Base training explained…

Why are we doing what we’re doing at Mapdec?

We are to some degree following The Training Cycle…..several of you have mentioned that you haven’t ever trained ‘properly’ and would like to know more about the process. So here I have tried to construct a thumbnail sketch.

You don’t have to consider yourself ‘an athlete’ to benefit from this process, many of us don’t hold that as a self image. You also don’t have to be heading to a main event such as the woman’s Kendal Cycle Club trip or the Kendal Cycle Club Mallorca trip to benefit from using the training cycle. You may just wish to arrive at the British summer feeling ready to enjoy your cycling, gardening and walking.

So, in outline, the training cycle lasts all year. It normally looks very roughly as described below. It should be noted that this year, due to the current situation, the Beginner’s Group is currently working in the Base phase. (May 2020) In a normal year people may well be in ‘Build’ by now and we may progress there, depending how long Covid 19 lasts.Jan/Feb – Base phase. Putting in the foundations for harder work later on. This generally consists mainly of easy rides, mobility and strength sessions.  The three fundamentals of fitness are developed – endurance, efficiency and strength.

Feb/March – Build phase. The intensity of the strength training increases, rides have some efforts built into them, the gym leaves you with sore muscles for a couple of days.

March/April/May – Peak phase, harder work and increase in intensity.  Ready for, for instance, your first long ride in May. It doesn’t matter if its twelve miles or 112 miles, whatever is long for you.

May – Recovery phase – period of very easy exercise after big ride to allow your body to repair itself. This may vary from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.

May – August/September – depending what you are doing re-build, re-peak and repeat long rides.

September/October – Rest phase – a time to let the body and mind rest. A good time to do some other sports eg trail riding, hill walking, all low intensity.  Generally two to four weeks, depending on the intensity of your summer.  This is a really important phase to enable your body to rest in order to build fitness again the next year with minimum illness or injury.

October/November – Prep phase – getting back into a routine, easy strength training, easy riding, just going through the movements. A time to take stock and sort out any niggles you have picked up from the season.

November/December – start the Base Phase again.

What we hear people describe is often either too little in the winter but lots in the summer when the weather gets better and the cobwebs get dusted off the bike, or exercising all year round but with too little variation in intensity to gain the fitness benefits.

Given the current situation all advice points towards retreating initially to Base phase for three reasons.

The first reason is to support our immune system to preserve health in this pandemic.

Secondly to reduce stress, again to support our health. We can only absorb so much stress in our lives so at a time when most of us are facing increased stress in other areas of life it is prudent to reduce training stress. This lessens the chances of damage, either physical or mental.

Thirdly our bodies struggle to maintain high levels of fitness for long periods of time without plateauing in performance or succumbing to injury or illness. As we don’t really know when current restrictions will be lifted it makes sense to back off until we have something to aim for and then we can plan accordingly. If the restrictions stay for a while we may move into a Build phase.

So welcome to Base training – made up of elements of endurance, efficiency and strength – to build a very solid foundation and keep us healthy so that we are in a good position to do other things once restrictions are lifted. Experiment and enjoy.

In this mythical Base period what are we trying to do? Basic fitness is made up of endurance, efficiency (skills) and strength and the Base period gives us an opportunity to focus on all of these. As we move through the Training Cycle we then add more intensity and the time available for focus on the basic skills reduces, but without them the body cannot support harder efforts. The Base stage is really important. It is like building a house. The base is the foundations of the house, if we build wonky foundations eg on a back with a niggle or a slight hip problem, then later on the house won’t be strong enough to hold up in a storm, ie; when we apply strong forces to the body through harder exercise. This is also true if our foundations are straight, (none of our body hurts and we are not sick) but not very substantial – that is if your aerobic base, strength and skills are not well developed. Many say ‘But it doesn’t hurt, so it can’t be doing me any good.’  Having a strong, fit body takes patience and time and the maxim ‘No pain, no gain’ does not hold water in the Base phase. For many it is a revelation – increasing fitness does NOT have to hurt! One of the biggest errors people make is to exercise too hard in the Base period and not hard enough later on.

We talked about building endurance, efficiency and strength. Let’s have a closer look at these.

Endurance – This means we are developing our aerobic base, that is our ability to exercise for long periods of time without producing more lactate than our body can metabolise. We produce lactate all the time and it is normally recycled into energy. When we work hard we produce more lactate than we can convert and our body then is unable to keep working and we slow down or stop; it also feels horrible.

