Whether you’re planning your first charity ride this year, or just want to get fitter, this post is for you!
Phase 1 of a Simple Training Plan to Get Cycling Fit
I am happy to introduce Phase 1 of my Beginner Cyclist Training Plan. It’s an ideal plan if you are just getting started with cycling; or if you have never followed a structured cycling training plan, and want to see how much fitter you could get with a structured plan; or if you want to do your first charity bike ride soon.
If you can already cycle for a continuous hour, then Phase 1 of this plan is probably not for you! Phase 1 is just about building a base of being 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.
Cycle Just 3 Times per Week
My Beginner Cyclist Training Plan requires you to do just 3 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, 3 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.
Joe Friel’s 10 Commandments of Training
Here are the first three of Joe Friel’s famous 10 Commandments of Training:
- 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. 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)
|1 (Recovery)||1 to 2||Very light||I'm so comfortable I could do this all day!||40% to 45%|
|2 (Endurance)||3 to 4||Light||I'm a bit sweaty, but I feel good and can easily carry on a conversation||46% to 50%|
|3 (Tempo)||5 to 6||Moderate||I am a bit breathless now, but I can still talk||56% to 60%|
|4 (Lactate Threshold)||7||Somewhat heavy||I guess I could talk if I had to, but I really don't want to, plus I'm sweating like a race horse||61% to 67%|
|5 (Above Threshold)||8||Heavy||If you must ask me a question, don't expect me to do more than grunt. I need to stop soon.||68% to 75%|
|6 (Aerobic Capacity)||9||Very heavy||I am probably going to die||76% to 80%|
|7 (Anaerobic Capacity)||10||Very, very heavy||I think I just died||81% to 85%|
This kind of fairly gentle intensity can be achieved by cycling on reasonably flat terrain (unless you live on a desert plain, there will most likely be some uphills, but choose a route that does not have killer hills). The terrain in the picture above is perfect – it’s quiet and almost flat, and dedicated to cyclists.
Of course, not everyone has access to this kind of terrain. However, if you explore your own area, you might be surprised at what you find. I work in a city center, and recently was amazed to discover literally miles of single trail cycling tracks right nearby.
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.
Here is Phase 2 of the Beginner Cyclist Training Plan. But do not start doing it if you’re not ready!
As well as the 3 days per week of cycling, I recommend 1 day per week when you do about 40 minutes of cross training (optional). Which is just a way of saying that on 1 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. 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.
Workouts are great for building overall cycling muscle strength. There are books that have workouts specifically designed to build cycling strength, such as Weight Training for Cyclists: A Total Body Program for Power and Endurance. Or it could just be something completely different that you happen to like, such as swimming.
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. See 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 things can be ridiculously expensive).
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.
Also, if you do buy a heart rate monitor, don’t think short term in order to save a few dollars. If you seriously plan to get fit, I would recommend the Polar RS300XC over the basic Polar heart rate monitor. It’s about twenty dollars more, but you will be glad of the extra features in the long term. You can read more about these features here.
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. I have a comparison of the three best Garmin Edge Bike Computers here.
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.
Even with the best technique, there is always a risk of cycling knee pain. To prevent this, I cannot recommend stretching more strongly. It is the vital key that can save you from pain and injuries. This post about how to prevent cycling knee pain has a simple stretching guide that has been protecting me from cycling knee pain for years. I advocate doing the stretches straight after your bike ride.
But to be honest, that is not when I do them. I usually don’t have time after my ride, so I do them before bed (which happens to be after my shower). This works really well for me. My muscles are warm from the shower, and the stretches relax me before bed. So I don’t really follow my own advice about stretching right after a ride. However, I am very strict about always doing my stretches on days when I have done a bike ride. And this seems to save me from the cycling knee pain I had for years. I had times when it got so bad I was on crutches. Not any more, thanks to my stretching regime!
If by chance you do manage to develop cycling knee pain, never fear – I have a post (not an app!) for that. My post about my miraculous and cheap cure for cycling knee pain is my top post ever, and I have had emails from people all over the world confirming it has worked for them. Of course, there are always exceptions, so do your stretches, so that you never have to try the cycling knee pain cure!
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!
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