For all of us in lockdown mode, there’s some more free time floating around. Time to work our way deep down into the dusty depths of our to do lists -spring cleaning, oiling the garage door hinges and fixing the leaky tap. But even the Zwifters have been missing hitting the open road on your bike, and all that pent up energy fuels your desire to make the late 2020 season your best, lightest, most powerful yet. Now’s the time to plan your training regime. Careful though, you don’t want to go out too hard too soon. That’s why we asked the experienced Pete Williams of SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling to share his secrets on how to draw up a plan, and stick to it.

STEP 1
Set goals
Pick one or two events you’d like to do well in and, if possible, some interim events as a build-up. Ideally, your big goals should be 3-6 months away. The plan effectively works backwards from these dates. Open your favourite scheduling app, create a separate calendar for training and enter these goals.
Pete‘s top tips: “There’s a big difference between just riding your bike and training. When you something to aim at, you’re riding for a reason and so gives your training focus. When you’re looking to improve physically, pushing yourself out your comfort zone is required and having that goal/purpose will make this a lot easier.”

STEP 2
Determine your intensity levels (zones)
If you’re able to visit a sports scientist for a full test, we highly recommend it. If it’s not possible, use this guideline for now. Your heart rate is a good starting point as an indicator to determine how hard you’re going in a workout (but it but it does have limitations). First, calculate your maximum heart rate, either by subtracting your age from 220 or, better still, find the highest heart rate you’ve recorded in the last six months. Regard this as your ‘100%’ and calculate each zone:

Zone 1 (easy): 68-73%

Zone 2 (steady): 73-80%

Zone 3 (moderate): 80-87%

Zone 4 (hard): 87-93%

Zone 5 (max): 93-100%

Helps boost recovery and prepares for higher intensity workouts

Improves efficiency, capillary density and oxidising (burning fat)

Improves strength and efficiency of blood circulation and processing of lactic acid

Improves speed endurance and carbohydrate use in the upper part of your aerobic zone

Maximal efforts help recalibrate the brain’s (central governor) limiters

Calculate as follows: If your max is 185, it’s 185 x 0.68 = 126bpm, and 185 x 0.73 = 136bpm)
Here’s a handy HR zone calculator
Pete‘s top tips:
“To train effectively, you need to vary the intensity of your rides and mix things up to stress the body in different ways to get the desired training effect. Heart rate provides a guide to how the body is responding to the particular effort during the ride but can be influenced by many other factors. Investing in a power meter or smart trainer provides more specific data for setting intensity. If you have a power meter or smart trainer, a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test can be used as a fitness reference point and also can be used to help set up your training power zones.”

STEP 3
Test yourself
The best way to measure your improvements is to take stock in the beginning of the training cycle. It’s easier if you have a power meter. If so, a standard 20 minute max sustained effort can be used to calculate your FTP by multiplying average power for the 20 minutes by 0.95. Test yourself again mid-way through your program, and again close to the event - it shows progress and gives confidence.

Pete‘s top tips: “Another way is to choose a reference point more meaningful to your goal, such a TT effort between point A to point B and keep tabs on your average power for that section, or race yourself up your local climb and monitor your W/Kg (calculate: average Watts divided by your body weight). Bear in mind that timed efforts can be influenced significantly by environmental factors (like wind, heat and humidity) which is where reliable power analysis can come into its own to ensure you’re working as effectively as possible.”

Using a heart rate monitor only? Find a 3-4km climb, warm up thoroughly for 25min, ride for three minutes in the middle of zone 4, record the distance. Perform this three times, and keep tabs on how far your get each rep and how your heart rate reacts. Pete‘s top tip: “Hill reps can be a very effective way of improving your lactate threshold (ability to sustain high intensity effort) which will either make riding at a certain intensity easier or increase your ability to ride harder for the same effort on your body. When using heart rate as your intensity guide, don’t sprint off initially to get your heart rate to spike up to where you want it and allow some time for your heart rate to settle where you want it. There is a time lag in how your heart reacts to the physical effort so bear this in mind. Lastly, don’t get too bogged down with specifics, keep things simple. The process and getting out there and doing the training is most important to improving.”

