How to create a cycling training plan

This plan, devised by renowned coach Ric Stern, builds on our guide to training sessions by assembling them into a two-week programme that you can then adapt to your needs and expand on as you get fitter. Just bear in mind that cadence for each ride should be 85-100rpm on the flat and 70+rpm on any hills, and every ride should finish with a five-minute cool down.

Build an effective training plan

Week 1

Sunday

Warm-up: 5min
Session: 3hr30min long ride with 4x10sec flat sprints
Intensity: Zone 1 on the flat, zone 3-4 on hills, all out on sprints
Instructions: This is your weekly long ride incorporating flat sprints from a rolling start. Use a moderate gear such as 53×17/16 and go steady on the hills

Monday

Rest day

Tuesday

Warm-up: 5min
Session: 1hr30min steady ride with 5-6x10sec flat sprints
Intensity: Zone 1 on the flat, zone 3 on hills, all out on sprints
Instructions: Steady ride with flat sprints from a rolling start. Use a moderate gear such as 53×17/16. Go easy on the hills and smash the sprints

Wednesday

Rest day

Thursday

Warm-up: 5min
Session: 1hr15min steady ride with 5-6x4min intervals
Intensity: Zone 1 on the flat, zone 3 on hills, zone 5-6 on the intervals
Instructions: Steady ride with aerobic power intervals. Hit them hard and try to maintain an even effort across each interval. These should hurt

Friday

Rest day

Saturday

Warm-up: 10min
Session: 1hr30min medium-intensity endurance training
Intensity: Zone 3 on the flat, zone 4-5 on hills
Instructions: MIET will give you a solid tempo session for quality endurance work. Pedal smoothly, stay in an aero position and drink regularly

Week 2

Sunday

Same session as Sunday Week 1

Monday

Rest day

Tuesday

Warm-up: 10min
Session: Endurance training with 4x10sec flat sprints
Intensity: Zone 2 on the flat, zone 4 on hills, all out on sprints
Instructions: Core endurance ride with flat sprints from a rolling start. Use a moderate gear such as 53×17/16 and aim for a consistent pace on the flat

Wednesday

Rest day

Thursday

Same session as Thursday Week 1, but try to add one more interval

Friday

Rest day

Saturday

Warm-up: 10min
Session: 2hr steady ride
Intensity: Zone 1 on the flat, zone 3-4 on hills
Instructions: Steady ride on as much flat terrain as possible. Don’t go hard today. Practise eating and drinking while you ride

In the zone

Training zones are important here, so don’t ignore them. You’ll need a heart rate monitor to gauge them accurately, but here’s how they work as defined by Stern as long ago as 2000…

Recovery zone is an easy effort at 40-60bpm below your maximum heart rate. Use this for cool downs and easy spins on rest days

Zone 1 is an endurance session at 45-50bpm below your maximum heart rate
Zone 2 is an endurance session at 40-45bpm below your maximum heart rate
Zone 3 is an endurance session at 30-40bpm below your maximum heart rate
Zone 4 is an intensive effort at 25-30bpm below your maximum heart rate and just below your lactate threshold
Zone 5 is an intensive effort at 15-25bpm below your maximum heart rate and just above your lactate threshold
Zone 6 is a maximal effort at 0-15bpm below your maximum heart rate
Zone 7 is a maximal sprinting effort at or just below your maximum heart rate

How it works

The plan contains a mix of high-intensity work from sprints and intervals through to endurance-type sessions such as long rides, steady rides and endurance sessions.

‘These cover a variety of bases to target multiple physiological systems,’ says Stern. ‘Previously, people thought you should only try to work on one aspect of physiology such as anaerobic power, but this isn’t the case.

‘You can concentrate on more than one.’

In terms of structure, longer rides take place at the weekend, while shorter, harder sessions are done during the working week.

‘But you can be flexible, for example by cutting the 90-minute Tuesday ride to an hour and adding 60 minutes on to a weekend ride,’ Stern adds.

In fact, none of this is set in stone, and the idea is that once you’ve done the two-week programme you can amend it to fit your free time and your goals.

‘The order is very rider-dependent and may change if you add a third-midweek session. Some riders like to do intervals after a day off, when they feel fresh, while others perform better when they do a session the day before.

‘If you’re still able to do intervals in a “tired” state towards the end of the week when your muscle glycogen is slightly depleted, they can lead to greater fitness adaptations in the muscles.’

Don’t go all in all of the time, though. You also need rest days, which allow your body to recover from the hard efforts you’ve put it through and for the body to restore its muscle and liver glycogen – the body’s carbohydrate stores.

‘It’s also important to freshen up from a mental perspective,’ says Stern. ‘Rest days needn’t be a complete day off the bike and could include really easy and relatively short spins, but proper rest means you’ll come back to your harder sessions with more energy and higher intensity.’

Moving on up

Building fitness and proficiency on the bike requires progress over time, so your training plan can’t stand still.

‘The current plan is based on four days per week, which is sufficient for a wide variety of people competing in different types of cycling,’ says Stern.

‘But at some point, you need to either up the intensity, the volume or both. This places more “stress” on the body so you can keep working on increasing your fitness. The fitter you become, the harder it is to keep getting fitter.

‘It’s the inverse of weight loss – if you’re very overweight it’s quite easy, physiologically, to lose a kilo or two, but once you’re down to race weight it’s really difficult to lose a further kilo so that you look like a Tour de France rider.’

Stern has already hinted at adding an extra session in midweek to give you a total of five rides per week. Once you’ve added an extra day you can start upping the intensity, for example by increasing the number of intervals you incorporate into those sessions.

‘I have to point out that it’s hard to be too specific, because how you adapt the plan will depend on your personal strengths and weaknesses, and what your goals are.

‘A time-trialler will have different goals and needs to a road racer. The time you have available is also a big factor because if you have 25 hours a week to train most of those hours will have to be low intensity, while if you have six hours a week your training will have to be really intense.’

This is where individual coaching can help, but there are some general principles you can apply.

‘If you’re a road racer you may want to increase the number of intervals you do, as well as the frequency, to build speed and power for specific race scenarios.

‘If time-trials are your thing you may want to add in functional threshold power work and do moderate-to-long intervals of 10 to 20 minutes, to increase your ability to ride for a long time at a set speed.’

You also need to consider – and be honest about – your limitations. ‘If you’re racing a criterium but you’re not great at sprinting out of corners, you can adapt the sprints in the relevant sessions to practise spriting of corners from a good speed,’ says Stern.

‘For a sportive, it may be you’ve never ridden the distance before. Add in more medium-intensity endurance training to build your fatigue resistance and increase your long ride by 30 minutes every other week to help build endurance.’

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