What do you want to accomplish on your bike this year? Are you hunting good race results? Perhaps you want to finish your first century. Or maybe you just want to complete a “stupid arbitrary goal” and lose weight. Whatever your cycling goals are, the best way to achieve them is to train for them.
For many cyclists, training can seem daunting. Even seasoned riders struggle with it. To give us all an edge this year, I went to the best cycling coaches I know and asked them for their top three training tips. Whether you’re relying on a coach, following a structured plan, or just using the Eddy Merckx method of “ride lots,” these pro training tips will help you stay on target for your most successful year ever.
Coach: Trevor Connor
Connor is an expert in exercise physiology and nutrition. He's the Co-founder of Fast Talk Laboratories and co-host of the Fast Talk podcast, one of the most popular podcasts covering endurance sports and training. Fast Talk Laboratories is a virtual performance center and sport science community focused on revolutionary ideas and evidence-based methods to get faster at cycling, triathlon, running, and other endurance sports.
1. Know when your targets are
“No one, not even pros, can be strong all year long, so hitting your peak numbers in January doesn’t help you if your big race is in May. Whether it’s a race or trip with your riding buddies, it’s important to know when your target events are and to plan your training to be strong at those times. It takes about six to nine weeks to hit top form and after that, it doesn’t last for very long. Very simply, work on base fitness until you’re a few months out from your event, and then hit the high-intensity work hard!”
2. Pick something and stick with it
“One of the biggest mistakes I see athletes make is working with an overly complex training plan where they’re doing a different interval workout every time they’re on the bike and targeting multiple energy systems at once. It might feel sophisticated, but in reality, it’s a great way to plateau. Find a good interval workout that targets the strengths you’re trying to develop and then stick with that workout for six weeks or longer to see your best gains.”
3. Don’t undervalue easy work
“We all feel the desire to go hard anytime we’re on the bike. Frankly, a workout feels like a waste if our tongues aren’t hanging out. But that’s not actually how our physiology works. The best adaptations come from very high-quality interval work spread out several days apart with lots of easy training in between. You’re not wasting time by going easy — it ensures you’re getting the most gains from your interval sessions.”
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Coach: Kristen Legan
Photo: Linda Guerrette
Legan is a former pro triathlete, podium finisher at UNBOUND, and elite cyclocross and endurance MTB racer. She helps riders of all levels achieve their endurance cycling and bikepacking goals with personalized training, equipment consultation, and race planning. Rambleur offers long-term, one-on-one coaching for athletes looking to boost performance and achieve goals in gravel, mountain biking, bikepacking, and ultra-cycling.
1. Set your goals or intentions for the year and share them
“Share your goals with your coach, family, or riding partners. These don’t need to be about huge accomplishments or race results, they could be about trying to ride three times per week or hitting a certain mileage goal for each month. Find something that will help get you out the door or hop on the trainer when you aren’t super motivated so you stay on track for the year.”
2. Do one fun or non-traditional ride per week
“Hit the coffee shop, run errands, commute, or ride a MTB if that’s not your normal bike of choice. Just do something a little different and make it fun. Remember that it’s all bike riding, even if you’re wearing street clothes. So mix things up every once in a while to keep things fresh and exciting.”
3. Find a riding partner or group to ride with (when possible to do safely again)
“Going to a shop ride or joining a cycling club can be intimidating at first, but it’ll pay off quickly when you can learn from more experienced cyclists. Riding with others also adds a nice social element to your training to keep things fun and interesting. Just make sure you mix some easy/recovery days into your training besides the group rides because we often go harder than needed when riding with friends and we need that balance of hard versus easy in our overall training plan.”
Coach: Frank Overton
Overton raced as a semi-pro mountain biker and cat 1 roadie for 10 years. He has a Masters in Physiology and worked professionally on spinal cord research and molecular biotechnology, but his dream has always been to help cyclists get faster. He founded FasCat Coaching in 2002 and has been a USA Cycling Level 1 coach since 2006, primarily coaching masters road, gravel, fondo, time trial, mountain bike and cyclocross athletes.
“Rome was not built in a day and similarly neither will your fitness. Ride 4-5 times each week, every week. No matter how long you have to ride each day, riding consistently will net you improvement. Honestly, 1 hour a day, 5 times per week is a great place to start. That's 5 hours per week and then you can layer more time onto those 5 days to improve even more. Riding 5 hours on Saturday but no hours during the week is like being the hare, and the tortoise (riding 1 hour a day 5 times per week) beats the hare every time.”
2. Follow a plan
“Athletes who have a plan to follow hold themselves accountable, stay motivated, and stay consistent better than athletes who 'just ride.' If you can follow a plan, you will ride faster. Even if your plan is to ride more — that is a plan. Training plans 'get fancier' with structured workouts that you can perform on Zwift or have on your bike computer, and they enable you to take advantage of zone-based training. Zone-based training is simple and individualized to your current level of fitness. A good training plan utilizes zone-based training and helps you achieve precise physiological adaptations just like the pros.”
3. Make sure you are having FUN
“Chances are, the more fun you have, the more you will ride. The more you ride, the faster you will become. Cycling is more fun when you are fit and the best thing about cycling is that there are a variety of ways to have more fun, such as:
- Group rides or riding with friends
- A killer playlist to listen to while working out
- A structured workout that challenges you but does not demoralize you
“Knowing that you are improving is also 'fun' because that training becomes a positive feedback loop to keep having more fun! ‘Knowing’ can come from how you feel on the bike or from your training data.”
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Coach: Johann van Zyl
Van Zyl is a former WorldTour cyclist who is now an Associate Coach at Catalyst Coaching and the Catalog Supervisor here at The Pro’s Closet. While racing professionally, van Zyl worked closely with top-level coaches to find every possible percentage where performance could be improved. After a long and successful racing career, he’s excited to share his experience and knowledge.
“This is one of the most important factors when it comes to performance. There’s no point in training hard for a week, then doing nothing the next, then getting back on the trainer the week after, etc. Consistency is key. You’ll be better off averaging 5 hours a week, consistently, than having these big spikes and gaps in your training. An easy way to stay consistent is to keep the load manageable with your busy life. Set a realistic training volume goal that syncs with your family time, social priorities, work, and recovery time.”
2. Volume vs. intensity
“In a world where we´re time-crunched and searching for the best ‘bang for our buck,’ we often make the mistake of riding too hard too often. Virtual riding platforms aren’t helping us either; around every corner or little hill we’re prompted to set new PRs or sprint against our mates. While following a high intensity program will quickly raise your performance to an acceptable level, you’ll plateau and won’t be able to hold that shape very long. Incorporate low-intensity workouts into your training to help build your aerobic foundation, ultimately allowing you to reach a higher level once you add intensity on top of that.”
“Build your training program around two key workouts a week and fill in the rest with low-intensity endurance rides and recovery days. Identify what you want to improve, whether it’s your top-end sprint, FTP, fatigue resistance, VO2 Max, etc., and create a structure solely around that.”
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Final thoughts and key takeaways
So here I am, writing this while sitting on the couch and eating Oreos. I’m off to an inauspicious start, but these tips will be my guiding light this year. Maybe I should print them out and hang them in my garage and trainer dungeon.
For me personally, there were two key takeaways:
- I need to ride more consistently (and with friends!) and make more of my rides easy
- I need to make an actual structured plan that aligns with the timing of my goals
If I can stay focused and follow all of the advice, I’ll likely have my strongest year ever. Hopefully, you can too!