The Ultimate Guide To Fitness Training For Road Cyclists

In this post we’re going to talk about fitness training for road cycling. A lot.


Well, I’d posit that most you are here to improve your cycling performance in some fashion (here, as in on this website, rather than here on this earth).

If you’re just starting out, that might be achieved through upping your confidence and motivation levels simply to ‘do more cycling’.

For everyone else, whether you want to ride longer distances, to up your average speed, to improve your climbing ability, it is structured training that will help you get there.

For sure, ‘doing more cycling’ will achieve some results. But there is a limit to how much more cycling you can do – there aren’t enough hours in the day; there is a limit to what your body can sustain before it breaks down.

At some point, if you’re following a random-walk training ‘programme’, your performance level will plateau and may start to decline (particularly if you’re an ‘elder statesman of le peloton’).

In this super-detailed post, we’re going to learn together about the theory and practice of fitness, to help you create an individualised training programme that suits you.

How do you like them apples?

Cycling Information From An ACTUAL Cycling Coach

I am a keyboard warrior that really likes cycling. My velo endeavours are not mighty. You should be aware that I am not a qualified coach. I draw heavily from books. There is no better book on the subject (in my unqualified view) than this one by Joe Friel:

The Cyclist's Training Bible

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  • Section 1: Why You Should Follow A Structured Training Programe (i.e. The Inspirational Bit…)
  • Section 2: Setting Your Cycling Goals
  • Section 3: Training Theory (And Why It’s Important)

Section 1: Why You Should Follow A Structured Training Programe (i.e. The Inspirational Bit…)

How would your cycling performance look if you followed a structured training programme?

Well, for one, your body would be as adapted as it realistically could be for your chosen event. You’d complete your first 100 mile sportive in your target time. You’d have prepared for the 15 minute hard effort required to get you over that nemesis hill.

You’d avoid the mental turmoil (bit strong? okay, ‘confusion’ then) of having to decide what sort of ride you’re going to do today. It’s already set out for you in black and white (or pixels). If motivation/inertia is your issue, the plan is telling you to get out there and JFDI (J=just; D=do; I=it; you can work out the rest).

There certainly wouldn’t be the same level of fear before a big event. Instead, the feeling would be one of excitement at the opportunity to put all that training work into practice. In the cycling parlance du jour, ‘to execute’. It’s no longer a question of, ‘can I do it’, but ‘how fast can I do it’.

Can’t I Just Download A Training Programme From The Internet?

(Or take one from a magazine, or the bumpf that your RideLondon charity sent you).


Wait, hold up there sport!

Following a programme, provided it’s appropriate to your starting fitness level and the time you have available, will get you results in excess of the ‘do what you feel like’ approach (where every session starts as an easy spin before magically turning into an ineffective* smash-fest).

(*in the long run)

But, dear Sportive Cyclist reader, you want better than that. You want to know the theory behind the practice. You want to know how it works.

(You do!)

One of the key training concepts (which I’ll come back to in future posts) is ‘individualisation’. We are all unique… special… (yes, even you there, reading on your iPhone).

We each start from a different fitness level, we having differing mixes of fast- and slow-twitch muscles, we respond to training stimulus at different rates. In so far as we can, we should try to tailor our training programme to suit our individual needs.

Understanding Your Individual Cycling Training Needs?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t go around with a list of my individual training needs imprinted on my brain (or tattooed on my buttox). All I have is a sense of what they might be, based on my failed athletic endeavours of the past couple of decades.

The aim of this ‘build a training programme’ exercise is for you (and me) to try things, attempt to establish what works for you and then tweak the programme accordingly.

Then rinse and repeat.

So don’t panic. We’ll start with the generic: what sports science has shown to be effective for the endurance athlete population at large. Then we’ll look at what we can adapt and polish.

And yes, you’re an endurance athlete. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.

Is This Going To Take Me A Lot Of Time? (I’m Struggling As It Is)

In fact, no.

This post (like pretty much everything else on the site) is based on the fact that Sportive Cyclist readers are not blessed with unlimited time for cycling. Far from it.

To the extent that you want to improve your cycling performance (and I appreciate that not everyone does), this is about being clever (or at least deliberate) about how you train to get the most benefit from every minute you spend on (and off) the bike.

