Perhaps you want to ride further and faster, or just find the rides you do now easier. The more technical details of fitness are given below, but here is a selection of British Cycling training plans that will help you become a fitter rider. These plans work.
- If you’ve not been on a bike for months or even years, start with the 8-week training plan. This will prepare you for rides of 50km/30 miles, roughly the distance of our Bacon Butty Ride on Saturday mornings.
- If you can ride for 90 minutes or so, you can try the 12-week improver plan. This will prepare you for a 100km/60 mile ride, covering most of the rides we offer.
- If you are regularly riding 100km/60 miles, you can try the 12-week foundation plan. This is for use in winter to prepare you for a spring and summer of riding faster and longer, or for general improvement.
- Progression from the foundation plan is through the 24-week intermediate and advanced plans. These will prepare you for rides of 160km/100 miles, or for racing and time trials. These plans are easier to follow if you have a heart rate monitor (cheap) and/or power meters (expensive).
- Training off the bike helps to protect against injury and to improve overall fitness.
The plans will progressively build both endurance and speed. If you follow them through you will become a faster and more skilful rider with greater endurance, but please be aware of some common mistakes:
- Over-training. You’re three weeks into a plan and you feel great. You decide to do more than the plan says and you feel even better, so you do the same thing the week after. ‘I’m already on week 8 and it’s only week 4!’ you tell us at the cafe… But, oh dear, the cracks are starting to appear… Your partner is sick of you and the bike, you’re starting to feel rather tired and, oddly, you’re not getting any faster. You decide to train even harder. Two weeks on and now you’re sick of the bike too, your knee is agony every time you climb the stairs and your partner has gone back to their mothers. REST is vital – it’s when the body repairs itself and ‘makes you fitter’ – so, if you don’t rest you will break down, sooner or later. Be patient, follow advice and listen to your body, and your partner!
- Grinding massive gears. It is better, especially when new to cycling, to spin your legs at a faster rate instead of trying to heave yourself forward in a really hard gear. Don’t do it – your knees will thank you. Aim for 80 to 90rpm (this is the ‘cadence’ you should aim for).
- Buying speed and endurance. ‘I just need a lighter bike.’ Yes, a lighter bike will make it easier to climb hills, but it far cheaper to lose some weight off your belly and patiently improve your fitness. Hold back on getting that £3,000 carbon-fibre miracle bike until you’ve noticeably improved your speed and endurance.
- Setting impossible goals and giving up. Goals are good, but be realistic – your chance to win the Tour de France has, probably (sorry to say) gone… I know, it’s a hard and brutal truth, but face it – you will not be troubling Mr Froome anytime soon. But you can compete against yourself and with others on climbing a hill faster than last week. You can compete in time trials against yourself and others. Strava provides a chance to measure your improvement week on week. Persevere and remember it is supposed to be enjoyable!
Fitness in detail
It’s worth thinking about what ‘being fit’ means. There are five standard factors and some that are special to cyclists.
- Body composition – a fitter body carries less fat and more toned muscle. Cycling helps you to maintain a healthier body weight.
- Flexibility – how far you can bend and stretch without injury. Cyclists stretch when off the bike and tend to avoid the impact injuries that runners suffer with.
- Muscular strength – cycling is great for leg strength.
- Muscular endurance – how long your muscles can work for; again, cycling is great for this.
- Cardiovascular endurance – the strength, health and endurance capacity of your heart, lungs, and circulation (guess what – cycling is very good for this).
You can add ‘muscular speed’ for cyclists as the faster you apply your strength, the more power you make. And you can add mental fitness – cyclists learn that endurance is often more about their strength of will than the strength of their legs.
If you want to improve your general fitness, you might also include training to improve body strength e.g. using weights and doing sit-ups and press-ups. Improving your core strength will improve your overall fitness and will help you apply the power of your legs.