The Ultimate Starter Guide to Cycling Training

Before you start exercising vigorously there might be some basics you should get familiar with. This article will get you up the speed with some of the most essential must knows.

Training works

We start with the principle training. Training itself makes you worse, when you recover, you get better. Maybe you’ve heard of the supercompensation effect. Many people know the principle, but even at the very highest level it is still not always well understood and executed. The principle is actually simple; you don’t get better during training, but you get better by recovering after training. A workout tires your body, during recovery your body tries to prepare itself better for the next time you do something like this to your body. Or too well, you get better than you were before.
That also means that if your body is still recovering from the last blow, you shouldn’t start exercising yet. If you apply this rule properly you should start exercising every time at the very moment your body is not only recovered but even slightly better than before your last workout. And if you wait too long the training effect will be already faded away. The moment your body is at this peak depends on how fast your body recovers and how hard the last workout was. The better you get the faster you recover, so the more training your body can handle and by that the better you get. Et voila, you are in an upward circle on your way to the pro ranks.


Secondly the most scientifically proven concept of training is continuity. So before you start with intensity distributions, tapering or periodization, first make sure you just keep on training. After a long training period one week of rest can allow the body to recover and get even better. But training one week and taking a week of rest afterwards will bring you nothing. So first and foremost try to create fixed training possibilties during the week and stick to it, instead of training one week for 10 hours and the next for only two.
I have already dropped the ball about intensity distribution and the be honest you good wright a book about this topic. I would actually estimated about 50 authors already did. So lets don’t get into the specifics to deep.


However, one very important rule is that you have to train specific. That means if you are training for becoming a better cyclist it makes no sense to start ski jumping. To put it differently if you train for a cyclo like La Marmotte, you need to break down the specifics you need for this challenge and train those ingredients. Like for this one you will need a lot of endurance, so you just need to train long distances. And before anyone tells you that a certain exercise or workout is really good, please realize there is no such thing as a good workout. There is only a good combination of workouts (or a bad one) depending on what level you are, what your strenghts and weaknesses are and what you are training for. And when you know this you can train on it specifically so on the right intensity.

Training zones

Training zones can help to determine the right training intensity. You can work with heart rate or power zones, if you can choose, choose zones based on power. Both are based on the fact that you have a certain heart rate or vermgo that you can just keep up for an hour. This is called your threshold heart rate or functional threshold power (FTP). You can do an exercise test in a lab or do a 20 minute test yourself and take 95% of the power/ heart rate to make a good estimate. This heart rate or power is the 100% we use to determine the training zones. There are different ways to classify the zones, see how at the bottom of this blog. The power zones are classified differently and in many different ways, the zones we use are shown below.

The difference between Heart rate and power zones

As you can see the heart rate zones and power zones don’t match one on one. And please do not try to match the both anyway. Heart rate is highly influenced by the former workouts you have done, the amount of sleep, stress, fatigue, cafeine, dehydration and much more. Also power isn’t always working like clock work, because sometimes you have a good day and sometimes you just don’t. But to put it short if heart rate was a valid and reliable intensity indicator for how hard the intensity is for your body, then the power meter would be never invented.
So if one day your heart rate is lower for a certain power output then the week before, don’t start celebrating just yet but take into consideration also other factors could be in play. If you see a trend over multiple workouts you are probably progressing. Hurra!
Also the power zones differentiate more above 100%. The reason for that is that the heart rate response is just very slow. It takes a while to get your heart rate at it’s peak. So if you are sprinting your lungs out your heart is probaly still half way D3. Looking at a heart rate monitor to see how good you are sprinting isn’t such a good idea.
Heart rate zones on percentage of tipping point heart rate:
recovery (60-75%)
D1 (75-85%)
D2 (85-95%)
D3 (95-100%)
Resistance (100-max)
Power zones on percentage FTP:
Recovery (0-60%)
Extensive (60-75%)
Intensive (75-85%)
Pace (85-95%)
Threshold (95-105%)
VO2max (105-120%)
Anaerobic (120-200%)
Sprint (200%-max)

Am I on the right track?