I’m a distinctly unoriginal thinker, so I’ve elected to borrow a training philosophy from someone else:

“An athlete should do the least amount of properly timed, specific training that brings continual improvement….” Another way to state it… “use your training time wisely”

That’s from Joe Friel in his excellent book, The Cyclist’s Training Bible. Find out more about the book: link to Amazon (nb. this is an affiliate link; if you buy something, I get a commission, at no cost to you).

(Note: if you’re moved to buy the book, get the physical version rather than Kindle – there are loads of charts and tables that I can’t imagine translate well to the Kindle).

I Don’t Want To Train

That is absolutely fine. There is a lot to be said for simply riding a bike. The world would be a better place if we all did more of that (he says, preaching to the choir).

Maybe you’ll find this post of interest for the future. Maybe you’ll ignore it. The Church of Sportive Cyclist is a tolerant one…

Easier Ways To Build Road Cycling Fitness (Without Needing a Sports Science Degree)

I appreciate that not everyone will want to learn cycling fitness theory and then build a training programme from scratch. There are definitely other ways to skin improve the fitness of this cat.

Indeed, I wrote a post about these various training approaches (getting a coach, using a smart trainer app like Zwift or the Sufferfest, joining a cycling club).

Click this link to read it:

Section 2: Setting Your Cycling Goals

It’s probably a bit too strong to say that training is pointless unless you have an objective, but it is the case that training becomes an awful lot more effective if you have established a goal to work towards.

So now we’re going to look at goals: which ones you need, what makes a good goal, how you will use the goals in creating your training programme.

Why Do You Need A Cycling Goal?

Because you’re a driven, successful person. (You are)

To my mind, there are two key reasons for setting training and event goals.

1. Motivation

A clear long-term goal provides ongoing motivation and drive throughout the training programme and, if applicable, during your target event (or events).

It also helps with accountability. Having and expressing a clear goal allows you to describe your mission to others: your partner, family, friends and colleagues. You’ll need these people to provide encouragement and, at time, tough love to get you out on that rainy ride.

2. Determining your training needs

A successful training programme needs to be specific, working on the fitness and abilities required for your target event. Mo Farah doesn’t spend his time throwing the javelin in training; the Ultimate Warrior doesn’t spend much time on a horse (primarily because he passed away a few years ago).

By establishing a goal to complete a specific event in a target time, you are in a position to identify which fitness characteristics you’ll need on the day.

Since this is a website for road cyclists completing endurance events, there’s a strong likelihood that this type of event analysis will kick out abilities like ‘stamina’ and ‘endurance’, but there’s still a difference between how you might prepare for, say, the Etape du Tour (with its long, sustained periods of climbing) and a windy sportive in East Anglia (where riding in a more aerodynamic position would be an advantage).

What Type Of Goals Do You Need?

Your long term goal is important. This is what you’ll base your season around (sort of, depending how seriously you’re taking this thing). This is the factor that will keep you going when your enthusiasm for training is low (primarily because if you’ve set it at the right level, you should be feeling quite scared).

Beyond that, you should think about medium- and short-term goals.

Clearly there are no hard and fast rules about this, but I think of medium-term goals in line with the mesocycle periods that I talked about above (in the section about periodization). These are goals that relate to what you want to achieve over a period of around 4-6 weeks (for example over the course of a ‘Build 1’ period).

Short-term goals are set in the context of ‘macrocycles’. These are what you’re hoping to achieve in training on a week to week basis.

Trust In The Process (Process vs Outcome Goals)

Team Sky Ineos (borrowing heavily from their British Cycling heritage) are into process goals. I prefer them too.

It probably doesn’t take a genius to realise that process goals are ones that relate to you completing a process (or a number of them). Determining that you will complete each training session in your programme for the coming week is a process goal. Or that you will force yourself to take it very easy for an hour during a recovery ride.

Outcome goals represent the achievement of a particular standard or result. For athletes that race, this might be coming in the top 5 of their target event. For rouleurs such as ourselves, we’re talking about, say, completing RideLondon in less that 5 1/2 hours.

Process goals are predominantly within your control. You can make sure you follow your training programme closely (although, clearly, external factors can still get in the way).

Outcome goals are a little less certain. If you’re racing against other riders, they might have a say on whether you achieve your top 5 target. Even in a ‘non-competitive’ sportive, you won’t be able to control the weather conditions on the day or how you will react to tackling your first 100 mile event.

