Phase 1 of the Average Joe Cyclist Beginner Cyclist Training Plan is a really simple plan that is suitable for new cyclists who want to start getting fit. Phase 1 of this plan requires just three training days per week, but it will enable you to see impressive fitness gains really fast. Phase 1 will get you to the point where you can comfortably cycle for up to an hour at a time. Then you will be ready for the next, more ambitious step.
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Contents of this Post
- Joe Friel’s 10 Commandments of Training
- The Importance of Rest in the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan
- The Aim of Phase 1 of the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan
- How to do Phase 1 of the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan
- What you Need for Phase 1 of the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan
- Tips for Success with the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan – Avoid Cycling Knee Pain
Is this Post for You?
Average Joe’s Beginner Cyclist Training Plan is an ideal plan if you fit into one of these groups:
- You are just getting started with cycling; or
- You have never followed a structured cycling training plan, and want to see how much fitter you could get with a structured plan; or
- You are not happy with your current fitness level, and you want to see dramatic fitness gains fast; or
- You want this to be the year when you do your first charity bike ride!
The Goal of Phase 1 of this Cycling Plan
Phase 1 has a simple goal. The goal is that you will be able to cycle for a continuous hour. If you can already do that, then please go to Phase 2 of the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan.
Related Post: Top 7 Strength Building Exercises for Cyclists
Cycle Just Three Times per Week
Our Beginner Cyclist Training Plan requires you to do just three days of cycling training per week. That’s a sensible aim, because most of us have work, family, and friends as well. Three days a week will get you cycling fit, without causing a divorce in the family. (Of course, if you can get your spouse to join in, so much the better.)
Most importantly, three bike rides a week will not exhaust you, so you are much more likely to keep it up. It’s much better to be looking forward to the next training ride, rather than dreading it. You can always increase frequency later, once you are fitter, and once the cycling addiction gets hold of you! In the beginning, it’s really important to listen to your body. If you feel exhausted the day after your second ride of the week, rest up till the next week, then start again.
In the beginning, you are likely to also have a very tender rear end – it happens to everyone who gets started cycling. However, you will only feel it while you are actually on the bike. You can try to ease this with an inexpensive comfort saddle with springs.
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Joe Friel’s 10 Commandments of Training
Here are the first three of Joe Friel’s famous 10 Commandments of Training. These are the most important rules.
- Commandment 1: Train moderately – finish your workouts feeling like you could do more.
- Commandment 2: Train consistently – our bodies respond well to routine. That doesn’t mean do the same workout every time. Rather it means training moderately and sensibly so that you are not forced to take long breaks due to illness, injury or burnout.
- Commandment 3: Get adequate rest – this is the most frequently broken commandment, which is unfortunate. As you rest your body adapts to the stresses of training; i.e., it grows stronger. Think of sleep time as muscle-growth time, and get as much of it as you can!
The Importance of Rest in the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan
You can choose your training days to fit your own schedule, so long as the vital rest days are built in. At least two of the three cycling days should have a non-cycling day in-between – do not do your rides on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday!
For example, you could do:
- Monday/Wednesday/Friday or
The first example is ideal in terms of spacing out the days, but the second example may work better for some because it enables you to put in most of your cycling on the weekend.
Back in the day I was a certified personal fitness trainer, and the most common reason I saw for people quitting was that they simply refused to rest enough. Then they got exhausted and depressed, and quit. Rest is crucial. It’s on those days that your muscles actually grow. On the exercise days, you’re breaking your muscles down. You can see how it would be a problem to break your muscles down every day and never give them a chance to grow!
On a psychological level, if you exhaust yourself you will eventually quit – it’s just human nature. The three days of cycling will see you spending about three hours per week in the saddle – more than enough to get cycling fit – and start you on your way to keeping up with THOSE guys!
The Aim of Phase 1 of the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan
To get down to the details: the purpose of Phase 1 is to build up your lungs and muscles to the point where you can comfortably cycle for a continuous hour. This hour should be spent cycling in Heart Rate zones 2 and 3 (endurance and tempo). This will be light to moderate exercise, with your heart pumping at 40 to 50% of your maximum (see my post on how to monitor your training intensity). You should still be able to talk at all times.
