March 4, 2022
I bet you do, so the key is to slow down this winter and work on your basic endurance, or what’s known as your cycling base.
This is the “base” or foundation upon which all your “aerobic development” is built. Since cycling is an endurance sport, it is therefore important to develop a large aerobic base on which to start a harder aerobic workout.
Let’s use an analogy to put money in a bank:
The more money you put in a bank, the more you should withdraw when you need it most.
The same goes for your training-the more time you can spend developing your aerobic base, the higher the aerobic platform on which you can train harder if you want to go faster.
This is essentially why experienced riders want to spend as much time as possible in the saddle during the winter months. They can then start harder workouts from this “base” with mileage when they need it most, i.e., leading up to top races.
However, if you don’t save money in the bank and at some point need to use it, you’ll eventually go “into the red.” The same applies to training! You eventually lose your balance with your fitness and run the risk of premature fatigue, burnout, and overtraining.
What’s important to realise is that in order to develop this foundation, you have to take it slow and basically “build up” layer after layer of easy workouts to build this foundation.
Moreover, we can say that the bigger the cycling base you can build, the faster you will get to summer races.
Experienced cyclists start with the basics in early winter by undertaking cross-training activities. After a few months, they then get back on the bike to spend a few more months in the saddle before starting faster, more specific workouts to build up to important early-season races.
By building a solid cycling foundation like this, we effectively make the aerobic system stronger and more efficient. For example, a bicycle shed helps:
Your development of “slow-twitch muscle fibers” in the muscles that will help us endure long hours of cycling
Your heart and immune system will also become stronger, and you will notice that you are more robust and therefore “healthier”.
Your body learns to use more fat as fuel, which means that the effects of “banging” (no more energy) or your limited carbohydrate supply are used up too quickly during bike rides.
After building a foundation, it’s important to start working on your medium-term and short-term stamina as well. This is faster aerobic work that helps develop your aerobic capacity (VO2Max is basically the size of your aerobic motor) and raise your anaerobic threshold (the fastest cruising pace you can sustain for an hour)—but these workouts should always come second after developing an aerobic base (also known as your long-term endurance).
Here’s how to develop your cycling base this winter:
This really depends on the time you can invest in your programme and your fitness.
If you have a full-time job and are not a beginner, aim for at least one or two longer rides per week, with an emphasis on “endurance,” i.e., riding for time, not speed.
Forget your speedometer in the winter and just drive comfortably.
Rides should feel easy to moderate, with a little “somewhat difficult” on the hills. For most of the ride, you should be able to chat with a friend. If you have a heart rate monitor, you are looking for an “average” heart rate of about 75%–80% of your maximum heart rate during your ride.
Your heart rate will soar on hills, but don’t worry about that. Work steadily into the hills to build a strength base from which you can start much harder strength work later in the early spring.
If you’re a beginner, see how hard you train each week. Many beginners tend to do way too much too quickly, and after a few months, they find that they have lost interest in cycling.
Go much slower on all your workouts!
Learn how recovery works for you and feel how it makes your body stronger. Take the time to get out and about and enjoy one or two easy bike rides. Enjoy the view and slowly build up time in the saddle.
Again, “easy” means riding at a maximum heart rate of about 75%, and you should feel the ride is comfortable without increasing the pace. Enjoy the hills for what they are; learn to climb them, but keep the pace steady.
This winter, focus on building a strong cycling foundation. This is the foundation for all other training and performance.
Slow down your rides and I bet you’ll hit a personal best when it comes time to put your bikes to the test next summer!
Rebecca Ramsay is a former professional cyclist and a former multiple-time winner of triathlons. She has 20 years of experience in endurance sports.
She has also been published in national magazines in the United Kingdom and has her own online cycling blog.
In Scotland, Rebecca is happy to help you reach your cycling fitness and training goals. She is now retired and lives in Scotland.
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