Process goals are attractive because they focus the mind on things that you can largely control now. They alleviate the stress and panic that might result from continually obsessing about the big target: the need to summit a Category 1 climb during the event, when to date you’ve only completed 3s and 4s.

You can’t achieve a 9 month goal in a day. You can achieve a 9 month goal by completing 270 single day goals one after another.

Short- and medium-term goals tend to me more effective as process goals rather outcome ones. Fitness doesn’t grow in a straight line. Trying to target particular short-term fitness improvements is probably an exercise in predicting the (almost) random. Instead, committing as a goal to follow your programme to the letter for the next 7 days is a more effective approach.

Guidelines For Goal-Setting

Herewith some random musings on goal setting (goal one: to create the optimal set of goals….):

1. Start with the end in mind

Identify first the big fug-off thing you want to achieve over the next 12 months (or whatever). That forms the overarching goal towards which all other goals will eventually lead. Having a good think about the particular skills and level of fitness needed for your big goal – these will provide the framework for your sub-goals.

2. Be As Specific As Possible …

… Even if you’re guessing.

“I want to complete RideLondon 2015 in less than 5 hours” is much better than “I want to do a 100-mile sportive”. The former gives you a timescale, a target pace, it specifies the terrain.

3. Write your goals down somewhere

We’re perhaps going to get a bit ‘woo woo’ here but in writing down your goals, you are formalising that you recognise them as goals. They’re more difficult to forget about, to sweep under the carpet when things aren’t going to plan. Remember that they are your goals (not mine, not your other cycling mates’). And you’re going to commit to them (you are…).

4. Challenge Yourself (But Don’t Be A Lunatic)

In the sense that we’re talking about here, your long term goal (and to a degree the shorter ones) needs to be challenging. Beyond your current capabilities. Beyond what you could probably achieve in month with a following wind. We’re building character here people. Let’s push ourselves.

That said…

I don’t think there are too many masochists reading this blog (though I welcome all churches) but clearly I don’t recommend setting unrealistic goals. Going from the couch to a 7 day Alpine stage race in 10 months is asking for trouble.

5. Tell Someone About It

Tell anyone everyone about your goals. The more people the better. Partly it relates back to point 3 above: you’re publicly owning your goal.

[Montgomery fails to silence his inner wannabe motivational speaker]

More importantly, other people (provided they’re supportive) can help you achieve those goals. They can hold you accountable to the training you’ve said you’ll do. They can provide advice and encouragement when the going gets tough.

Turning Goals Into Habits

It’s all very well having training goals, but if you can turn them into training habits then you’ll find the whole getting fit thing a heck of a lot easier.

Developing a cycling (or training) habit makes what could be seen as almost a chore turn into something you can’t help but do.

Rather than go into lots of detail here, why don’t you head over to the specific post I wrote on the subject.

Goals On Sunday

My goal in this section was to write setting goals. I’ve achieved my goal. Whoop. Go me! (Ahem).

Now, what is your goal?

I’m not going to be prescriptive. It can be a big hairy goal for next summer, or a more medium term one that you’re aiming to achieve by the end of the year. If you’ve bought into the whole ‘writing down your goals’ thing, feel free to write them in the comments below this post.

I should say, I’m probably more interested in your cycling goals than your life goals… but what the hell, share away… Remember a goal shared is a goal halved. Oh, hang on…

Section 3: Theory Theory Sciencey McScience-face

As a history graduate, I feel uniquely qualified to help you understand some science.

I’ll try to keep this brief. Better to be on the bike than have your head in a textbook. That said, you (and I) need to know a bit of the basic stuff in order to understand what happens when we train, and what we can potentially tweak in order to get better results.

So. [SINGS] Let’s Get. Physical! (Physical)

How Fitness Works (A Treatise)

Building fitness for cycling (indeed, fitness in general) is based on the idea that the human body adapts well to various stimuli.

If you place your body under some sort of stress (I’m thinking ‘training stress’ rather than agreeing to do a nude yodel at your local pub’s open mic night), at the time it may smart. In the long run, however, the body will rebuild such that it’s better able to deal with that level of stress in the future.

You probably know this already (if you’ve ever started a fitness programme, there’s a good chance you’ve also let one lapse), but adaptation can be both ‘up’ and ‘down’. The body is perfectly happy adapting to the lack of training stress, returning your fitness down to its baseline level.