One of the most beautiful things about cycling is that everyone from young to old can improve. In other sports that involve more power and explosiveness, that’s a more difficult story. In addition to the physical part of cycling, you can improve a lot more. For example, you can improve on sleeping, nutrition, recovery, material, tactics or the mental part of cycling.
Some of this is easy to measure. For example, you can use an app to calculate your calorie intake and compare it with your calories burned using your power meter. It is also possible to use your mobile phone or smartwatch to keep track of your amount of sleep. By adding more regularity to your bedtime you can easily gain an hour’s sleep or even improve the quality of your sleep.
Keeping track of physical progress is a little more complicated. Of course there are plenty of programs to make nice graphs, but what exactly do you have to look at? And how do you see if you’re really making progress?

How to measure progress

First of all, we must ensure that progress can be measured objectively. But of course it is also very important to listen to your feeling that you are on the right track. Your feelings are especially important when you have been ill or feel exhausted. But for now, we are looking at ways that can objectively show your progress. You can do this by following a standardized protocol that tracks your progress. To chart your fitness precisely, you need to make it measurable, objective and reproducible. This way you can take the same measurement before and after a period of training and see your improvement.
You can do this by measuring your speed over the same lap and see if your average speed has improved. But of course weather conditions have a big influence on your speed. Especially the wind and air pressure have a lot of influence on this. For example, many recreational cyclists are in shape in summer with an average speed of 30 km/h on their fixed lap while they only average 28 km/h in winter. So speed is not the best way to measure your progress. But what do you have to measure then? Actually there is only one clear answer: power.
To really measure the progression of your endurance, you need to see how long you can hold a certain amount of power. A common way is to look at the maximum power you can hold for 20 minutes. To measure this you also need to make sure your test is standardized. So do the test under the same conditions, use the same power meter, do the same warm up and make sure you have taken as much rest as before the other tests. With this in mind, it is advisable to do this indoors on a home/smart trainer rather than outdoors where the weather is an unpredictable factor.
But is the value of just your 20 minutes of power the best way to determine your progress? That depends on your personal goals. If you want to climb a 15-40 minute climb as fast as possible, this value is very interesting. But if you’re training for a 200km ride with short climbs in it, this value is a lot less interesting. To get a wider picture of your fitness you can also do a standardized 1 and 5 minute tests. From these you can determine your ‘power profile’.

What is a power profile

A power profile is a graph or table that shows your best power for each time interval, often between 10 seconds and 3 hours. It shows the maximum power output over the last 3 months or best ever. Improvement of a power at a certain time interval shows your improvement quite simply. Determining a power profile is currently the most widely used way in cycling to map progress. But this method does not contain everything you want to know. Often it’s not about how fast you ride up one mountain, but how fast you ride up the fifth or maybe twentieth mountain. Deep in the finals of a race like the Tour of Flanders, the men’s boys get underscored. After 200 km of racing and endless climbs, someone’s power profile is less important, it’s all about the power you can pedal at that moment. From which rider has his power decreased the least during the race?
Let’s get this straight. First of all, make sure you have a goal to work towards so that you know what you want to improve. Next, it is important that you test yourself regularly. Please note that not every training will be a test. Test yourself with a standardized test, every 4 to 6 weeks is more than enough if you know you are on the right track. Last but certainly not least, look not only at your maximum power but also at the power you can still deliver in the last hour of a heavy training or competition.
With this basis you have sufficient knowledge to determine your goal and what is needed to achieve it. Make a plan and stick to it! If you don’t dare to do it on your own, a trainer can help you make a plan and a schedule so you have a stick behind the door. Take a look at our coaching possibilities: Individual coaching
Prefer training with some coaching or interested in a training plan? Cyclinglab helps you on your way. Contact us or download the JOIN Cycling application.