Training Bible for a Beginner Cyclist

Cycling is a great sport to do in order to exercise and balance your body. It will not only make you fitter, but it will help you burn those calories that nobody likes. But it has to be done in a smart way, one that will not hurt you in the long run. The most important factor is to start slow and short, don’t try to duplicate a professional cyclist training plan as it will only hurt you and make you overtrain.

I have put together a guide answering some of the most common questions that athletes that are just starting to ride. I hope that I helps you start your journey and avoid some of the most common mistakes that athletes come across.

What is needed to start training as a beginner cyclist?

  • Bike in good condition
    • If you have not used it in a while, make sure to do a tune up on it or take it to your local bicycle repair shop. This will make your experience much better as it will be less likely that any unexpected issues arise.
  • Bike fit
    • A good posture will help you avoid pains and aches from your increased volume of riding. A good bike fit is very important to complete before you start completing more hours of work on the bike. This does not mean that it has to be a professional fit (although it is recommended) but it can be one that you complete yourself. There is a lot of information online that can be researched to help you get to a good starting point.
  • Cycling specific gear
    • Helmet
      • Make sure that it fits properly and snug. Try to move it around and be 100% sure that even with movement it will not be compromised.
    • Gloves
      • A good pair will not cost you much and last you a while if treated properly. They will help you avoid any major road rash or even prevent stones getting under your skin in the event of an accident.
    • Shorts
      • Lycra shorts with a synthetic chamois is recommended to avoid any chafing on the area around your pelvis.
    • Jersey
      • Shirt or jerseys made of a material that is both breathable and it does not retain moisture is recommended. This will help your body maintain a proper temperature and not carry excessive weight from stored sweat.

What is NOT needed to start training as a beginner cyclist?

  • Heart Rate Monitor
    • Although it might be a good idea to purchase a heart rate monitor before you start training, it is not absolutely necessary. It will be easier to track your efforts this way, but there are other methods available like perceived exertion (PE) or just a basic system of tracking how hard the effort was for you on a scale from 1 to 10.
  • Power Meter
    • This is another great training tool that can help you reach your goals in a more efficient way. However, remember that you are just a beginner at this time. What is important is for you to get out there and ride, and no $1,000 power meter can change that. More specific ways of tracking your progress are great tools to analyze, but if you have not started training because you do not have the equipment then there will be no progress at all to analyze.
  • Top of the line Gear
    • As a beginner you do not need a top-of-the-line carbon fiber bicycle that is $10k, neither some top-of-the-line pedals, shoes or any other fancy equipment. All you need is a bicycle that is in good working condition and the basic safety equipment. Over time you can acquire other things, but don’t allow the fact that you do not own the best of the best before you start riding or training.
  • Cleat Pedals
    • Your friend and/or the internet are making you think you need to go clipless to ride in with the group? Do not listen to that nonsense and start with what you have and what is safe for you.

How will my first week of training look like?

Your first week of training as a cyclist will be composed of 3 to 5 days of riding during the week. To calculate how much time, it is right for you, you have to look back at what you have done. Do you ride to work every day for one hour? Or have you not touched a bicycle in as long as you can remember? If you have ridden 5 days a week for one hour for commuting during the last 6 months, then maybe you want to introduce an extra half an hour of riding every other day. If you have not ridden at all, then maybe you want to start more conservable at 3 days per week for about 30 minutes each day. It is very important to just focus on finding what a good training volume is during this week, do not focus on intensity yet and leave the HIIT for later.

How will my first month of training look like?

You are done with your first week of training, and are looking forward to continuing training? Well, that is the way you should feel! Now it is time to start being constant and follow up on that target volume that you found. Try not to focus to much on intensity just yet, but make sure to ride every day as prescribed. This will create a base on which for you to build in the future. Your body will start getting used to your new training schedule and your fitness will improve.

Make sure to start tracking your rest as well during this time. You will notice that over time you will become more and more fatigue as the days will start adding up. One of the biggest mistakes that an unexperienced cyclist does is to overtrain until the body cannot take it anymore. Contrary to the original thought, training in an excessive way will not produce the results that most would want.

How will my first year of training look like?

With time you will become more experience and will learn to listen to your body in a more efficient way. This will allow you to push yourself even further and open a new world of possibilities. As any other cyclists do you will most probably want to experiment with things like heart rate monitors, GPS computers and maybe even power meters. The more you open and expand your knowledge and equipment the more ways you will find to both listen to your body and to improve it.

Start to focus more and more on having a properly structured training plan. Focus not only on the current week but on your current training target and build around that. It is very important that you start by setting the proper training goals, this will help you navigate your training plan in a way that will make more sense to you. Even if it is not getting drop on the weekly group ride or loosing those extra 5 pounds, it is very important to know where you want to go before you start your journey. After this you can create a path that will lead you to achieve them, and from that path you can carve your weekly and monthly training schedules.

During that path you will start to incorporate other training workouts like high intensity interval training (HIIT), strength training, and maybe even some cross training (which I highly recommend). To know exactly what you need you will have to look at the variables of your goal and depending on what they are is what you need to work on.

What are some good workouts for beginner cyclists?

Focus on endurance primarily during the start of your training career as a beginner or amateur cyclist. You have to build a proper base on your body so that you are able to sustain the harder and longer efforts that every cyclist wants to achieve. If you decide to start incorporating interval training into your plan, start with a good foundation of tempo and threshold targeted intervals before jumping into anything anaerobic.