In Base phase we are aiming to work at a level easy enough to enable us to continuously clear lactate, so no feeling the burn up hills and having to ease off or stop and rest, all nice and easy.  Base is made up of easy bike rides and easy walks or runs. Easy rides means the whole ride is completed at RPE 5 (Rate of Perceived Exertion), so you are able to hold a full conversation the whole time, including up hills. If you use a heart rate monitor work at less than 80% of maximum heart rate or less than 90% of LTHR (Lactate Threshold Heart Rate).  This can be very testing for many reasons. This is the painstaking bit, and some see it as boring or pointless. We are often used to cycling hurting – ‘I’ll just climb that hill, it will help my fitness even if I have to stand up and make funny noises’, ‘I always ride with my friends at X pace, they will think I’m not fit, too slow if I slow down’, ‘I want to be able to keep up with so-and-so which means trying really hard’ and ‘I need to feel like I’ve really worked when I came back from a ride’. Letting go of all these is hard….but so worth it.

I repeat, for many it is a revelation that to get fitter in the base period endurance exercise – walking, running, cycling –  shouldn’t hurt. It should be consistent. The more someone works too hard the less consistent we tend to be. We get too tired to go out and do more or we get ill or pick up niggles. Developing the aerobic base develops your blood capillaries so your muscles can work more effectively; it develops mitochondria so increases the efficiency of your energy systems. It supports good neurological firing pathways so your brain can tell your muscles to fire efficiently for hours, which as cyclists we all need. The bigger the base the better position we are in to enjoy our riding and to build our fitness.

Efficiency – or flexibility and skills. Well surely we don’t need to bother with those? We learnt to ride bikes as kids, you just turn the pedals round. True, but …..There are huge gains to be made here with flexibility and skill development. Often whilst riding bikes people get sore necks, shoulders, knees and backs. All of these issues can be reduced by having the skill, flexibility and strength to hold the correct position for hours without picking up fatigue in areas of the body. The correct technique down hills for instance can reduce neck and shoulder pain, and increase confidence, as the weight of the rider comes off the front wheel therefore the bike is stabilised and feels more secure. It should also be mentioned that a good bike fit is essential to reducing discomfort and injury. This flexibility also helps us maintain a good position on the bike. The skill of holding a good position is linked to having good postural and core control – back to the strength work!  Flexibility in the ankles, knees, hips and back enables us to be more efficient doing strength work and therefore able to develop more power.


The skill of pedalling can greatly improve one’s efficiency on the bike, meaning we can pedal for longer without fatiguing. We can all pedal without a doubt, but can we all pedal with ‘souplesse’ – like silk; that beautiful smooth, efficient style which looks totally effortless? If only.  Skill practice including thinking about the pedal action, pushing through at twelve o’clock to put power on as soon as possible, and different cadence practices, including one-legged pedalling, can greatly improve style. Cadence is the number of times you turn over a pedal in a minute. And riding rollers does wonders for style. It makes for great recovery riding whilst developing skills. Balancing the bike on rollers translates into far better bike control on the road.

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Within our programme we are offering lots of yoga and mobility to help increase that underlying flexibility to support both efficiency and strength. We also feel that these sessions have elements of relaxation which is important in the current climate. We will go on to aim to offer some riding style tips and drills to support the development of efficiency and skills.

Strength – This part of developing fitness is vital and is the bit many people find the hardest. Certainly at the minute I am struggling to motivate myself to do my strength sessions. However – forget wanting to ride bikes. As we age we lose muscle and this muscle loss leads people to eventually being unable to get up if they fall down, unable to get out of a chair without hauling themselves up with their hands or unable to climb stairs. I know, I know…that’s never going to happen to me goes our thoughts…..if only. Women have their biggest percentage of muscle lose between 55 and 60 and  we continue to decrease in strength after that.  For men the lose is more consistent. If we don’t use it we lose it. Many of us do, obviously, use many of our muscles in our sports however there are often muscles which are overlooked, such as our triceps so an all round body strength programme can be highly beneficial for life and our future health and mobility.


Back to bikes. Perhaps normally we would build our strength going up hills and puffing and panting. This does work but it puts quite a strain on the aerobic system leaving us tired and compromising our immune system and recovery time. One of the pillars of good training is consistency. If we are too tired we lose our motivation to go out frequently and are ill and injured more often than necessary, therefore losing consistency and fitness. We can build this strength through gym work without placing the same aerobic stress on the body, therefore supporting our immune system and improving our recovery rate. Through the base phase this is the best way to approach building strength. At the moment, with our limited access to time on the roads, this system can be of particular benefit.

So welcome to Base training – made up of elements of endurance, efficiency and strength – to build a very solid foundation and keep us healthy so that we are in a good position to do other things once restrictions are lifted. Experiment and enjoy.



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