The illustration below shows (in simplified form) what happens to the body when you apply training stress (and when you don’t).

What happens when you train

Note: I’ve seen versions of this diagram in the study material for a cycling coaching course that I did, plus all over the internets. I’m afraid I don’t know the original source…

Adapt! Adapt! Adapt!

A training programme is a series of different stresses imposed over a period of time that result in the body making a series of little adaptations, all of which add up to some pretty big changes. Hopefully these bigger changes mean that you can achieve your goal at the start of the programme.

So building fitness involves placing your body under stress. That’s good. Though we might not relish the prospect, we all have a reasonable idea how we can go out right now and ‘impose some stress’ on our system (go find a hill, ride up it as quick as you can, repeat).

But how much stress is good stress? I’ll tell you (or rather, I won’t).

Disappointingly, it’s not always obvious from the outset what the right amount of training stress should be. Too little and the body feels little need to adapt. Too much and things start to go ping, you get ill and suddenly you’re off the bike for three weeks.

Unfortunately I’ll have to sound the cliché klaxon [HONK!] and say that determining training stress is ‘more an art than a science’ (even though I’m not quite sure that that’s true – I’m pretty certain it’s a science).

Enough waffle. We’ll learn with experience.

The sensible advice is to start reasonably slowly and build things up steadily. It’s easier to increase intensity if necessary, building on what you already have, than attempting to maintain fitness whilst you’re in bed with a cold and your left hamstring hangs loosely down your leg.

Progressive Overload

Progressive Overload is a character from Transformers. Maybe.

It’s also another important training concept. It’s based on the idea that whilst the body adapts well to a given training stress, coming back strong, leaner (sexier?), it can only really adapt once to the same level of stress. Once adapted, a training session just like the last one won’t lead to the same increase in fitness.

Instead, by progressively overloading your system, you increase the amount of training stress (e.g. making a session longer or more intense) in line with increasing fitness, in order to see continual improvement in your performance.

Here is a handy drawing (which the eagle-eyed amongst you will note is based upon the previous illustration):

What happens when you train more

¡Important note alert!

Progressive overload does NOT mean every training session must be harder than the last one. That way the dark side lies. And the risk of overtraining (chance would be fine thing!).

You still need to factor in recovery and other less intense sessions.

Increasing training stress is something that you would do on a week-by-week basis, and then only in relatively small increments (think ‘10% more intense’ rather ‘double the pain’).

Which brings us to….


Until the 1950s and ’60s, training was a case of the athlete pushing him- or herself harder and harder, week in week out, with the hope of getting fitter and faster (but often not).

‘Periodization’ (yes, I’m afraid I’ve only ever seen it spelt with a zee), as a training methodology, was developed in the Soviet Union by a chap named Matveyev and then built upon by Romanian sports scientist, Tudor Bompa.

Matveyev looked at the training schedules of successful Soviet athletes at the 1952 and 1956 Olympics and used what he learnt at the 1960 games (held in Rome, fact fans). Periodization spread to the west as the Cold War began to thaw, speeding up as the Eastern Bloc crumbled.

Macrocycles, Mesocycles and Microcycles

The starting point is to look at the training journey over a year, (the macrocycle) rather than jumping straight into, say, a standalone 12-week programme.

We then take that year and it down into a number of … (wait for it)… periods. Or ‘mesocycles‘, if you like your sports science served with a side order of Greek.

Within each period you work on a specific aspect of your fitness. Each period builds on the last such that you arrive at your target event in the best possible shape (that’s the theory, anyway).

Let’s say you have a tough 100 mile sportive in July (your target event). There are a few key abilities you need to work on to record a good time (say, upping your average speed on the flat to 18mph; being able to climb 20% gradients).

Periodization would involve you starting with periods of work focused on building your general fitness (aerobic endurance; muscle strengthening), and then shift to periods of work that become more specific to the target event, whilst retaining your general base fitness.

After that you’d have a short taper period prior to the event (where you get rid of the fatigue accumulated over the preceding weeks) and a transition period afterwards (where you give your body chance to rest and recover ahead of the next cycle).

The following table (taken from Friel) describes how a ‘periodized’ training year might look:

Cycling periodization chart

I wrote in more detail about periodised cycling training in this post.

