Annual training plans

Rich Van Sickle

Rich VanSickle

Trying to plan a season of practices can seem like an overwhelming task. In order to help coaches, we’ve asked Jason Digman to develop a sample training program.  Jason is a lifelong cyclist and enjoys helping people enjoy their cycling and ride fast. He was a professional endurance sports coach and USA Cycling Level 3 elite level coach before becoming a nurse.  He wants everyone to enjoy their bike riding and to stay safe on the roads and trails. We thank Jason for sharing his expertise and experience.

There is a lot of information below.  Depending upon your familiarity with training periodization it may look like a foreign language.  Fortunately Jason has supplied definitions and ways to measure intensity without heart rate monitors or power meters.

First, some general considerations:

  1. Training here is intended to be a part of a larger practice schedule.  The training listed here is that specifically designed to improve fitness.  You will also want to include technique work, on bike drills, off bike strength training among other items within a given practice. The training schedule here is designed as active, on bike ride time only. Coaches should develop a full practice to best serve their athletes.  
  1. There are no specific routes or types of courses listed for these sessions.  Coaches will have varying needs and course options. Generally, for novice riders, more trail riding is preferred as it offers the most specific forms of training for racing along with many other advantages, not to mention fun that goes along with time on the trail.  That noted, trail availability varies greatly and coaches should make the best choices for their teams.
  2. Training as listed here is to be viewed as a guide.  Use it as a guide, more than an explicit to do list.
  3. The training plans listed here are for a team practicing 3 times a week with 2 larger phases — pre-season and racing season.  The practice period lasts 7 weeks and the race season is 10 weeks long. Because the race season is 10 weeks but teams have highly variable schedules based on their particular races, the training listed here is based on a blueprint for specific types of weeks.  Coaches will need to piece together the particulars of the race season weeks as fits their team’s schedule.
  4. Training sessions are listed in minutes of riding time.  Due to variability in riding, time is likely the best means by which coaches can monitor training length for their sessions.  If athletes are not prepared for these lengths as continuous rides, modify the plan with a break or shorten as needed.
  5. Along with time, the other key variable to monitor with training is intensity.  There are many ways to keep track of intensity but included with the training plan is a training zone document for use with the plan.  With time in training zones, it is important to realize that athletes have a range of abilities to dial in their efforts in these terms. Some can dial in pretty quickly.  Some athletes are not as quick to get a handle on their exertion level. Coaches should use intervals and races as learning opportunities for their athletes and with dialogue and encouragement, this process is helpful for athletes and rewarding for coaches.
  6. Keep track of how your riders appear during and after these sessions. Athletes that look really tired and/or are not having fun could be working too hard.  It is particularly important to notice and adjust if athletes seem to be having less fun than they were in sessions earlier and to intervene. Training here is designed to help athletes improve without being overly stressful. That noted, not all athletes respond to training in the same manner and its important to help athletes if fatigue builds and/or they stop having fun.  

Training Plan Details

Training Plan
Pre Season, 7/2-8/19/2018
  Session 1 Session 2 Session 3
Week 1, starts July 2 1 hour Aerobic Zones 1 and 2 1 hour Aerobic Zones 1 and 2 1 hour Aerobic Zones 1 and 2
Week 2, July 9 1 hour Aerobic Zones 1 and 2 1:15 Aerobic Zones 1 and 2 1 hour Aerobic Zones 1 and 2
Week 3, July 16 1:15 Aerobic Zones 1 and 2 1 hour Tempo Ride 1 hour Aerobic Zones 1 and 2
Week 4, July 23 1:15 Aerobic Zones 1 and 2 1 hour Tempo Ride 1:40 Aerobic Zones 1 and 2
Week 5, July 30 1:20 Aerobic Zones 1 and 2 1:15 Race Specific Efforts 1:50 Aerobic Zones 1 and 2
Week 6, August 6 1:30 Aerobic Zones 1 and 2 1:15 Race Specific Efforts 2 hours Aerobic Zones 1 and 2
Week 7, August 13 1:30 Aerobic Zones 1 and 2 1:15 Race Specific Efforts 2 hours Aerobic Zones 1 and 2
Race Season, 8/20-10/28/18
  Session 1 Session 2 Session 3 Session 4
Race Week 1:30 Aerobic Zones 1 and 2 1:15 Race Effort Intervals Saturday pre-ride Race
Raced Prior week 1 hour Aerobic Zones 1 and 2 1:30 Progressive Intervals 2h Long Ride with Race Effort Intervals
Back to back race weekends 1 hour Aerobic Zones 1 and 2 1h 15m Short Intervals Saturday pre-ride Race
No racing, pre and post weeks 1:30 Aerobic Zones 1 and 2 1:15 Midweek Interval Session 2h Long Ride with Tempo Intervals

Pre Season, July 1-August 19, 2018

Aerobic Rides

All workouts are designed to be aerobic efforts, largely completed within zones 2 and 1.  As with any ride, efforts above these zones will take place but the vast majority of ride time should be within prescribed zones.

Tempo Rides

Rides are to begin with at least 20 minutes of zone 2 riding as a warm up before including 3 to 5 efforts of between 2 and 5 minutes at zone 3 effort with several minutes of zone 2 type riding between. Warm down with about 10 minutes of zone 2 riding.

This ride should not be particularly difficult. The tempo blocks are designed to increase fitness and to help athletes to develop their own skills in effort management/pacing.  

Race Specific Efforts Rides are designed to develop more specific race fitnesses and skills.  Ideally these sessions are completed off road but that is not required. Sessions should include at least 20 minutes of warm up riding before including 4-6 race specific training intervals with several minutes of zone 2 type riding between. Warm down at least 10 minutes of zone 2 riding.