This table shows you what the heart rate zones feel like, based on your perceived rate or exertion (also known as the Talk Test):
Cardiac Training Zones, Based on Perceived Rates of Exertion (Talk Test)
|Zone 1 (Low intensity)||1 to 2||Light||I'm so comfortable I could do this all day!||Strengthens your heart. Contributes to reducing body fat, cholesterol, and blood pressure.||50% to 60% of maximum heart rate|
|Zone 2 (Weight Control)||3 to 4||Moderate||I can feel that I am exercising, but I feel good and can easily carry on a conversation||Strengthens your heart and your mitochondria (the powerhouses of your cells). Contributes to reducing body fat, cholesterol, and blood pressure. 65% of calories burned in this zone are calories from fat.||60% to 70% of maximum heart rate|
|Zone 3 (Aerobic)||5 to 6||Intense, but not exhausting||I am a bit breathless now, and I don't want to talk||Great zone for weight loss, strengthening muscle, and general fitness. Burns 50% carbs and 50% fat.||70% to 80% of maximum heart rate|
|Zone 4 (Anaerobic)||6 to 8||Intense and exhausting||Breathing is labored, and talking is not an option unless in cases of emergency. Most people should only do this in short spurts, 2 to 3 days per week||Improves both endurance and fitness. Cannot be sustained for long enough to be significant for weight loss.||80% to 90% of maximum heart rate|
|Zone 5 (Maximum)||9 to 10||As Intense as is Physically Possible for You||In this zone, you can only focus on the activity, such as cycling or running as fast as possible. Talking is out of the question. Loud grunts might be possible (think power lifting competitions).||Can only be done in short bursts, around 1 to 2 minutes. It is used to improve athletic performance, but comes with a high risk for injury. Mainly used as a training tool only by competitive athletes.||90% to 100% of maximum heart rate|
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How to do Phase 1 of the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan
The way you do Phase 1 depends completely on how fit (or unfit) you are when you start. For example, if you are completely unfit when starting: in this case, you would simply spend each of the three training sessions doing as much cycling as is comfortable for you. That might be as little as 5 minutes. There are many success stories of people who started out only able to cycle around the block, and ended up as fit athletes. I mean, just look at this guy’s inspiring story:
So, almost anyone can do it. As long as you are physically able to ride a bike, even for a couple of minutes. Just START by doing 2, 5, 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes of cycling. Whatever is possible for you. Whatever it is, do it 3 times during the first week. If it is still hard to do on the third ride, repeat the same amount of cycling 3 times during the next week. Once you can do your starting length of time easily, add a few minutes to your ride. If you listen to your body, you will know how many minutes you can manage to add on. Repeat that ride 3 times per week. And so on.
Your aim is simple: to get to the point where you can cycle for an hour continuously. Once you can do that, you are ready for Phase 2, where you will progress to the variations and interval training that will take you to the next level of fitness.
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Cross Training One Day Per Week
As well as the 3 days per week of cycling, I recommend one day per week when you do about 40 minutes of cross training (optional). Which is just a way of saying that on one day of the week, ideally you should do some other kind of exercise. This helps with physical balance, and most importantly, it helps you not to get bored. The cross training could be something that targets your core muscles (very important in cycling) such as yoga or Pilates.
Strength Training as Cross Training
Maggie has written a great post – complete with videos – about a quick, simple but very effective 10-minute core training workout for cyclists here. And I have posted a video about the top 7 best strength building exercises for cyclists here.
Swimming as Cross Training
Swimming is an excellent exercise to pair with cycling, as it tends to target the upper body, while cycling targets the lower body. Both activities also target the core, but with different emphases. If you choose this as your other sport, we highly recommend the Aftershokz XTrainerZ headphones. These allow safe cycling, due to leaving your ears totally open. They also provide excellent sound in the pool, which we find helps us not to get bored during long training swims.
What you Need for Phase 1 of the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan
Get the Right Bike to Get Fit On
Of course you need a bike, and preferably a road bike, or at least a hybrid. If you subscribe to this blog, you get a free PDF download that helps you to buy the right bike. And if you are starting off on a new bike and can afford it, a professional bike fitting will make you much more likely to succeed.