STEP 4
Build your plan
All plans have four main variables: frequency, duration, intensity and recovery (more on the recovery part later). Frequency and duration depends on your schedule and appetite for training. It’s vital to note that your intensity levels should always be appropriate and in proportion. Think of a pyramid divided into 5 levels (your HR zones) with zone 1 at the bottom and zone 5 at the top. This is a fair representation of the proportion of time spend at each intensity i.e. more lower intensity and proportionality less higher intensity. On your chosen calendar app and fill in the days with varying workouts, designing your own program. Plan your more intense workouts closer to your goal events. Your program should include threshold efforts, tempo sessions, aerobic and endurance rides, some cross training and core workouts, torque training and accelerations. For an example of a balanced program, see an extract of one of Pete’s plans below: a typical week. Your best chance of success is to enlist a coach to plan a progressive program and also monitor your progress. Pete has a few openings to help athletes who want to improve - get in touch on pete@williamshumanperformance.co.uk
Pete‘s top tips: “Getting the balance right between your training frequency, intensity, volume and recovery is key. Always listen to your body and how it is responding to your training. It’s better to be under cooked than do too much and be tired. Are you feeling fatigued on the bike? Is your heart rate responding normally to variations in intensity? Are you able to ride at your normal intensities? Be progressive with your training and ramp things up gradually. All too often, people jump into a training program full bore and burn out pretty quickly. Take a longer term view and build up gradually. Ensure you keep the aerobic lower intensity sessions within your overall plan but reduce overall volume as you incorporate more top end high intensity efforts. Increase the duration and repetitions of high intensity efforts, making note on how you felt after sessions and how long it took you to feel ‘recovered‘. Look at what the physical requirements/challenges are for your key event/goal and look at how you can work on theses during your training sessions. Include rest days, and remember that sleep plays a big part in the R&R process. Aim to get as good a night of shut eye as possible.”

STEP 5
Taper Tapering for event/goal
As you approach your event or goal, it’s important to arrive full of beans and rearing to go. It’s tempting to cram in a final couple of sessions, but you have to resist and not overdo things in the week leading up to it. You should be looking to decrease the training load significantly in the days preceding it to freshen you up for the big day.
Pete‘s top tips: “Build into your plan a reduction in volume during this period but maintain some intensity within your sessions. It’s also a good idea to take an extra rest day during this week. A short sharp ride the day before with some short intense efforts should set you up to smash your target.”

RULES TO TRAIN BY:
Recovery is everything
The number one principle of training is: overload leads to adaptation. Give yourself time for the ‘upswing’, bearing in mind that recovery is as important as the workouts themselves. That’s the main role of a training program. Rest is planned in (and should remain sacred). The biggest mistake inexperienced riders make is to train during rest periods, just because they’re feeling good.
Pete‘s top tips: “You only get fitter and improve when you allow your body to recover and adapt from the training stimulus you provide it. Obviously, training hard is a crucial part of the process to drive these changes but equally as important is getting the recovery balance correct. I always tell anyone I coach, you’re in a much better position if you’re under cooked, rather than over cooked.”

Stick to the zone
We commonly hear how riders get bored in zones 1&2 and go harder than planned. This might have short term advantages (ego boost for beating your mates to the top of the climb) but in the end, one of two things happen when it’s time for the higher intensity workouts: they are unable to complete the full workout at the desired intensity, or they are unable to reach the correct intensity at all (then foregoing the training effect).
Pete‘s top tips:
“Stick to the plan. Make the hard efforts hard and the easy, easy. Riding at the correct intensities will allow you to ride hard during your efforts when you’re meant to and ensure the quality of your high intensity efforts in the correct dosing that will drive the physiological changes to improve fitness.”

Fuel up
Pay attention to your nutritional intake when you start to undertake a training program. You’ll increase the amount of calories you are burning, especially with the longer and more intense sessions.
Pete‘s top tips: “Fuel too little and you’ll be found out when you hit the wall. The higher intensity sessions are not the ones to skimp on the calories before and during the session. Foods and supplements high in carbohydrates before and regularly during exercise and high protein post training are the key points to aim for. Don’t forget to stay hydrated both throughout the day and whilst training.”

Variety is the spice of life
To keep it fresh, vary the type of workouts you do, especially if it’s a long lead up to your goals. If you can’t face another grind up that same road again, drive somewhere and find some new scenery, or find another way to achieve the same duration and intensity of the workout.
Pete‘s top tips: “Try the climbs you’d normally avoid. Discover new roads. Mix things up with online sessions such as Zwift, include some cross training to keep things fresh. Maybe jump on a mountain bike for a session or include a core and stretching/flexibility workout which can often do wonders to help alleviate aches and injury niggles.”

Don’t fret missing a workout
Your morale and fatigue levels can differ highly from day to day and workout to workout. It’s hard enough to know each week if you’re feeling lazy or are genuinely over-reached and you’ll certainly never be able to predict how you’ll feel a couple of months from now, writing a program today. Consider these rules of thumb: if you are feeling ill or very tired, skip it and take a few days off. If you miss a workout because of a work or family commitment, don’t squeeze it in on another day as you will miss out on recovery time and risk training overload.
Pete‘s top tips: “If in doubt, leave it out. Obviously you need to be riding consistently to build and improve your fitness but again, the most important thing is to listen to your body. When setting out on a program, don’t be too over ambitious, be realistic and aim for consistency over a sustained period rather than ending with erratic training loads.”