Some examples of good workouts for beginners include:

  • Endurance Ride (z2)
    • Ride at a moderate pace for a prescribed amount of time. Start with a time you can easily complete and work your way up in 15- or 30-minute intervals.
  • 2x10m Tempo (z3) Intervals
    • Start with a 20-minute warm up, then complete two intervals of 10 minutes at tempo pace (z3) with 10 minutes of recovery between them.
  • Group Ride
    • Ride with a local group of a similar fitness level cyclists for one to two hours on a hilly course. Try to stay on the front of the group and be sure to take a pull whenever is your time.
  • Recovery Ride (z1)
    • Ride at an easy pace (z1) for 30 minutes to one hour on a flat course. Focus on active muscle recovery.

What type of terrain should you look for as a beginner cyclist?

Although terrain is not a make-or-break decision when it comes to training, it will make your life easier or harder depending on what you choose. Usually if you are just starting out the most suitable space for you will be one that is closed to traffic, wide and with little or no obstacles. Maybe a local park in your community or some fire roads around a close by lake. By picking a terrain that is not too difficult it will allow you to concentrate better on the task at hand and build your fitness without injuries or other major problems.

Is racing a good idea for a beginner cyclist?

Of course it is! just make sure to start on a proper level for both your fitness and experience. Many competitions offer different levels (ex. Beginner, Sport, Expert, Professional, Etc.) so be sure to select the correct one for you. If you are just a beginner try to find the Beginner category (Cat 5 on Road bikes and Cat 3 on Mountain Bike) and focus on getting experience and doing the best that you can. You have to take into consideration even before you register for the race that as a beginner your goal is not to win (at this time) but to learn from those who do. This will help you improve your technique and prepare you for the next level of your training.

What are some safety measures that every beginner cyclist needs to take?

The most important thing to consider is to be sure to wear all of the required safety gear (helmet, gloves and a safe bicycle). Besides having the proper gear, you have to be sure to follow proper safety protocols. As a cyclist you have the same rights that other drivers in cars, motorcycles or other vehicles have. That is a great benefit to you, but it is also a big responsibility as you have to be sure to follow all signs, complete required stops and obey traffic lights.

A great benefit of being able to ride in local roads and some highways is that you can create routes that take you to incredible places. They can have lots of climbing in the local mountains or maybe long miles of flat roads around the desert. This is great but safety has to be taken into consideration, be aware of those vehicles that I talk about. One wrong move from either and it can become a death or life situation very rapidly. Stay on a safe side of the road, do not anger motorists and always practice defensive riding. Even if you are the one that is on the right, it is not worth it to put your life in danger just to prove a point. For the person driving the vehicle it might be just an insurance claim, but for you as a cyclist it will probably mean a visit to the emergency room.

Is technique a good thing to train on as a beginner cyclist?

Technique, technique, technique! It is one of the most important things that any cyclist needs to focus on. Beginner, amateur, expert and even professional cyclists have to train. This will include factors like defensive riding, proper breaking and climbing technique, turning, steady pedaling, proper gear selection, etc.

Not only riding technique needs to be trained but also your technique as a mechanic. Learn and practice how to change an inner tube, how to adjust your derailleur, how to reset your chain back on to your drivetrain and other solutions to emergency situations you might encounter.

What are some common mistakes to avoid as a beginner cyclist?

  • Not resting enough
    • Proper rest will help you recover and strengthen your body. This is what will get it ready to go before the next ride. You have to think about rest as being as if not more important than the training that you are completing.
  • Overtraining
    • Training too much is more of a problem that many really know. Your body can only handle so much, and even though it needs to be overstressed to achieve improvement it all has to be done in a balanced way.
  • Bad nutrition
    • Remember that you are what you eat. If all you put into your body are empty calories, then the results you expect to achieve might take a bit longer to get to you. If you nurture your body properly it will not only recover better but it will rebuild itself in a stronger and more efficient way which will speed your results.
  • Unfocused Plan
    • The most important factor in having a plan is knowing what you are trying to achieve. If you do not have proper goals set in place, then you will be just trying a bit of everything without obtaining proper result, registering empty hours at the bike. Be sure to have your goals set in place so that you can have a more successful and efficient training plan.
  • Looking for quick results
    • It is very easy to see other riders and what they have accomplished. As a beginner cyclist you might want to be do the same thing as they do and try anything possible to do it quickly. Some might even try to use illegal substances, but in the end, it is not worth it. Quick results usually come from bad decision making and go away as quick as they came. In the best-case scenario that is just it and hopefully do not come with other health repercussions.

What is the next step in becoming an intermediate, master or professional cyclist?

  • Get a coach that will help you improve more efficiently
    • There are many factors to take into consideration when building your training plan. A coach will not only help you by bringing his experience into your world but also by bringing an external point of view. This will help you avoid mistakes like overtraining yourself as well as to better navigate you goals.
  • Increase volume and intensity
    • The longer you ride, the more you will want to ride. This is ok as it will help you progress over time, but you have to be cautious of not overdoing it. Remember it is all about finding that perfect balance of overreaching without overtraining.
  • Participate in races or other events
    • Find a race or event that interest you, maybe one that is just outside of your comfort zone. You can use this event as your training goal and base your plan around it. A good way to do this is to work backwards from the date of your event and this way you know when your Base, Build and Peak periods need to be.
Written by:

Gilberto Cortez - USA Cycling, TrainingPeaks & NICA Certified Coach

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