How do you plan your own training?

We can and do ride our bikes all year round, but if we wish to train to improve our performance, instead of ride purely for fun, then we need to understand the training process.  Endurance training is cyclical and is composed of periods differing in volume and intensity. Hence the term ‘periodization’ which was originally coined by the Romanian scientist Dr Tudor Bompa.

Before you start to construct your plan you need to know what you are aiming for and when you are starting. That gives you a date and a timescale. Your goal might be an event, a cycling holiday, a race or just being fitter than last year by the start of summer riding in May. It doesn’t matter. You also need to know where you are starting from, which can be hard. The best way perhaps is to look at how you were riding at your fittest this year and start by aiming to do about 60 – 70% of that in base phase.

There are at least five phases to the endurance training cycle as seen in the diagram – base, build, peak, taper, race, recovery. As it is presented here, it is circular so after recovery you start again. Similar to heart rate zone discussions you may find different terms and sub divisions used but the general principle holds good. In each of these phases what you are doing alters. Base is steady, easy stuff, general technique training, endurance rides. Build is where specificity starts to enter the picture and training increases in volume and intensity depending what your aim is. Annual strength training is maximised in Build phase. Time trials, audax events or hilly sportives will all require different approaches at this point. Peak is where the final hard work is done. Taper means everything reduces back so that you arrive at your event fresh, with good form, so that you can perform well. the length of taper will depend on the length of event. This is also true of the length of recovery which may take anything from a day to well over six weeks for a multi-day enduro event.

Phases of the Endurance Training Cycle

Another way of looking at endurance training is to refer to it as a Periodization plan which is made up of the long term plan, the macrocycle, the medium term plan, the mesocycle, and the weekly plan, the microcycle. Then you have daily session plans which fit into this.

Often one looks at a plan over the period of a year, but it could be four years in an Olympic cycle or it could be three years for an attempt on Paris-Brest-Paris. So macro, meso and micro cycle do not have fixed time scales, they just indicate long, medium and short.

Classic periodisation can be seen in this diagram below where fitness builds up until race day; volume starts low, builds in the base phase and then falls away again in the build phase. Intensity starts at a low volume through the base phase then builds in the build and peak phases.

Example of phases through a season with one long event – Macrocycle

NamePart of cycleTime scaleNumber of weeks
BaseMesocycleOctober to February20
BuildMesocycle made up of 3 microcyles on a 4th week rest cycle. Could be called Build 1,2 and 3March to May12
PeakMesocycle made up of 4 microcycles.June4
EventEventEnd July1 day

In this case the season is very short; I haven’t continued it after August. I have called the Peak a mesocycle made up of four microcycles as I consider each week of peak to be an entity in itself, building on the reaction to the week before.  But I have referred to the whole of taper as one microcycle although it is also four weeks, as it is a continual gradual decrease. Just as recovery is a continual gradual increase back to training. Semantics, it doesn’t really matter.

This picture below is over a shorter time period than the table above but shows what should ideally happen with training before you get to a race, or an event. Fitness gradually builds. Form starts high, then drops as training pressure is applied and rises again just in time for race day. The changes in form are dictated by the changes in fatigue caused by training stresses. Fatigue rises through base, build and peak to fall just before race day due to the application of a successful taper, which forms part of the ‘Peak’ section in this particular diagram.

Example of phases through a season with lots of events – Macrocycle

NamePart of cycleTime scaleNumber of weeks
BaseMesocycleOctober to February20
BuildMesocycle made up of 3 microcyles on a 4th week rest cycle. Could be called Build 1,2 and 3March to May12
PeakMesocycle made up of 2 microcycles.June2
EventEventJune1 day
BuildMesocycle made up of 2 Microcycles. Or call it a microcycle.July2
PeakMesocycle made up of 2 microcycles.July1
TaperMicrocycleJuly3 days
EventEventJuly1 day
 August – start to repeat cycle with a two week build again  
TransitionEnd of season, a period where you chill out, eat chocolate, drink beer And don’t think about racing.October1

So this training cycle can be repeated with the lengths of the phases varied depending on your aspirations. It can even become a week long cycle where the ‘event’ is weekend riding, then some Recovery, a quick bit of Build or Peak midweek depending on fatigue, Taper on Friday and ready to roll again on Saturday.

A new phase has been mentioned in the table above – Transition. Constantly training and competing is tiring both mentally and physically so at the end of the season it is important to have a Transition phase which is often about a month where you chill out. Do some other sports, walk, mountain bike, relax, and don’t follow a structured plan. This gives both mind and body a rest before coming back into base phase in late autumn, early winter.

Every plan MUST be flexible. Life always delivers curved balls such as illness, injury, moving house, new jobs, financial issues. All these and more contribute to your fantastic training plan being side-lined. Or re-written. And that is fine – that’s life. Remember the Golden Rules to help you negotiate things – Stick to the 10% increase in training volume or intensity and make sure your training meets the 80% at less than 80% of your max heart rate rule and you will be fine. Both of these rules can be averaged out over a year, instead of being stuck to rigidly week by week. So you might do very little intense work in the base period, but more than 20% per week in the build, peak, race phases. Be consistent throughout, so try to avoid the boom and bust scenario, and include your adaptation.  Be flexible with your plan – train smart.  Do all this and there is no reason why your fitness shouldn’t increase year on year for about ten years from when you first start to train, no matter what your age.

And remember – above all have fun.

(Most images taken from ‘The Cyclist’s Training Bible, Joe Friel)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s