Above all, enjoy
As with most things in life, morale is everything. Your mood not only affects your approach, it can also be a sign of overtraining and even the onset of injury. Even though we know that great things are achieved through hard work, we have to remember why we are doing this. Find the balance between enjoyment and satisfaction that works for you.
Pete‘s top tips: “Don’t forget to enjoy doing what you do. A happy bike rider is a good bike rider. Enjoyment is the key to it and cycling is a beautiful sport that takes in so many different elements of life. Don’t put yourself under too much pressure and remember to enjoy the journey, not just the end goal.”

Novices / returning to fitness

Intermediate

Advanced

Monday

1 hr steady aerobic ride.
Predominantly Z2, pushing into Z3 on climbs & drags.

1-1.5 hr steady aerobic ride. Predominantly Z2, pushing into Z3 on climbs & drags.

1.5-2hr steady aerobic ride. Predominantly Z2, pushing into Z3 on climbs & drags.

Tuesday

Rest day

Rest day

Sweet spot repeats 2-3hrs.
Generally Z2, but include 1 x 15min sustained sweet spot effort Z3-4 each hour. Can be done on a mix of terrain but avoid long downhills. (3 x 15mins)

Wednesday

1hr tempo interval session.
10min progressive warm up.
4 x 3min @ Z3 ~80% max effort
1 min steady Z1 recovery. (16 mins) 10min easy spin.
Repeat above set.
4 x 3min @ Z3 ~80% max effort
1min steady Z1 recovery. (16 mins)
8min easy cool down.

1.40-2hrs
Sweet spot session
15min progressive warm up.
3 x 8min @ Z3-4 ~85-90% max effort 4min steady Z1 recovery. (36 mins) 30min steady spin Z2.
1 x 6min @ Z4 ~95-100% max effort

12min easy warmdown.

2hr
Once fully warmed up after 30min, include first set of 10 x 30sec ‘ON’, 30sec ‘OFF’. Where ‘ON’ is full gas 100% effort and ‘OFF’ is steady recovery pace.
Steady riding following effort and repeat set of efforts in second hour of ride.

2 sets of 10 x 30/30sec in total.

Thursday

Rest day

Rest day or recovery Z1 spin.

2hr
Once fully warmed up after 30min, include first set of 10 x 30sec ‘ON’, 30sec ‘OFF’. Where ‘ON’ is full gas 100% effort and ‘OFF’ is steady recovery pace.
Steady riding following effort and repeat set of efforts in second hour of ride.

2 sets of 10 x 30/30sec in total.

Friday

Aerobic conditioning.
1-2hrs general Z1-2 ride or cross training - Running/swimming/rowing etc.

1.5hrs
Once fully warmed up after at least 30min, include 5 x 1min ‘ON’, 1min ‘OFF’ - where ‘ON’ is full gas 100% effort and ‘OFF’ is steady recovery pace. (10 minutes)

Steady riding following effort for 20min then include: 10 x 20sec ‘ON’ / 40 seconds ‘OFF’. (10min)

Follow last set with 20min steady ride to end ride.

Rest day or Z1 recovery spin.

Saturday

1-1.5hrs
Once fully warmed up, include 3 x 5min sustained efforts. Aim for Z4 or around 95% of max effort.
5min easy recovery spin in-between efforts. Can be done on as hill repeats or on the flat/rolling terrain.
Easy spin home post efforts.

1-1.5hrs steady
Aerobic ride mainly Z2 Enjoy turning the pedals. It’s important not to overdo things and save yourself for tomorrows efforts.

1-1.5hrs steady aerobic ride mainly Z2 Enjoy turning the pedals. It’s important not to overdo things and save yourself for tomorrows efforts.

Sunday

Aerobic Endurance Ride
Aiming for your longest ride of the week which you can increase gradually. Ensure you keep replenish your fuel stores, eating and drinking regularly.

2hours+ Z1/2 pushing into z3/4 on climbs/drags.

Don’t get too hung up on specifics and enjoy spending time on the bike clocking up some Ks and exploring scenic roads.

Endurance ride 2.5hrs + Predominantly Z2 ride looking to minimise amount of time coasting in Z1. Within ride include 3 x 6min full gas efforts (Z4+) Can be done on a climb or flat or a mixture. Space efforts out throughout ride. Test yourself on a Strava segment - a good option for this type of effort.

Endurance/VO2 ride 3hrs + Predominantly Z2 ride looking to minimise amount of time coasting in Z1. Within ride include 5 x 3min full gas efforts (Z5) Can be done on a climb or flat or a mixture. Space efforts out throughout ride. Test yourself on a Strava segment - a good option for this type of effort.

Total time (hrs)

6-8

8-10

10+

The aim is to become accustomed to riding regularly for a sustained period and to build up aerobic cardiovascular fitness. Building up this base fitness will lay the foundations to allow for more intense sessions further down the line.

This program is a progression for the rider who rides regularly and wants to start to introduce more structure and intensity within their training.

This level of program would be suitable if you ride consistently with a good fitness level and already include intense efforts regularly within your riding.