Do you want to be fit and fast for cycling next summer?
I bet you do, so the key is to slow down this winter and work on your endurance base, 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 more intense aerobic workout.
Let’s use an analogy to put money in a bank:
The more money you put in a bank, the more you need to 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 train harder from this “base” with mileage when they need it most, that is, leading up to top races.
However, if you’re not saving money in the bank and need to use it at some point, you’ll eventually go “into the red.” The same goes for training! Ultimately, you lose balance with your fitness and run the risk of premature fatigue, burnout and overtraining.
What’s important to realize is that in order to develop this foundation, you have to do it slowly and basically “build up” layer after layer of easy workouts to build this foundation.
In addition, we can say that the bigger the cycling base you can build, the faster you get to summer races.
Experienced cyclists start with the basics in early winter through 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 you’ve built a foundation, it’s important to start working on your medium- and short-term endurance 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 should come second to developing an aerobic foundation (aka 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 program 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 winter and just drive comfortably.
Rides should feel easy to moderate, with a little “somewhat difficult” on the hills. You should be able to chat with a friend for most of the ride. 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 rise on hills, but don’t worry about that. Work your way up the hills steadily to build a strength base from which you can start much harder strength work later in early spring.
If you’re a beginner, see how hard you train each week. Many beginners have a tendency to do too much too soon, 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 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 base. This is the foundation for all other training and achievements.
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 winner of triathlons. She has 20 years of experience in endurance sports.
She has also written for national magazines in the UK and has her own online blog about cycling.
In Scotland, Rebecca is happy to help you achieve your cycling fitness and training goals. She is now retired and lives in Scotland.