that teaching the fundamentals is just as vital as guiding athletes to leverage the latest advancements in sports science.

Our relationship with bicycles can evolve over time, leading some to set goals and embark on training regimens. Transitioning from a casual cyclist to a dedicated athlete need not be a daunting process. Effective cycling training doesn’t require complexity, and this guide offers proven insights and cycling tips to initiate your training journey and prepare for rides lasting over three hours.

Preparing to Begin Cycling Training as a Novice

Before immersing yourself in workouts or increasing your cycling time, there are essential tasks and acquisitions to consider. These include:

1. Bicycle Maintenance: Take your bike to a reputable shop for a tune-up and replace any worn components (such as brake pads, tires, and chains) to ensure your bike can support your aspirations.

2. Professional Bike Fit: Training places stress on the body, and optimizing your bike’s fit can enhance comfort and reduce the risk of injury. A proper bike fit can alleviate or prevent issues like hand numbness, neck and shoulder discomfort, and lower back and knee pain.

3. Appropriate Gear: While you don’t need to dress like a professional cyclist, padded cycling shorts are a must-have (you can opt for baggy shorts with a padded liner if you prefer a looser fit). Cycling seats are designed to work with padded shorts, so they don’t have much padding themselves. For other apparel, avoid cotton, choose moisture-wicking fabrics, and layer your clothing to adapt to varying weather conditions.

4. Safety First: Always wear a helmet—no exceptions.


Items You Can Delay Purchasing When Starting Out

Cycling offers a plethora of products to consider, but as a beginner, you don’t need to invest heavily or acquire everything at once. Here are some items that people (including bike shop salespeople) may suggest you need immediately, but you can hold off on these for now:

1. Power Meter: Training with power is highly effective, and a power meter is a valuable tool. However, you can make substantial training progress before needing to invest in one.

2. Heart Rate Monitor: Similar to a power meter, you can postpone getting a heart rate monitor for now.

3. Carbon Fiber Components: While carbon fiber is lightweight and sturdy, it can be expensive. If you desire carbon bike frames, wheels, or components, by all means, go for it! However, if you prefer more budget-friendly options like aluminum, rest assured that they can meet your needs effectively.


Embarking on Your First Week of Cycling Training

To kick off your cycling training journey, aim to spend more time on your bike than you did in the previous week. If you haven’t been cycling regularly, start by cycling three to five times a week for durations of 30-60 minutes per ride. For those who have been cycling recreationally or for transportation, estimate the amount of time you’ve spent cycling each week (not necessarily mileage) and aim to increase it by approximately 10%.

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No need to push yourself too hard right away. Avoid transitioning from zero to four high-intensity spin classes in your very first week. Instead, prioritize volume over intensity initially, and gradually introduce intensity later on. Maintain a conversational pace during your rides, meaning you should be able to hold a full conversation with a riding companion. This equates to a moderate intensity level, rating around 4-5 on a 10-point Rating of Perceived Exertion scale, where 1 signifies leisurely cafe contemplation with your bike, and 10 represents an all-out maximal effort.


Your Initial Month of Cycling Training

For novice cyclists who were not previously riding regularly before embarking on their training journey, the focus for the first month is on gradually increasing volume. This entails elevating your weekly riding time by approximately 10% each week, typically spread across 3-6 rides. It’s crucial to incorporate at least one rest day, free from any training, within your seven-day week. Many athletes quickly reach the maximum number of training hours they can realistically allocate in a week, with some reaching this point within their first month. This trend is particularly common among individuals who had a prior habit of regular cycling before transitioning to goal-oriented training.

As you progress, consider extending the duration of your weekend rides. While you can gradually increase the duration of each ride, it’s important to recognize that many athletes juggling careers and family responsibilities may find it challenging to dedicate more than 60-90 minutes to weekday rides. Therefore, the most practical approach to increasing training volume often involves extending the time allocated to weekend rides. This strategy is beneficial because longer individual rides at this stage provide a substantial training stimulus, which is crucial for prompting your body to adapt and grow stronger.

Connecting with the cycling community is another valuable step in your journey. Riding with more experienced cyclists is an excellent way to acquire cycling skills and knowledge. Just like any other endeavor, cycling has its learning curve, and everyone starts somewhere. Most experienced riders are eager to assist newcomers in shortening their learning curve. The key is to find a group that suits your comfort level, and a great place to commence is by exploring your local bike shop or cycling club. Many of these entities organize free weekly group rides designed to accommodate various skill levels, speeds, and levels of experience. Some may even arrange group training sessions, such as rides focused on climbing repeats up a nearby hill.

For those who prefer indoor training or have scheduling constraints that necessitate indoor workouts, you can still engage with the cycling community through apps like Strava and Zwift. These apps serve not only as fitness trackers but also as social platforms, enabling athletes to track their progress and maintain accountability toward their training goals. Many athletes who work with coaches also upload their training data to platforms like TrainingPeaks, or similar apps that enable coaches to analyze an athlete’s data and, through regular communication, plan and adjust future training regimens. To maximize the effectiveness of your fitness tracker, ensure you regularly upload your training data, as more data leads to better insights and progress tracking.

