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This is a complete bike training plan for beginners who want to get very fit within a few months, build lean muscle, shed stress, and burn a lot of calories. The advantage of getting fit from cycling is that it is relatively low-impact exercise, making it ideal for those who are out of shape and want to get fit without injury.
This beginner’s bike training plan is also ideal if you want to lose weight. There are thousands of success stories of larger people who started out only able to cycle around the block, and ended up as super-fit athletes. Many of them lost a hundred pounds or more while they were doing it. For example, Phil went from morbidly obese to fit by cycling, losing 140 pounds in the process.
Consider a bike computer to amp up your workouts: Check out our comparison of the Garmin Edge 530 vs Wahoo Elemnt Bolt bike computers
Special Considerations for Larger People who Want to Get Fit with Cycling
When you start out with bike training, bear in mind that most bikes are designed for people who weigh less than 220 pounds. The warranties on many bikes are actually voided if the rider is too heavy. If you are significantly heavier than 220 pounds, think about getting a bike designed for heavier people. If you have the money, speak to a bike shop about getting a custom built bike built out of chromoly, with thicker-walled, larger-diameter tubes.
If you don’t have that kind of money, at least buy a good quality bike, and check that there is no weight limit on the warranty. Your bike shop may have to call the manufacturer’s rep to check this. Also, don’t just take the bike home off the shelf. Talk to the bike shop salesman about beefing up the parts. For example, most bikes come with poor quality pedals. They may even be plastic. Switch them out for good quality pedals. I have had a pedal break on me while standing up, and it is NOT an experience you ever want to have – trust me on that one. Ouch!
You can also make sure your wheels are strong enough, and preferably have double-butted, stainless steel spokes. They should at least have a LOT of spokes, and a strong rim. Almost any good bike shop can build you a couple of wheels with plenty of stronger spokes, and it should not cost too much. Also make sure your tires are robust and have a high thread count.
And of course, make sure you have a comfy bike saddle. I’m not that lightweight myself, and I splashed out on a Selle Anatomica saddle after experiencing a lot of discomfort. It was expensive, but I am glad I bought it. It wears in a whole lot faster than Brooks saddles, and is more forgiving as well. Saddle sores can completely stop you from cycling, while you heal up.
Related Post: A Guide for Fat Cyclists – tips on choosing the right bike and cycling gear
Phase 1 of Average Joe Cyclist’s Complete Bike Training Plan: Build a base of being able to cycle non-stop for 60 minutes at a moderate pace
Your goal in Phase 1: In this phase you should build up the duration of your bike rides, regularly and steadily, so as to get to the point where you can cycle non-stop for an hour at a moderate pace. Don’t overdo it! You should cycle just three times per week. This will get you cycling fit, without exhausting you, so you are much more likely to keep it up.
Always listen to your body. If you feel exhausted the day after your second ride, rest up till the next week, then start again. Leave out the third ride of the week, to give your body time to recuperate.
Related Post: 7 of the Best Budget Indoor Bike Trainers
Set small, attainable goals. Slow but steady works when it comes to getting fit. I have seen people who were out of breath after ONE MINUTE of cycling, who have progressed slowly and eventually become fit enough to bike a hundred miles.
Set the duration of your bike training sessions based on how fit you are when you start. If you are completely unfit when you start, just cycle for as long as you comfortably can. That might be as little as 5 minutes. So start by doing just a few minutes of cycling at a time, three times per week. If it is still hard to do your chosen length of time on the third ride of the week, repeat the same amount of cycling the next week. Once you can do your starting length of time easily, increase the duration of your rides by 5 to 10 minutes. If you keep doing this regularly, you will sooner or later reach your goal of being able to cycle continuously for an hour.
Choose your training days to fit your own schedule, but make sure to build in adequate rest days. 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 cycle: Monday/Wednesday/Friday or Wednesday/Saturday/Sunday.
The first example is perfect for spacing out the days, but the second example may work better because it enables you to do most of your cycling on the weekend.
Intensity of your bike training during Phase 1 of the Beginner’s Bike Training Plan
During Phase 1, you should always be cycling in Heart Rate zones 2 and 3 – light to moderate, 50 to 60% of your maximum heart rate. Ideally you should use a really decent heart rate monitor, such as this one that enables you to clearly see your heart rate as you are cycling: the Polar FT4M Heart Rate Monitor Watch.
Related: How to Monitor Your Exercise Intensity with a Heart Rate Monitor to Get Fit
Alternatively, get yourself a fitness tracker, which will track your heart rate, help you to monitor your progress over time, and have the added advantage of also encouraging you to do more walking every day.
If you don’t want to spend money on a heart rate monitor, then just use the table below. This table of the rate of perceived exertion enables you to set your cycling intensity based on how you feel. In Phase 1 bike training, you want to be in Zones 2 and 3 while cycling. This kind of fairly gentle intensity exercise can be achieved by cycling on reasonably flat terrain.
Table for measuring exercise intensity
|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|
Cross Training as Part of your Bike Training Plan
Ideally you should also do some other kind of exercise one day per week for about 20 to 40 minutes. This helps with physical balance, getting stronger, and it helps to prevent boredom. You might choose to use your cross training to target your core muscles (very important in cycling). You can do this by taking a class in yoga or Pilates. Or you could do our Complete Core Workout – which requires no special equipment or gym fees, and can be done in as little as 20 minutes. Maggie wrote this post, and has included videos to make it really easy to follow. Below is a video showing the plank, which is one of the best core exercises you can do. Maggie’s post includes this and 4 other key core exercises.
