One of the best ways to keep motivated and stick with your newfound/refound love of riding is to set a goal. And one of the best ways to hit that goal is to follow a training plan.
As cyclists, we often like to set a target of riding a significant distance. Depending on your fitness, that can be from 30 up to a century ride of 100 miles, or more – anything you realistically believe you can achieve in a set time.
Whether you opt to ride your goal distance on your own or with a group of friends, enter a sportive or take part in a charity challenge, one thing’s for sure – you’ll need to train. It’s a good job then that we have a training schedule especially for you.
Before we get into the plan itself, here are some training truisms you need to stick to…
1. Set your goal
First, choose your event. Be realistic: you want to be challenged, not overwhelmed. Think about what you want to achieve on your ride.
Are you completing, competing or conquering? Again, be reasonable. Set an impossible aim and you’ll soon lose motivation.
Write your goal down and put it in your wallet, on the fridge door – anywhere you’ll see it often enough to keep you focused.
2. Get your long rides in
We all miss occasional planned rides, but don’t miss the long base training rides at the heart of your schedule – they’re vital.
Bad weather? Go out anyway; you could get bad weather on event day. Bike’s broken? Fix it (we’ve got lots of bike maintenance guides here on BikeRadar), or take it to your bike shop – and learn how to fix it.
Long rides are when your body gets used to handling the demands you’ll face on the big day; they help you to draw on your fuel reserves more efficiently, and get your head prepared for long, demanding efforts.
3. Develop technique
Get used to incorporating technique work into your general rides as well as devoting regular sessions to improving your skills. Find a long, winding hill and time yourself down it over several runs to work on your descending, looking to get quicker by laying off the brakes, leaning into the corners and learning when to put the power back on.
Be careful, though – do this with a riding mate and only on quiet roads where you can easily see approaching traffic. And don’t think you can make up for poor climbing just by flying downhill.
Sheltering from the wind by riding in a group saves you masses of power output from your legs and will improve your average speed, but it doesn’t come easily and there are tactics to learn so practice on group rides. The more comfortable you are safely riding in close formation, the more time you can save.
4. Muscle power
Lactic acid is produced when your body breaks down carbohydrates for fuel, resulting in lactate in your blood that affects your muscles’ performance.
All you really need to know is that the point at which lactate starts to accumulate faster than you can disperse it is your lactate threshold (LT), and raising this (or working on your Functional Threshold Power) will help you ride a faster sportive.
Working on your power is important too, both for increasing the amount of force you can put into every pedal stroke and for improving your endurance. We recommend regular high-intensity intervals devoted to LT and strength work.
5. Have a rest
You don’t get fitter when you’re riding, you get fitter when you recover afterwards.
This is why you need to have at least one day without exercise every week, or more if you over-stretch yourself, plus an easy week each month.
6. Drink enough
You might have read that you should drink 400 to 900ml of fluid an hour to stay hydrated while riding, but that’s a myth – it varies according to your personal sweat levels.
Work out precisely what you need at varying intensities and in different weather conditions by doing this process over several rides:
- Weigh yourself undressed. Let’s assume you weigh 75kg.
- On your return, note the amount you drank and ate during your ride. We’ll say 1,500ml, which weighs 1.5kg, and three gels of 0.06kg each, so you’ve taken 1.68kg on board.
- Before showering, eating or drinking, dry yourself and weigh again. We’ll say it’s now 73.2kg. Subtract the second weight from the first to get your bodyweight change: 75 – 73.2 = 1.8kg.
- Add the weight of the food to this to get your total loss: 1.8 + 1.68 = 3.48kg.
- Estimate any toilet stops because this will mean losses are higher.
- Divide total losses by riding time: 3.48 ÷ 3hrs = 1.16kg lost per hour.
You won’t get to the end of your training ride or event at the same weight as you started, but you should eat and drink enough to be within 1 to 2kg. Aim to never be more than 2 to 3 per cent down in mass.
7. Become fuel-efficient
You need to drink to replace the water you sweat and breathe out, but drinks provide fuel too. Suffering a ‘bonk’ – when your body can’t get the energy it needs – is bad news.
Use a drink that’s 5 to 7 per cent carbohydrate. This is an isotonic level – it contains the same concentration of dissolved particles as your body fluids, so will be absorbed fast.
Some people prefer a hypotonic drink – one with a carb level less than 5 per cent. The only way to find out what’s right for you is by experimenting in training.
Also, choose a drink that contains electrolytes, particularly sodium. This speeds up the delivery of fluid to your body, so it’s especially important on longer rides.
Finally, it’s key to go for a drink that you enjoy the taste of. That way you’re far more likely to drink enough. Drink plenty before you set off so you start fully hydrated, and continue drinking afterwards – little and often – to aid recovery.
If you’ve trained for over an hour, make it a carb drink, and don’t wait until you feel thirsty – that’s too late.
You should consume at least 1g of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight for every hour you’re riding. This can be in the form of carb-electrolyte drinks, gels, bars, solid food, or a mix of these.
Your needs could differ from the norm, so experiment in training to learn exactly what you can tolerate and what you need with you on the day.
If riding an event, find out what food and drink will be available and at what points along the route, and see if it suits you. If you can’t stomach the energy drink on offer, for example, take your own (or make your own energy drink). If you get sick of sweet stuff, check there’ll be something savoury, or carry it with you.
8. Avoid injury
When you step up the amount of riding you do, you’ll put stresses and strains on your body. These cycling stretches can help improve your flexibility, while strength training can help prevent injury.
You might be tempted to ignore niggles in order to stick with the programme. Don’t! Riding through pain is a great way to make minor problems major.
If you get injured, take it seriously. Take time off or do some cross-training, and if it’s a biomechanical problem have your riding position looked at by an expert. If necessary, visit a health care professional.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore a potential injury.
9. Training zones
To maximise the effectiveness of the training plan, you’ll need to establish your training zones based on your maximum heart rate (HR max).
This will allow you to target areas you want to develop and ensure you don’t overcook it. Our training plan uses zones 1 to 5:
- Zone 1: (50-59% HRmax) – Easy
- Zone 2: (60-69%) – Steady
- Zone 3: (70-79%) – Brisk
- Zone 4: (80-89%) – Hard
- Zone 5: (90-100%) – Very hard
If you want to step your training up a level, you can use a power meter (or a smart trainer with a built-in power meter). We’ve got a separate guide with more information on using training zones.
12-week training plan for cyclists
Read our advice and follow our plan to be ready to ride anywhere between 40 and 100 miles in just three months, depending on your goal and current fitness.
If you’ve never used a training plan before then don’t be put off – it is a guide and doesn’t have to be followed to the letter.
If you can’t ride in the morning as we suggest from time to time, or you can’t hit the hills when we advise it, swap things around – that’s real life.
And remember, have fun!