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Your First Three Months of Cycling Training

Enhancing your cycling fitness goes beyond merely increasing the number of hours spent on the bike, especially for time-constrained athletes who cap their training time at 6-10 hours per week. In the realm of training, workload is a product of both intensity and volume. To boost workload without expanding your training volume, the solution lies in elevating intensity, and this is where interval training becomes essential.

Interval training serves as a method for amplifying your overall workload by incorporating alternating phases of higher intensity efforts and recovery periods at a lower intensity. Intervals can assume various forms—they can be long or short, moderately challenging or exceptionally demanding, and everything in between. There exists an inverse correlation between the intensity of an interval and its sustainable duration. In simpler terms, the more demanding the interval, the shorter it can be sustained, and vice versa. Athletes can strategically utilize this relationship to target specific energy systems they aim to stress during an individual workout, a series of workouts, or even an entire training block.

In broad terms, let’s explore the relationship between interval duration and intensity concerning various energy systems. While there might be some overlap, it’s essential to understand that you cannot sustain 10-minute intervals at VO2 max intensity because it’s nearly impossible to maintain the required intensity for that duration. Similarly, very few athletes can uphold a 60-minute effort at lactate threshold intensity. For most athletes, the sweet spot lies in the range of 10-20 minutes, which allows them to sustain the necessary intensity for enhancing performance at the lactate threshold. When intervals extend beyond their optimal duration, intensity tends to taper off, veering towards general aerobic conditioning. This isn’t necessarily detrimental, but it may not align with the specific goals of the interval.


Transitioning into Your First Six Months

Once you’ve built a solid foundation of basic endurance fitness through increased volume and essential aerobic and lactate threshold intervals, it’s time to tailor your training more specifically to your desired goals. Depending on your target event, you’ll need to adjust your training focus accordingly:

– Preparing for a hilly or mountainous event? Concentrate on enhancing your climbing and descending skills.
– Aiming for an event in flat to rolling terrain with potentially windy conditions? Work on group riding skills such as drafting and mastering paceline techniques to conserve energy.
– Dreaming of entering the racing scene? Shift your focus towards boosting speed for quick accelerations and high-power efforts.

Around the 3-6 month mark, most cyclists who juggle career and family commitments find that they’ve maxed out their weekly training hours. During this phase, it becomes crucial to incorporate various combinations of interval workouts and endurance rides to create the necessary training workload for performance improvement. While the specifics of individualized training plans go beyond the scope of this guide, here are some common mistakes that athletes tend to make during this timeframe:

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1. Inadequate Rest: Balancing training stress with sufficient recovery is essential for progress. Overloading on training stress without allowing ample time for rest can lead to performance stagnation. Signs that you might not be getting enough rest include decreased ride performance, fatigue, irritability, sleep troubles, diminished interest in riding, and minor illnesses like colds or stomach bugs.

2. Effort Imbalance: As your fitness improves, your training efforts need to be at the right intensity and duration to create a meaningful training stimulus. Likewise, your easy rides should genuinely be easy to promote active recovery. Many cyclists get caught in the middle, with workouts that aren’t challenging enough to drive fitness improvements and recovery rides that are too demanding to allow for proper recovery.

3. Lack of Focus: While it’s possible to make progress initially by incorporating various types of workouts simultaneously, a more focused approach becomes beneficial after several months of consistent training. Concentrating on a specific type of workout for a few weeks can help maximize the training load targeting a particular energy system. For instance, if you aim to boost sustainable climbing power, you might dedicate 2-3 weeks to climbing interval workouts, complemented by general endurance rides.


Final Words – How to Start Training for Cycling as a Beginner

In conclusion, your journey into cycling as a beginner involves a dynamic and evolving community of riders. Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or just starting out, understanding the fundamentals is as crucial as harnessing the latest advancements in sports science.

Your relationship with cycling can transform over time, leading to goals and training regimens. Transitioning from casual cycling to a dedicated athlete need not be daunting. Effective training doesn’t have to be complex, and this guide equips you with proven insights and cycling tips to initiate your journey and prepare for extended rides.

Starting your cycling training adventure includes essential steps:

– Maintain your bicycle: Ensure it’s in optimal condition to support your goals.
– Optimize your bike fit: Enhance comfort and prevent injuries by getting a professional fit.
– Gear up appropriately: Invest in padded cycling shorts and proper attire for comfort.
– Prioritize safety: Always wear a helmet.
– You don’t need to rush into purchasing advanced equipment or accessories. Start simple and gradually explore your cycling needs.

As you begin training, remember:

– Build your riding time gradually, focusing on volume before intensity.
– Aim for a conversational pace during your rides.
– Take rest days to recover and prevent overtraining.
– Over your initial month, continue increasing volume and consider extending weekend rides. Connect with the cycling community for valuable insights and learning opportunities, both on the road and through online platforms.

For your first three months of training, understand that increasing cycling hours can only take you so far. To enhance your fitness, embrace interval training, which balances intensity and volume. Interval workouts offer a versatile approach to improving your cycling performance and targeting specific energy systems.

Your journey into cycling offers a world of possibilities, and by following these guidelines, you can steadily progress and thrive in this exciting and rewarding sport.

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