Alternatively, your cross training day could be a weight training workout in which you build overall muscle strength. There are books that feature workouts designed to build cycling strength, such as Ken Doyle’s Weight Training for Cyclists: A Total Body Program for Power and Endurance. This kind of program will build your strength and help you to avoid cycling injuries and cycling knee pain.
If you are finding your cycling training is tough on your knees, then try doing the exercises in the video below. They are three simple exercises that are especially designed to build the strength of the muscles around your knees.
Avoid Cycling Knee Pain by Stretching
Here is a post about how to prevent cycling knee pain. It has a simple stretching guide that has protected me from cycling knee pain for years. It’s best to do the stretches straight after your bike ride. For maximum benefit, do the stretches on days when you don’t ride as well.
Phase 2: Add Interval Training to your Beginner Bike Training Plan
Your goal in Phase 2: to add basic interval training to two out of your three weekly workouts.
In Phase 2 of your Beginner Bike Training Plan you start to incorporate interval training into your workouts. Interval training simply means including short intervals of increased effort. These happen naturally on a bike ride. For example, when you get to a hill, you have to pedal harder to get to the top; then you relax a little on the downhill. However, interval training entails being systematic about alternating between periods of increased effort and less effort. Ideally you should find a quiet road or track to do interval training, because it can be hard to speed up if your route is very busy.
Interval Training Burns More Calories because it’s More Intense
The harder you cycle, the more calories you burn. But it’s hard to sustain high intensity for prolonged periods of time. Interval training gives you an ideal compromise: it enables you to incorporate short periods of high intensity/high calorie burn into your workout. The overall effect is that you burn more calories per hour.
Interval Training Helps You to Get Fit Faster
Interval training has been proven to be a faster way to get fit. In fact, one study showed that you can make substantial fitness gains with just thirty minutes of cycling per week, as long as you include some high intensity intervals. People who do interval training usually get fit faster than people who do a more monotonous routine. Intervals are an easy way to introduce variation, to keep your body “guessing” and adapting and getting fitter. They are also a great way to put increasing demands on your body.
Frequency, Duration, Scheduling and Intensity of Workouts in Phase 2 of the Beginner Bike Training Plan
Continue cycling just three times per week, and for just one hour. You will be achieving more in that one hour, because of the intervals. And stick with the routine of days that worked for you in Phase 1.
When it come to intensity: this is where you kick it up a notch! Basically, you will now start to include more intense intervals in two out of your three weekly rides. To start with, the intervals of higher intensity do not have to be about cycling as fast as you possibly can. They just have to be about cycling faster than the easy pace you used for Phase 1 of the training program. Just cycle in this way for two of your three weekly rides.
|First 15 minutes:||Cycle at an easy pace to warm up|
|Next 5 minutes:||Increase your pace by one zone to Heart Rate zone 4 (sweating heavily, and would prefer not to talk)|
|Next 10 minutes:||Cycle at an easy pace (Heart Rate zones 2 and 3, comfortable to a bit sweaty)|
|Next 5 minutes:||Increase your pace by one zone to Heart Rate zone 4|
|Next 10 minutes:||Cycle at an easy pace (Heart Rate zones 2 and 3)|
|Next 5 minutes:||Increase your pace by one zone (Heart Rate Zone 4)|
|Final 15 minutes:||Cycle at an easy pace (Heart Rate zones 2 and 3)|
And that’s it! Really simple, right? But once you start doing this, you will be doing interval training, and you will be on your way to using your workouts to best advantage to really get fit (and lose weight too, if that is one of your goals).
Related Post: Our TOP 5 TIPS to Lose Weight Cycling
Phase 3 of the Beginner’s Bike Training Plan
Your goal in Phase 3: to kick it up a notch, so as to increase the demands on your body and keep getting fitter. You can do this using one or more of these methods:
Method 1: Go Longer
Make your non-interval ride longer – start adding on time, preparing for your first criterium or charity ride! It’s ideal to do this one on a Sunday, and really see how far you can go. This can be a very exciting ride, and gives you something to brag about on Monday! If you have a training buddy, this can be even more fun as you can plan a destination ride: for example, pick out a restaurant you want to go to, and stop over for a coffee or a meal.
If you have a training buddy, your long Sunday bike ride can be even more fun as you can plan a destination ride: for example, pick out a restaurant you want to go to, and stop over for a coffee or a meal. The off-road West Dyke Trail in Richmond, BC, is completely safe for the whole family
Method 2: Go Harder
Make your intervals more strenuous on one of your interval-training days. Aim to achieve an even higher level of perceived exertion during your intervals. For example, crank your intensity right up to Level 5.
Method 3: Ride More
Add in extra days of cycling. You will probably find you want to do this anyway – cycling is notoriously addictive. Start with just one extra day. Make this a session of continuous cycling, not interval training. Interval training should be intense but not too frequent, otherwise you will over exhaust yourself, and risk injury.
Good luck with your Beginner Bike Training Plan!
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