Should You Be ‘Periodizing’

Yes. Maybe. Probably. At the very least, don’t dismiss it out of hand.

I have a lickle theory that many amateur athletes feel slightly embarrassed at treating their training process in the same way as professional athletes. It’s acceptable to follow a 12-week programme taken from a book or magazine. It’s a bit too serious to think in terms of periodization, of 6- or 12-month training and competing cycles.

It’s a serious hobby that you want to get better at. You plan to ride your bike, participate in events and up your fitness level over the long term. Why not plan for the long term as well?

(In any event, unless you tell them, most people won’t spot the difference between you following a 12-week plan or a 26-week training cycle. It can be our little secret…)

Let’s Recap (Whilst Wearing A Cycling Cap)

I appreciate that this section has been a little ‘heavy’ (well, as much as any post on this site can be).

There are, however, a couple of key takeaways that you can apply (or at least have a think about):

  1. If you’re attempting to ‘smash it’ (for want of a better term) on each ride, you are not going to improve your fitness as quickly as you would like. So stop doing that.
  2. Similarly, if you’re tootling along at a moderate pace each ride, you’re unlikely to be stressing your body enough for it to adapt much beyond your current fitness level. So stop doing that.

We’re looking for a mix of low, medium and high intensity riding, with the majority of time spent in the easy zone (which is a refreshing discovery).

It might surprise you how little time needs to be spent at a high intensity (it surprised me). The key is making sure that that high intensity work counts (then you can smash it).

But how do we measure intensity? Funny you should ask.

[Mont adopts intense facial expression]

[Blog reader feels uncomfortable]

[Whispers] “It’s time to learn about training load…”

[Reader still feels uncomfortable. In fact, more so]

What The Fug Is Training Load?

Great question. Prepare for (an attempt at) a great answer.

As we talked about above, your body ‘gets fitter’ in response to the stresses that training places upon it (known in the b’iness as overcompensation). Training load represents an attempt to quantify the amount of stress that training causes. We can look at it over a single training session, over the course of a week or a block of training, or over the course of a whole season.

Prepare For An Equation (Boom!)

Here it comes…

Training Load = Volume x Intensity (…not the most challenging of equations…)

Volume is easy. It’s generally measured in time. In England, time is broken down into hours and minutes. I think this is still the case in our former colonies (and future former ones).

Intensity is more difficult. Or rather it isn’t, we just have more choices for measuring it.

As the name suggests, intensity is a measure of how challenging the workout is. A recovery ride is clearly low intensity; a session of balls-out intervals is high intensity.

How Do You Measure Intensity?

There are three broad ways to determine, measure and record intensity:

  • power
  • heart rate
  • feel

Power (measured in watts) represents the amount of … er, power you put through the pedals in order to propel the bike forward. It is measured by attaching a power meter to your bike (in the rear hub, somewhere in/near the cranks, or within the pedals). Power meters are expensive… All else being equal, the more power you put through the pedals over a given time period, the more intense the session.

Heart rate monitors do the honours when it comes to measuring heart rate (who knew?) and they’re much cheaper than power meters. Higher heart rates during a session = higher intensity (another equation for you… simples).

‘Feel’ is a less defined beast. The rider determines the intensity of the session by how hard they feel they’re working.

To help formalise things, we have the Borg scale of Rate of Perceived Exertion (“RPE” for those in need of an acronym), which comes in 10- or 20-scale increments. Each number (or band of numbers) corresponds to a description: “somewhat hard”, “easy”, “I’ve sucked in my tonsils”.

Simplifying Intensity

When it comes to planning training load over a programme, and keeping track of results, it pays to keep things simple.

Returning to our training load formula, ‘time’ is already simple. Measure it in hours or minutes (either works, just be consistent).

For intensity, rather than trying to track and each individual heart beat or watt, we group them into training zones.

For a fuller description of training zones, read this Sportive Cyclist post written by qualified coach, Katelyn Michaud.

In the meantime, let’s just go with the general concept. Which is….

The range of potential efforts you might exert in a session (measured in heart rate or watts) is split into zones. So, assuming we’re measuring heart rates, zone 1 would be 60-65% of your maximum heart rate (MHR), under the British Cycling system. Whenever your heart rate is within those bounds, you’re deemed to be training in zone 1. Zone 2 is 65-75% of MHR and so on.