If you are over 220 pounds, this post has advice on how to get a bike that is suitable for heavier cyclists.
Get the Right Cycling Shoes to Get Fit With
I strongly recommend that you get shoes that are designed for cycling, as this will decrease the chance of cycling knee pain. These should be shoes with hard soles, not running shoes. Click here for a review of some very good cycling shoes – Five Ten cycling shoes. These are not clipless cycling shoes, because I just don’t like those. I like shoes that feel like regular shoes when I get off the bike. I also like not falling over sideways, and I ended up doing that every time I tried clipless cycling shoes!
Of course, if you have the skills to use clipless cycling shoes, then by all means do so. Many people believe that these improve cycling efficiency by as much as 35%. The ones below are excellent value for money. Some of these shoes are very expensive, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to feel the benefits. The extremely expensive ones are usually that pricey because elite cyclists are prepared to spend a lot of money for the premium materials that are needed to make cycling shoes extremely light. But for training purposes, a few extra ounces make no difference at all.
Get the Right Equipment to Monitor Your Path to Fitness
Finally, I strongly recommend that you invest in a decent heart rate monitor. Cycling training is all about training your heart and lungs, and it’s harder to do if you don’t have accurate measurements of your heart rate. It is possible to do it without using my table above, but if you can possibly afford it, get yourself a heart rate monitor. See here for much more about the recommended type of heart rate monitor.
Even better – if I could persuade Maggie of the obvious health benefits, I would follow the example of many of my readers over the last few days and invest in the premium Garmin Fenix Ultimate Multisport GPS watch. This watch will sit on your wrist and measure all your stats, including your heart rate, while you do all kinds of exercises. It can even be worn while swimming!
Although I cannot afford a Fenix, I do pretty well with my Garmin Vivoactive HR smart watch. I wrote a post here about how simple it is to record your bike rides with it. What I like most about it, is that it records my heart rate with an optical sensor in the watch, so I don’t have to bother with a heart rate strap.
Use a Garmin Edge Bike Computer to Monitor your Heart Rate AND your Progress
The other way to go is to use a Garmin Edge Bike Computer coupled with a Garmin heart rate monitor to monitor your progress and your heart rate. We have a post comparing all of the current Garmin Edge bike computers right here. Alternatively, if you want something less mainstream, we have this post comparing seven of the very best bike computers, from budget to premium.
A bike computer lets you record all your rides. This can be really motivating, especially if you get yourself a free Strava account and monitor your rides with that. Strava will send you all kinds of feedback, such as when you do a particular segment the fastest you have ever done. Plus, when you use Strava, you contribute towards future safer cycling for all. Read more about using Strava here.
My post on the Garmin Edge 520 vs 25 compares two very important bike computers: the very latest, and the very cheapest. Spoiler – I think you can meet all your training needs with the cheapest one. And the Garmin Edge 25 is also the smallest GPS bike computer in the world. One of my personal favorites!
Tips for Success with the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan – Avoid Cycling Knee Pain
It’s vital to avoid injuries that will set you back. A well-fitted bike and good shoes will take you a long way. But also be aware of technique. Keep your knees as straight as possible – do not allow them to splay outwards (duck-like). This will inevitably lead to problems with your iliotibeal band, which will cause cycling knee pain, and stop you from continuing with your program.
Splaying inwards is also to be avoided. Note that it is impossible to keep your knees straight if your bike is too small for you.
Also, be certain to keep your cadence up. This is the number of revolutions per minutes your cranks do. It’s easy to figure it out if you have a watch or smartphone that you can see, and then just count how many times the pedals go around in one minute. The ideal number is around 80 revolutions per minute. You can achieve this by keeping the gearing easy. Don’t focus on expending more power by going into the really difficult gears. You may go faster, but you will also have a slower, harder cadence, which can shred your knees quite quickly.
Good luck with your cycling training plan. I have just started my pre-spring cycling fitness program. During the first two rides, I was surprised at how fit I was – but then after the first two rides, I was dismayed at how tired I felt. I am listening to my body, and taking a couple of days off. But next week – I will be off again. This year, I am going to get fitter and stronger than ever before – even though I am a year older than I was last year!
Here is Phase 2 of the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan. But do not start doing it until you are ready!
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