Training for Recreational Cycling

Author: Peter Harrison

It is not necessary to train for recreational cycling but the fitter and stronger rider you are the more you will enjoy it. The steps required to set up a simple training program to suit your level of fitness is quite easy. The most important step is to work out your goals.

Goal Setting

Normally when setting goals for cycling we come up with ones like- “to ride longer rides”, “to keep up with the group”, to beat fill in your desired name here in the coffee shop sprint. These goals are good to have but progress towards them can’t be measured. For a training programme to work we must keep up our enthusiasm by measuring our progress. The following steps are a good way to do this & will lead quite easily into a training programme.

  1. What is the distance you can normally ride?
       This may be 30km or 100 km – it doesn’t matter how far it is the distance you can ride that counts, not anybody else. For the sake of this exercise let’s assume it is 40 km.
  2. The distance of your training ride needs to be about 50 – 70 percent of this distance.   For the example of 40 km the training distance should be around 20 -28 km.
  3. Find a route somewhere near your home that is within that distance.
       The route should start and finish about 5 minutes ride from home (To give you a warm up and cool down period).
       Ideally the route should consist of left hand turns (as opposed to right hand turns) & no traffic lights. (To minimise the variation in time caused by slowing and stopping.)
       Bike and shared paths are normally not suitable. (Again because of the need to slow down in consideration of other users.)
       A couple of small hills that you can easily cope with would be great (but not essential)
       These requirements are the ideal, if you can’t find such a route then make do with what you can find.
  4. Ride your route at your normal speed measuring the time from start to finish. Record the date and time in your log book.
       If you are using a bike speedo record the distance. If not drive it in a car or measure it off Google Maps or similar.
  5. You are now ready to set your first measurable target! Lets say you took 75 minutes, your target time is arbitrarily set at about a 15% reduction – say 8 minutes (round numbers are all you need). Your first target is to complete this ride in 67 minutes.
  6. Write your target time in your training book
       This is your first goal. It is important to write it down so that it is etched in stone.

Your first training programme.

  1. Realistically assess your time availability to do this ride, by yourself, at least once a fortnight.
       If the answer is no then reduce the length of the ride to something you can achieve and use that.
       If you think the time or distance is too short, do not increase it at this stage. The programme will increase it in due course.
  2. On your first ride, just ride a little bit faster than you did last time. Do not go “flat out” – you don’t know how fast you can go yet. Record your time in your training book along with notes of the conditions – eg “tail wind”, “head wind”.
       This time should be faster than your first time. Even if it isn’t, this time is your next time to beat.
  3. On your second ride, ride a little faster – you know have some idea of how hard you can go. Select a landmark about a kilometre from home, this will become your “sprint” section where you ride a bit faster than you normally do.
       This “sprint” section will become a vital part of your programme. Do not do it flat-out like you are trying to pick up the sprint stage of the Tour down under but rather so that you are pushing your self just a bit. If you cant do this then you have pushed too hard in the early stages of your ride – slow down a bit next time.
  4. Again record your time and notes in your training book.
  5. Keep repeating the ride each time trying to go just a bit faster. You will learn how hard to push and still be able to do your “sprint” at the end.
  6. When you can achieve the target time easily (discount times with a tail wind!!!) you have reached your first goal. Congratulations!!!!

Resetting your goals.

  1. Reassess where you are at.
      Have you achieved your (subjective) primary goal (of say, “keeping up with the group”, “riding a 50 km ride with the group”
  2. Decide if you have reached the fitness level you want.
       This decision does not depend on whether you have reached your primary goal. If you have reached your goal you may decide you want to go further (or not). If you haven’t you may still decide that you have gone far enough (or not)
  3. If you decide that you don’t want to continue with the programme, keep your training book as a bench mark for the future.
       At any time you can repeat the ride and see if you have further improved (just from the general riding you do) or if you have slipped back.
       If you have slipped back, then you can restart at any time.
  4. If you decide to continue, simply reduce your target time and repeat the steps above.
       Use your log of rides to decide how much to reduce it. As you get fitter it is more difficult to make big improvements. If you reached your goal in 3 or 4 rides you may be able to take of another 10%. If it took you longer then use a smaller decrease

The future

  1. Keep repeating the above steps until you get to the stage that you are not improving. Do not despair at this stage – look at how far you have come. It is now time to take further action to become an even more awesome cyclist.
  2. Do not continue with this ride as your training – it will become boring. Select a different longer or harder route and repeat the steps above.
  3. You are now cycling harder and probably near your physical limitations. There are precautions you should take to prevent injury or pain. The details of how to do this are beyond the scope of this article but are listed below:-

Make sure you are drinking enough water
Check the set up of your bike – feet on pedals correctly, seat not too high or low, handle bars at correct position.
Check your cadence is correct – not pedalling too fast or too slow.
Stretch before and after your training ride.

How often should I train?

The simple answer is as often as you enjoy it. You are not training for a competition or team sport, just for yourself. There is no need to push yourself to extremes. For most people one training ride and one club ride a week is ample. If you can only manage training every other week or once every 3 weeks then that is OK. Your rate of improvement will tell you if it is enough.

You can train too much – overtraining will actually cause your performance to drop not increase. Never do a training ride if you haven’t recovered from your previous ride. You know the feeling – when you start out for a ride and you feel flat and stiff, or when you go for your first hill and your legs are already stiff and sore. If it takes more than 2 days to recover from a training ride then you are pushing too hard. Back off a bit.