Each zone has a name (e.g. recovery, tempo, lactate threshold) which helps give a clue what type of fitness you’re working when you spend time in each zone.

Each training session can now be described in terms of time spent in each zone e.g. 10 minutes in Zone 1, 20 minutes in zone 2, 5 minutes in zone 3.

That’s All Very Helpful But, Er, What Am I Meant To Do With It?

Well, now you have a way of putting assigning a number to each workout, describing how much training load you placed on your body.

Returning to the example in the last section:

Time x Intensity = Training Load

10 mins x 1 (zone) = 10

20 x 2 = 40

5 x 3 = 15

Total training load= 65

Since this was based on heart rate zones, this methodology results in what is known as a TRIMP score (TRaining IMPulse), a term coined by a chap called Bannister (not the who ran the first 4-minute mile).

You can track your TRIMP scores over time to determine how your training workload changes over the course of your training programme. Hopefully you would notice that your total workload in designated rest weeks is lower than, say, the peak weeks within the build phase of your programme. (If not, you probably want to adjust the schedule).

For completeness, if you are training using power zones, the same broad methodology applies.

You might have seen the term ‘Training Stress Score ‘ (or TSS) used in some quarters. This is a power-based varient of a TRIMP score, developed by Dr Andy Coggan and used in the book he co-wrote (Training and Racing with a Power Meter) and within the TrainingPeaks training platform.

How Much Training Load Do You Need?

Ah yes. This is a question worth grappling with.

The short answer is that it depends. The optimal training load that you need to apply each session, and as the training programme goes on, is unique to you. Too little and your body won’t be forced to overcompensate (so you won’t get fitter); too much and your body will struggle to cope, risking overtraining and illness.

Try searching on the internet for ‘ideal training loads’ (I have) and you won’t find much of use. It seems we have to start with something, and work from there.

Luckily, whilst we don’t have ‘recommended training loads’ for athletes at different fitness levels, we do have generic training programmes to start from. Using the specified training times and intensity levels, with a few assumptions, we can calculate indicative training loads.

If you already follow a schedule, you can use the formula above to calculate training load and get a sense for how it changes over the course of the programme.

Volume vs Intensity: Battle Royale

You’ve probably spotted that to fiddle with training load (fiddle being a technical term), you can alter volume or intensity (or both).

Indeed, an effective training programme will vary both elements over its course, in order to get the most improvement in fitness.

For the busy cyclist (who isn’t one?), training volume is likely to be the most obvious limiting factor. You may have more leeway over intensity, but as mentioned, too much too soon and you’re staring down the barrel of an injury or overtraining-induced underperformance.

As mentioned in the section on training theory, periodization requires that the training programme be split into a number of phases:

  • Prepare to train
  • Base
  • Build
  • Peak / Taper
  • Race
  • Transition

Generally, volume will increase steadily over the course of the first two periods, with the greatest volume of training taking place at the end of the base phase (note: not at the end of the build phase).

A surprising (perhaps) amount of the time during the base period will be spent doing low intensity work. This slowly, slowly catchy monkey strategy is the safest way to build a strong endurance base.

Intensity then increases as you move through the build phases. Volume will drop off slightly. This combination allows you to build those key abilities that will allow you to perform strongly in your target event(s): increased speed, stronger climbing ability, sprint finish (!?!).

Finally, when you move into the taper period before your big event, volume is reduced dramatically but intensity in some sessions remains high (for short periods). This might be another surprising discovery for those of you that equate the taper with permission to totally slack off from training.

Click this link to a detailed post I wrote on the subject of training volume versus intensity.

How Can I Monitor Training Load?

Calculating the training load for each session, and the totals over longer periods, can be a hassle.

You’ll probably have to do it twice: once to determine what you should do in a given session (when you’re creating the training programme); the second time based on what you actually did in the session (there will be some variance).

The easiest way, at least for the latter, is to use a heart rate monitor (or a power meter) and computer software to calculate automatically a training load number for each completed session. Most Garmin bike computers (as well as their running and multi-sport watches) allow you to specify heart rate training zones and will record how much of a session is spent in each one.

As for software, Strava calculates what it calls a Suffer Score, which is a variant on the TRIMP calculation. I’m afraid you’ll have to be a premium member to see it though (currently £3.99/$5.99 a month).

