Training Advice

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    A series of articles from Nick Esser our Former Head Coach.

    Base Training for cyclists.

    Cycle “Base training” is important to any cyclist. The cyclists base training improves your cardiovascular systems and helps you become a more efficient rider. My first training piece covers most of the important items of cycle base training.To be riding at an elite level cyclists are looking at building a base over three+ years of cycling. It sometimes takes this long for a cyclist to develop the strength and aerobic capacity required to ride really well. However, whether you are competing in recreation rides or cycle racing itself, base training is a very important part of your training.

    Building an aerobic base is perhaps the single most important phase of the year since it is the foundation upon which your season/summer is built. Many riders never reach their full potential at their chosen discipline because they neglect this important phase of training. Base training is about preparing your body for the demanding efforts you will be making during your event. It is a foundation of steady miles that allows you to safely make harder efforts later in the year.


    Building an endurance base of steady mileage on the road accomplishes many physiological changes in your body. You’ll be doing this type of riding typically at between 65-80% of Max heart rate and you should be able to maintain a conversation with a training partner without stopping for deep breaths. I will cover heart rate zones in future pieces. It is also good to focus on your cadence (pedal revs), working on a range between 90-100 rpm for as much of your ride as possible. This develops good pedaling style. The lower intensity that you ride at while doing this “base” allows you to train for long hours on the bike. Training a lot will give you the strong foundation you need to go fast closer to your event. Never underestimate the effect of steady aerobic training as after a while base training becomes almost easy. After a few months of riding, you’ll be able to maintain an average speed and heart rate that was simply unthinkable earlier in the year. It’s why you rarely see top riders riding fast in the winter months.

    As I prefer Road Races I do focus on building my base during the summer when the daylight is long and the weather good. Once I have established a great base I can then focus my attention on other specific training during the winter that can be carried out on my turbo trainer if the weather isn’t great.


    Riding at this pace stimulates your slow twitch muscle fibres and in turn makes them much more efficient enabling them to contract using less and less oxygen from the blood. Base training also grows and strengthens the heart, building the muscle and making you more efficient with every pedal rev. Base training also teaches your body to store its glycogen stores within the muscles and vital organs. Base training causes your body to burn its larger stores of fat in preference to muscle glycogen. This can help you lose a considerable amount of weight that you may have gained during those months spent without training. By training consistently in this zone and cadence over several months, it is likely that you will be able to extend your time to glycogen depletion by as much as 75%. This of course means you are much less likely to “bonk” during high intensity rides and races assuming you have eaten properly during your ride. Base training also increases the efficiency of your respiratory system by increasing the number and transporting of oxygenated blood to the working muscles. Blood vessels become larger and more flexible making it easier for the blood to flow. It also actually increases the number of energy producing mitochondria cells in the muscles allowing you to produce more power for the same level of work rate In short, you will be able to complete a large volume of high quality training.

    How Much?

    This seriously depends on how many rides you already have in your legs but it’s generally a good idea to do two months of steady miles before moving to the next stage (more to come on that). Also, when riding base training you can throw in a couple of high intensity efforts (above 90% of HMR) to keep you fresh. These efforts should be no longer than 2mins. The reason for limiting these is that they affect some of the effects of base training by destroying the high number of vascular capillaries that you are working so hard to build up in your base rides. Your training should include at least one day each week for an extended long endurance ride where you ride for a few hours. This continues to build on the endurance development that you are doing through the week. Very often, these long rides are done in groups. Group rides are fun, and learning to ride in a group is a vital skill for every cyclist interested in safety and competition. We encourage you to get in at least one group ride per week. Most of these rides are scheduled in the weekend. However, please keep these important tips in mind in order to maximise your training:

    • Train smart and be sure to ride how you feel. If you are tired, be sure to sit in or even drop out if necessary, to avoid completely blowing up. If you are feeling strong, ride harder and enjoy taking your time at the front of the group as needed.
    • More often than not group rides can turn into mini-races at the most inopportune times, so be careful which group you ride with and ensure you know the rules of that group when before you attend. Many cyclists have been disheartened when being “shelled out” of a faster group, not knowing it was!
    • On those days when you are feeling strong (and it’s ok), a group ride can be an excellent opportunity to not only develop your basic endurance, but also your bike handling skills, group riding etiquette, as well as develop your anaerobic endurance when there are surges in speed and intensity, as well as planned and unplanned sprinting.

