The phrase ‘base training’ is well known within the cycling world and many other endurance sports, but what does it mean and why do you do it?

What is base training?

It’s the process of gradually developing a platform (or base) for your fitness. Traditionally in cycling, it refers to long and steady miles in the saddle, but it’s not all about “steady” rides and coffee stops.  If you always ride at generally the same speed for a ride, irrespective of distance, you may well get fitter, but it could take a long time!

Making base training effective

For traditional base training to work, there needs to be an increased training volume… somewhere around 12-20 hours per week. This volume should contribute to greater total workload, despite reduced intensity. However, if training volume is held relatively constant (by say: training time restrictions, spending the same number of hours at a lower power output than they are already used to) it will only result in a reduced workload and therefore reduced training stimulus.

Base training that works for everyone 

It’s generally accepted now, that supplementing the slow stuff with high-intensity sessions and strength work is effective for those of us who are short on time to get faster and fitter during this base stage.

It could be said that traditional low-intensity base training gives a break from structured interval workouts. While a period of reduced structure is great and can be refreshing, it doesn’t need to be eight to twelve weeks long! Many of us at this time of the year are already at a reduced training load and structure over the Christmas holiday period. 

If we are short on available time, we don’t need and won’t benefit from more than a few weeks of reduced-intensity training. This is because we need intensity to maintain the workload necessary, to retain fitness. We may well be able to attain this intensity through harder, yet still unstructured, endurance rides, however structure helps most of us accomplish our training goals more efficiently.

Structured winter training

Science shows that short, high-intensity intervals can increase sustainable power output in a fraction of the time it takes to do so with a high volume of low-intensity exercise.

Research has shown that short, high-intensity intervals improve oxidation of fat and carbohydrates to a similar degree as traditional, lower-intensity endurance training, but in a fraction of the training time.

By working at the high end of the intensity levels you can improve performance at all intensity levels below that, making it a very effective use of your limited training time. Similarly, lactate threshold workouts improve power at threshold and improve power for endurance intensities, too.

Putting this into action

With the above in mind, a weekly training plan could consist of three interval workouts per week and one 2-4+ hour endurance ride. This could mean a riding schedule of Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, with Sunday being a longer ride. This format allows for there to be a recovery or rest day before each session of interval training, which helps improve workout quality. As for the weekly long ride, there is evidence to show that we benefit most from endurance rides longer than two hours and shorter than 6 hours. 

A short period of long, back-to-back days on the bike are however an important complement to the interval training. Endurance blocks lasting anywhere from four days to two weeks are great for applying an effective stimulus to the aerobic system. The interval training prior to the endurance blocks will have a positive impact on your longer endurance rides because you will likely be able to ride at a higher average power output. This in turn will positively see interval training power outputs increase.

Base training at Fifty Two Twelve

The current 12 week training plan at the Studio, for both the Wattbikes and Concept2 rowers, is a base plan which would enable you to lead into a more event-specific training plan. We are focusing on building strength, which then develops into some threshold training and then endurance. We are using low intensity sessions but also the high intensity sessions are playing their part. Importantly, it helps to provide a structure to your training to ensure you are being efficient and effective with your training and the time available. We have periods of developing intensity followed by recovery weeks and of course some monitoring of progress being made.

It could be said that using traditional base training as necessary, is not beneficial to those of us that cannot fit the additional hours required into their lifestyles. A solution that improves aerobic performance, that fits in with more time-constrained lives of us amateur cyclists, combines interval training, a long-ish weekly ride, and endurance blocks where you can fit them in.

Please do get in touch if you’d like to find out more on this topic: [email protected]