Bike Workouts to take you from the Base to Build Period

Coach Mike Ricci leading a training session
August 11, 2007

Mike Ricci



A general rule of thumb for writing a comprehensive training plan is that it should encompass progressive overload, be specific and take into account the individual needs of a specific athlete. Scientific approach to designing a training plan that follows such parameters is called periodization and has been initially introduced to the world of sport in ancient Greece. In 1940s eastern Germans and Romanians elaborated the methodology therefore it is them who are considered the modern fathers of periodization.

Periodization TheoryThe basic idea behind the periodization is that training stresses vary throughout the year as opposed to staying constant. The type and amount of stress is determined by the athletic events that require peak performance from the athlete. In a periodized plan the year is divided into several periods, each a couple to several weeks long. Periodization plan begins with transition and preparation stages, followed by the base training, build period, peak and race; training progresses from general to more [sport] specific. The training schedule begins by emphasizing volume over intensity and reverses as the race day approaches.

Periodization stages: Base/Late baseBase phase is broken into base 1, 2 and 2, each 3-4 weeks long. The main goals of base training are building endurance, muscular endurance, force and working on speed skills. Late base or base 3 differs from the previous two in that the training volume reaches the maximum and in that is beginning to shift from general to more specific. In addition, intensity increases somewhat in the late phase as more force and higher loads during muscular endurance training are added to the schedule. The purpose of higher intensity is to prepare the athlete for the next stage ? build ? during which anaerobic endurance training is introduced.

Understanding the terminologyEndurance in other words means to become fatigue resistant. The main goal of endurance training is thus not only to lessen the effects of fatigue but also to delay the onset of it, which is achieved by training the slow-twitch muscle fibers. Endurance training is also important from nutritional perspective by training the body to utilize fat as a fuel of choice while sparing the carbohydrate and glycogen reserves. The best training to build on endurance are long duration swim, bike and run workouts.

Force, by definition, is the ability to overcome resistance. For a multisport athlete the ability to generate force means success in battling with rough conditions such as tall waves, head or cross winds and hills. Like endurance, the force relies on the slow twitch muscle fibers. An adequately trained slow twitch muscle will generate higher speeds at higher intensities without drastically affecting the heart rate. The later is particularly important in sparing the glycogen resources while relying on fat as the main fuel for the activity.

Developing speed skills is necessary for the economy of movement. Economical movement is effective and efficient and as such necessary because it spares energy, particularly at high velocities. Speed skills are achieved by incorporating drills into the training routine.

Muscular endurance defined means maintaining a great force load through time and it therefore requires muscular adaptations that result from both, force and endurance training. Muscle tissue that is trained for endurance is capable of resisting fatigue and greater lactate threshold levels. In a multisport event the most importance should be placed on muscular endurance in running. By developing muscular endurance in running an athlete will be able to keep the targeted pace without fatiguing even after the hours from previous effort (swim and bike) begin to take their toll. The best training regimen to work on muscular endurance is sustained efforts at higher heart rates (anaerobic) and with aerobic intervals, which are introduced in base 2 but get longer during base 3. The purpose of the increasing work length is to prepare the athlete for the next level ? build-at which steady state efforts of 25 + minutes at higher heart rates are quite common.

Putting it all together, the workouts:
Workout 1: Hill repeats to improve muscular endurance and force Find a moderate, about 1 mile long, hill. Pick a gear that allows for 70 RPM and the Heart Rate in Z2, drifting into Z3. Ride down the hill for recovery. Repeat the hill by gearing up and sustaining the cadence of 65-70 RPM. Keep climbing and gearing up until you can no longer sustain the effort for the whole climb (you have to slow down or gear down). HR in higher zones (at or above the lactate threshold) is allowed for the last effort as long as the effort remains constant.

Workout 2: Muscular Endurance Find a flat stretch on the road. After a thorough warm up (you have broken the sweat) ride as hard as you can for 10 min in a gear that will allow 85-90 RPM. Repeat 4 x and spin easy for 2 minutes between sets. Cool down.Workout 3: Speed SkillThese will be all out efforts and can be done on the trainer or a flat stretch on the road. To warm up spin easy at 85-90 rpm; the work interval should be done as follows: find a gear that will allow you to pedal at 80-95 rpm and at which the ?burning? feeling in the legs develops within 30-45 seconds. These intervals should be ridden 10-12 times by taking 90 sec to 120 seconds recovery. The focus of the workout is to increase lactate tolerance while maintaining a good form. To increase the tolerance for the lactate, maintain the effort at the onset of the burn at least for a few more seconds.
What else can you do?Taking into consideration that most of the base training falls into the winter months, cross training can replace some of the swim, bike and run routines. Cross-country skiing has been proven to have the best carry-over to cycling by working out the quads and challenging the balance. Other great sports to challenge the cardiovascular system are snowshoeing and winter hiking. Especially hiking should not be underestimated due to its aerobic nature: sustained effort over a prolonged period of time will teach the body to utilize fat and spare the glycogen.
A Closing thoughtBy using the example workouts in this article you will be off to a great start to of your season. Good Luck!

References:1. Friel J. The Triathlete?s Training Bible. Boulder: Velo Press; 2004.2. Bompa T. Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training. Champaign: Human Kinetics; 19993. Matheny, F. Winter Wisdom: seven smart ways to become a fitter cyclist this off-season. Bicycling. 1993; 34n11:70(4)
Martina Young is a USAT Certified Coach with D3 Multisport , ACE certified personal trainer and licensed clinical massage therapist. She can be reached for coaching at

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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