For the more serious data-philes there are two options: TrainingPeaks or Golden Cheetah (now there’s a name).

TrainingPeaks is a web-based tool, used by coaches and athletes to plan and communicate training programmes, and then log and analyse each session. The same company makes a desktop programme called WKO which I believe (I’ve never used it) enables you to do various complex analyses of your data.

Golden Cheetah is an open-source (and therefore free) equivalent of WKO. Once downloaded and installed on your computer (PC or Mac) you can import data and analyse to your heart’s content. It’s quite complex though…

If you have a power meter attached to your bike, the various Garmin Edge GPS devices calculate the TSS for each session automatically, and it shows up in your Garmin Connect account.

Form, Fitness And Fatigue (The Three Fs For F’s Sake)

Each of the three Fs above are generally (and variously) used in the world of sport and exercising.

Like training load, people (sports scientists?) have tried to create a simplified way to calculate the three Fs for a given athlete at given point in time.

Form = Fitness – Fatigue

Fitness is defined as your average weekly training load over the preceding 4–6 weeks. Fatigue is your weekly training load over the last 1–2 weeks.

Fitness builds over time and is relatively slow to reduce. Fatigue increases quickly and goes quite rapidly as well.

Hopefully you can see that coming off the back of a hard block of training with the last two weeks being hardest of all, that your form will be low, even if your overall fitness is high.

Following a 10-day taper period, with a much reduced training load, the equation flips to give a positive result. Your fitness level is high and your form is high too. There’s a good chance you’ll go well in your target event.

TrainingPeaks, WKO and Golden Cheetah (even Strava Premium) all automatically calculate charts based around this equation. They do so in different ways and in some cases require you to use a power meter.

Whilst initially the equation may seem a little esoteric, the data it kicks out does serve a useful purpose. At the least, it serves as a starting point to think about your fitness and how to build it, whilst still being on good form to participate in your chosen cycling events.

Other Cycling Training Posts On This Blog

I have written a wealth of ‘material’ on this blog about cycling training and fitness. Here is a smattering:

  • Do you want to create a personalised (structuralised) training plan? Good news. I’ve got just the blog post for you. It shows in step-by-step detail how to create a training programme, using the magic of Excel (other spreadsheets, and even paper, are available). You can even download the spreadsheet file, to play with to your heart’s content: How To Create A Structured Cycling Training Programme
  • Looking to achieve your optimal racing weight (which to normal people means, do you want to lose a little bit of fat?)? More good news, I wrote a series of posts on this and (more good news) the techniques actually work (cough! snake oil!): How To Achieve Your Cycling Racing Weight Without Actually Starving Yourself

Further Reading On Cycling Training (By Actual Experts)

I’m not an expert (at least not on cycling training). The following people are. I suggest you read their books…

The Cyclist's Training Bible

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Fast After 50: How to Race Strong for the Rest of Your Life

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Training and Racing with a Power Meter

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Monty - Sportive Cyclist
Monty is an enthusiastic road cyclist with only moderate talent. He started Sportive Cyclist in 2013 to record the journey to his first 100 mile ride, the RideLondon 100. Over time the blog has expanded to include training advice, gear reviews and road cycling tales, all from the perspective of a not-very-fit MAMIL. Since you're here, Monty would also like you to check out his YouTube channel. Also, Monty really needs to stop referring to himself in the third person.

1 thought on “The Ultimate Guide To Fitness Training For Road Cyclists”

  1. I’m looking for very specific advice: in 2 weeks, I’m going to do a very challenging hills ride, featuring 13 primary hills and a total of about 6000 feet of climbing over 50+ miles. It’s an annual event in Pittsburgh, and semi-famous beyond. I’ve never done it before.

    I’m in generally good cycling shape and had an active summer, and started training for this in earnest about a month ago. I’ve done all the hills multiple times, and yesterday did a group training ride of the complete route.

    So my question is: how do I ride between now and the event (Nov 24)? My building-up has consisted of riding 2-3 times/week, starting with riding 2 hills at a time, getting up to a couple rides of 6 hills prior to yesterday’s 13 (also incidental rides around town).

    My guess would be that I should do one or two high-intensity, but relatively brief, rides over the next week, and then ride minimally in the 3-4 days before. Or should it all be relatively easy spinning?

    Thanks in advance.


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