Build Your Foundation With Proper Base Training

Build Your Foundation With Proper Base Training

Cycling is a great sport for all athletes and non-athletes to get involved in. However, like with everything there is a proper way of tackling training. One of the most important steps that I believe you should take into consideration is building a strong fitness foundation with a proper Base or Base Training. The better and stronger that you build that foundation, the higher and longer your ceiling will be.

What do I mean by this? Think about your endurance engine as pyramid for one second, where your aerobic capability is the base of the structure and your anaerobic capability is the height of the structure. The wider and thicker this base is the higher that the pyramid will be able to be built. In our case, the stronger your aerobic fitness is the higher that your anaerobic capability will be able to climb.

Another very important adaptation that occurs during base training is the increase in capillary density. This basically means that your body will be able transport more oxygen in your blood in a more efficient way. It as well increases the density of mitochondria in the blood, which means that you will be able to process fats and carbohydrates more efficiently.

Start Slow

There are many factors to consider when building the base block of your training plan, but one of the golden rules is to “Start Slow”. This will help you avoid complications and injuries early on as well as help you asses your current fitness and make sure that all of your equipment is properly set up. Remember that if you start with a high volume and high intensity training block, you might be able to see results quicker but then again, they might come with a big price tag. This is because you need to allow the body to adapt to your new training schedule, and too much too soon will quickly overtrain you. If this happens it can set you back weeks, months or even years. For this reason, it is very important to start slow, and you can always increase the intensity and volume gradually as you become a fitter athlete. Learn to listen to your body and you can be sure that it will tell you when you need to ride more or when you need to rest for a bit.

How long should base training be?

Base training is usually completed during the off-season, which is normally between October to January. The time that this period should last varies from athlete to athlete. However, in order to build a good fitness, I recommend having a base period that lasts from 2 to 3 months long. During this time the athlete should be able to develop a good aerobic foundation and be ready to start more race specific work. Extending the duration of your base period might be detrimental for your training plan as your high intensity output will most likely be decreased. There are many moving pieces to getting into proper form to meet your goal and this period is just one of them, once base training is complete is time for your build period to begin.

How many hours per week should base training have?

One of the most frequent questions that I get as a coach is “For how many hours should I be training each day / week?”. There is no magic formula that tells you exactly how long you need to be training for. But there is a principle of training that can helps us find the perfect target for each particular athlete, which is adaptation. It is very important that if you are not aware of what you are capable of that you start slow and work your way up both volume and intensity. You can use tools like TrainingPeaks to track your training stress and make sure that you do this on a sustainable way. You can also implement a slow improvement plan, and slow down as necessary. This could mean maybe increasing one hour of riding each month, or an extra interval each week, that will depend again on what your goal in.

Although the correct training volume really varies from athlete to athlete, there are some known good general starting points, which would be:

  • Beginners: 3 to 6 hours per week
  • Amateurs: 7 to 11 hours per week
  • Master: 5 to 10 hours per week
  • Professionals: 12 to 20 (or more) hours per week

Incorporate intervals into your base training!

Although about 80% of the time you will be riding either in an endurance or a recovery pace, there is still a bit of time that needs to be dedicated to interval training. Just do not go to the extreme either as a large volume of high intensity training is not recommended during base training. The reason behind this is that you want to focus on building your endurance and aerobic systems during this time, which will mean riding for long hours once or maybe even twice a week. If you are doing too many intervals you will be both very tired to achieve your target pace and to be able to finish those long hours on the saddle.

It is ideal for best results to incorporate at least 1 day of interval training a week to your workout calendar.

Some great types of intervals to incorporate include:

  • Sweet Spot Intervals
  • Threshold Intervals
  • Time to Exhaustion Intervals
  • Pyramid Structured Intervals
  • Anaerobic Intervals (Once per month)

Avoid the common mistakes of base training!

There are many common mistakes that cyclist do during their base training period. One of the most common one is to lose track of what the goals are. Why? Reasons vary greatly, but personally I believe that since this is the off-season where not everybody is riding, there might be rain or snow outside, plus the days are a bit shorter that what we would like, and many other “excuses” let’s call them. But nonetheless, this can be easily avoided by having a proper training plan in place as well as minimizing unstructured training days. By doing this you will know exactly what to do each day, where you should be at in your fitness goals and know exactly why you are doing all this hard work for.

Another important mistake to look out for is improper dieting. The most important thing to consider here is that if you are facing any dietary issue to be sure to consult with your doctor or dietitian for a professional opinion. That being said, one of the most important things in your nutrition to consider is getting the minimum number of calories in the body that it needs to survive, fix itself and fuel your training. This will allow you to both be a healthy athlete and progress as necessary. On the contrary if you do not fuel as it is necessary your recovery time slows down, your body starts to consume muscle to fuel itself, health complication may occur, among other negative effect. Once you hit those numbers then it is time as well to focus on consuming healthy and clean foods, which will help boost your immune and digestive systems, improve your recovery rate, among other great benefits.

How does an example week look like?

Each week should be similar but different. If you do the same thing over and over again you will definitively improve, but only to a certain point. To keep improving you need to variate your training schedule and not just focus on one are. As well it is very important to focus on recovery, it is normally not a good idea to have back-to-back days of either high intensity or high volume, or both really (unless specifically intended for fitter athletes). Focus on having one high intensity day normally after a rest day or an easy day, as well as having one long day on the saddle a week. Have at least a couple of days in between them to allow for proper recovery, then fill the remaining days with either medium endurance rides or active recovery days.

Here is a brief example of how a beginner cyclist base training week would look like:

  • Monday
    • Off
  • Tuesday
    • 1 Hour of Endurance Riding
  • Wednesday
    • 2 x 10 Minutes at Sweet Spot
  • Thursday
    • 1 Hour of Easy Riding
  • Friday
    • Off
  • Saturday
    • 2.5 Hour Endurance Ride
  • Sunday
    • 1.5 Hour Endurance Ride

Where could I get some help planning my base training period?

The best place to find help is with a certified cycling coach with extensive experience and knowledge like myself. You can reach me for a complimentary initial consultation or purchase one of my training plans from my online store. With this you will take all of the guessing away, and I will help you build a plan that is specific to both you and your goals. It is not rocket science that we are dealing with here, but it is a science for which experience is a tool that will help you avoid many mistakes and expedite the time that it takes you to reach your fitness goals. I am waiting to hear from you, contact me today!

Thank you for reading!

Gilberto Cortez - USA Cycling & TrainingPeaks Certified Coach

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