Race specific training intervals should be between 45 seconds at 3 minutes. Options include race start intervals, uphill repeats and/or short track intervals on an off road course. These short track intervals might include turns, hills and/or a variety of off road scenarios as they available.

Race Season, August 20 to October 28, 2018

Training here is much like that of the pre-season in that an emphasis is placed on technique and aerobic development through rides at zone 2 type effort overwhelmingly.  Mid-week rides often include some interval training to raise fitness. These are also an excellent opportunity to help athletes develop their ability to ride with good technique at race type effort levels.

Race week
Race Effort Intervals

Intervals with at least 20 minute warm up before including 3 x 10 minutes at race effort with 5 minutes moderate riding between. Race type efforts circa zone 3 overall, athletes will have some time at higher efforts and some time easier as well. The zone 3 overall is a cumulative type effort. Warm down 10-15 minutes

This is a great session to help the athletes practice their effort management. The session itself won’t be easy but because race effort totals will be about half of the total race duration, it shouldn’t be especially taxing.

Prior Week’s Racing

Because of the prior weekend racing, athletes could be sore or tired to start the week. First session of the week should be on the short side with a focus on recovery, technique practice could also be included as well.

Progressive Intervals

1:30 Warm up with 20 to 30 minutes of moderate riding before going into main set of 4 x 3 minute intervals with at 2-5 minutes easier riding between intervals. Include at least 10 minutes of easier riding to warm down. Note intervals are ideally done with increasing effort level such that 1st and 2nd interval at zone 3 effort. 3rd interval a bit harder (near race type effort) and 4th interval is harder than race effort. This is another chance to help athletes dial in exertion levels and could be particularly helpful if completed on short track, off road course set by coaches.

Long Ride with Race Effort Intervals  Longer ride with 45 minutes of zone 2 riding before including 2 x 10 minutes at race type effort with 10 minutes moderate riding between. Last part of ride at zone 2 effort.
Back to back races

The goal for this week is to help athletes learn from prior race, recover and get excited to race again. As such, first session is easier and short.  Midweek ride should be challenging but not so hard as to create fatigue/soreness that lasts more than a day or so. This session can also be done more ad hoc so that harder bouts are less structured than noted below.

Short Intervals

Warm up with 20 to 30 minutes of riding to warm up. Uphill intervals, 3-5 repeats of 0:30 to 1:30 with 2-4 minutes easier riding between each interval.  Warm down of zone 2 type effort of at least 10 minutes.

No Racing

Given that teams will have various schedules, the sessions below include interval guidelines more than set sessions to be followed to a tee.  

Midweek Interval Sessions. All begin with 20 to 30 minutes of warm up at zone 2 type effort. Main interval sets include:
  1. 3-5 short track intervals lasting from 2-5 minutes per interval.  Ideally done on off road, short track type course set by coach. Use these to help athlete practice different exertion levels on course that is more specific to demands of racing.  Fine to repeat this session multiple times, ideally change course so as to further develop athletes’ technical skills
  1. 4 to 6 race practice intervals lasting from 30 seconds to 1:30.  Easy riding between intervals for about three times interval length, i.e. 1:00 interval with at least 3 minutes of easier riding between. As duration gets longer, keep number of intervals down.  These intervals can be done as race start intervals so that athletes practice quicker starts and settling into appropriate effort for a race or uphills with good standing/sitting technique specific to the hill and their fitness.  
Long Ride with Tempo Intervals

Ride can include some zone 3 (tempo) blocks within the middle part of the ride. Begin ride with at least 30 minutes of zone 2 riding before including tempo blocks such as 2 x 10 minutes with at least 5 minutes zone 2 riding between but can be longer. Include at least 15 minutes of zone 2 riding to finish ride. Goal for zone 3 blocks is not for athletes to go hard per se but to increase effort from normal level slightly.  


Description of Zones

Training Zone Description

A key part of cycling is understanding how much work the athlete is doing at that moment.  The means by which a human body produces energy for cycling is a complex series of processes. Generally speaking, the human body can fuel effort via a rapid, large capacity but short lasting energy source, the anaerobic system, and the longer lasting aerobic system.  The amount of energy available for an athlete to use anaerobically is fixed and limited while aerobic energy is more abundant and available. We use exercise zones to help athletes to understand their energy use so that they can maximize their performance.

The training zones here are based around the idea of aerobic threshold.  This is the effort level at which the athlete’s primary energy is aerobic but if they were to work any harder, they would begin to use up their limited anaerobic energy.  Aerobic threshold is therefore sort of turning point, stay at that level consistently and they can continue to work that hard for 30 to 45 minutes but if they do any more work, they will be able to continue for much less time.  As such, it is important to understand how long an athlete can exercise within any given zone.

There are a variety of devices that can be used to measure exercise intensity such as heart rate monitors and power meters. These are effective but not required for most cyclists.  A key means to help athletes to monitor their own intensity is to have them contemplate how easily they could talk. If they would have trouble saying more a few words, their effort level is fairly high.  Another metric that can be useful is to ask if they could eat or drink at that intensity. Athletes in zones 4 and 5 are rarely able to eat and often can’t drink fluids very easily as they are working to hard to swallow comfortably.  As such, the number of words an athlete can speak within a given zone is included in the zone chart. Also present is a column with commonly used words athletes use to describe their effort within the zones. These are general and as subjective descriptions, it is important to realize that athletes vary a great deal in their ability to apply these terms successfully.  Athlete’s perceptions of their efforts within zones can also change as they develop.

All levels of aerobic training will help athletes to improve their aerobic fitness.  It is unclear if anaerobic fitness can be improved notably with training. Generally speaking, for all cycling endeavors lasting longer than a few minutes, improving aerobic fitness is the key to success.  Use the chart below to help athletes to monitor their effort more effectively and therefore to train and race with knowledge and planning.