A woman descending a paved hill on a mountain bike

Getting Started With Training for Cycling

One of the principles guiding my coaching is to add value to every athlete I work with, whether that person is an elite athlete or someone still uncomfortable with the idea he or she is even an athlete.

I know the Matheny Endurance brand may intimidate some people (icoachbadasses.com),but it shouldn't. There is badass in everyone, and it’s my job to help reveal your inner badass to you.

Hold to this cycling training principle firmly

Paralysis by analysis is one of the worst "injuries" that can happen to an athlete. Indecision isn't just failure to decide or act. Indecision is actually actively acting against you.

When indecision keeps you from training because you're afraid of getting something wrong, not doing it "just right" or not feeling confident that you know what to do, it's robbing you. So, whatever is keeping you from acting, the solution is simple. Do something. Do anything!

There are some guidelines and best practices to acknowledge when getting started "doing anything." For instance, when sick or injured, doing something may not be a good choice.

In most cases though, doing something will get better results than worrying about the details and not doing anything.

If you're laboring to understand training concepts traditional base, sweet spot, reverse periodization, linear periodization, HIIT training, threshold training, functional threshold power, training intensity and training duration., the solution to breaking free from the indecision is don't worry, get training.

If you're in this place right now, I've created an introductory plan for the 719 Ride that can get you started.

Let's Talk About Intensity and Duration

For the purposes of this discussion, I define intensity as spending time above a threshold that places the body under a specific stress that forces the body to adapt to the stress. The stress could be short, powerful and explosive or it could be sustained and steady or a mix of both.

Consider the workouts available on one of the many popular cycling training platforms such as Zwift or TrainerRoad. The workout sessions are usually short in duration (e.g., 45 to 60 minutes), and they make you feel like you're accomplishing something. They're engaging and entertaining, and they get your heart pumping and your body sweating.

They also introduce us to the relationship between intensity and duration. As one goes up, the other goes down. As intensity increases the duration of the effort decreases. You can only hold your fastest, all-out sprint for so long.

Conversely, if you’re doing low intensity work, often referred to as Zone 2, long slow distance (LSD) or base training, the duration you spend in the overall activity increases. You can get a lot farther and go a lot longer when you're walking than when you run as fast as you can for as long as you can.

Keep in mind that with low intensity work it doesn’t mean there is no high intensity efforts included. It’s just that the bouts of high intensity don’t accumulate significantly. It's like adding one or two sprints into a 30 minute stroll.

Should I Focus My Training on Intensity or Duration?

What is the right way to approach training? Shouldoyou train based on intensity or duration? The answer is it depends.

It depends on the goal, the individual and the circumstances (e.g., the time to goal, the gap between the current fitness level and the goal, etc.).

I’ve emphasized one element based on an athlete’s goal and then the goal changed because of injury or some other circumstance, and we needed to emphasize the other element. And you know what? It still came out ok.

The important thing is to be consistent AND flexible. When we started working intensity in a structured and disciplined manner, we gained fitness within that intensity duration (e.g., top end power over 30 seconds). And likewise, when things changed and we focused on low-intensity base, we built that up.

Intensity and duration overlap and are intertwined. But if you want to emphasize one over the other, I usually suggest starting with duration.
Riding a long time at a low intensity doesn't sound sexy. Because of the lack of sexy, low intensity aerobic riding isn't given its proper credit.

From my experience and based on data from physiological lab testing, approximately 60% to 80% of the increase in cardiac output comes from training stimuli that occurs between rest and Zone 2 (riding at an effort level between 55% and 75% of the maximum average power you can sustain for an hour).

Ride aerobically first, then sprinkle in some intensity.

Once you start riding/training, aim to be consistent and limit gaps between your workout sessions. This way your body adapts to the consistent stress and allows you to improve.

If you get knocked off track by travel, illness or something else; just aim to get back to your new routine as soon as possible. Resume the low intensity for several sessions to make sure your body is ready to handle the harder stuff, then you add volume or intensity once the body is in agreement.

About Your Coach

Daniel Matheny provides custom cycling training plans and performance services for cyclists of ALL skills, experience and aspiration.

Download a four-week, aerobic- focused structured training plan Daniel created for the 719 Ride. Use promo code 719SPECIAL to get the plan for free.

From the elite level athlete to the person questioning whether he or she is an athlete at all, Daniel elevates all his clients to new heights of accomplishment. He's like the 719 Ride of cycling coaches.

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