    All of this being said, perhaps THE most important point to remember about group riding is:

    • When you are in a group, unless YOU are dictating the tempo of the group, you are essentially at the whim of whatever the group does. If that happens to coincide with what you need or want, then great! If not, you could be making a training error by attempting to hang onto the group.
    • It is always YOUR CHOICE to either stay and hang on, or drop off the back.



    Adjust Your Base !

    Whether a “newbie” or seasoned rider, your base training volume and intensity will differ according to your fitness and at what level you intend to ride/race at. As an endurance rider I love to spend hours of riding through the countryside at a steady pace. It helps me unwind and relax. I would much prefer to do this than 30-mins interval secession on the turbo. If however I was a Crit rider I’d probably much prefer doing the do 30-mins intervals than the long ride. Base training is still very important for a Crit rider but is usually performed over shorter rides, distances and with a different focus on techniques than that of a “Roadie”. The training for these riders involves riding at higher cadences with more of a focus on spin-ups. Also it’s important to take into consideration where you are in your cycling career.

    Key Points

    I hope that you have a better understanding on the importance of base training. The key points are:

    • Building an aerobic base is perhaps the single most important phase of the year since it is the foundation upon which your season/summer is built.
    • Many riders never reach their full potential at bike racing because they neglect this critical phase of training.
    • Base training is about preparing your body for the demanding efforts you will be making during your event and is the fundamental base for all other high intensity training you’ll be doing later on in your training.
    • Stick to your plan and stay between 50-74% of Max heart rate at 90-100 rpm for as much of the ride as possible even if it involves the sacrifice of your bunch riding.
    • To break the training up you can incorporate a limited amount of intensity efforts (above 90% of HMR) and spin-ups to keep you fresh.
    • Remember to adjust your base training to the type of cyclist you are.

    This document is available to download here


    In this next piece I will talk about Heart Rate Zones.

    Firstly you’ll need to buy a Heart Rate Monitor!

    It is now possible to buy heart rate monitors for under £20, however I would advise spending a little more and choosing one of the more established brands. This will probably involve spending between £30-£80 but will significantly improve reliability.
    If you don’t already have a cycling computer to monitor speed, distance and cadence, you might want to consider a unit that combines all these functions rather than having to buy two separate bits of kit. Female riders especially may need to spend a bit more for a monitor that is supplied with a softer predominately fabric strap as it’ll often have to sit underneath the bottom of their bra. Make sure that the display is large and clear enough to be read from your handlebars even in poor light or weather conditions. A backlight is good but the button to activate it has to be easily operable with gloves on. Is all the information you need on one screen or does the monitor require you to scroll through using a button? Again, check that you will be able to operate the button while riding.

    The zones are described in detail below.  Please don’t think that riding round for hours on end at zone five and six will make you a race winner!


    Recovery           <60%            Active Recovery
    Short recovery rides – anywhere between 30-60minutes.  Characterised by a low heart rate, low perception of effort, resting blood lactate levels. Daily activity at moderate intensity corresponds to the general physical activity during daily tasks. For beginners and sedentary individuals daily activities improve readiness for the fitness-related exercise. For the experienced this type of activity can be used for recovery purposes. 
    Zone 1              60 – 65%           Basic Training
    Basic endurance training improves general training ability by strengthening heart as well as other cardio respiratory functions.  Development of economy and efficiency with very high volume, low stress work. For more experienced exercisers it is a good base training method. This area of training is used to increase endurance and you are burning fat as a fuel. 
    Zone 2              65 – 75%            Steady State
    Aerobic training improves cardio respiratory functions as well as general aerobic capacity.  This type of exercise is safe and it is also suitable for beginners.  Again this area of training is used to increase endurance, in this area of training you are still burning fat, but not at the same efficiency as Zone 1.  The bulk of your early training phases should be taking place in Zones 1 & 2 and these rides can be anywhere between 1 and several hours out on the road. Development of economy and efficiency with high volume, moderate stress work.  An important intensity for establishing a firm base for all riders. 
    Zone 3              75 – 82%             Aerobic Conditioning
    Development of aerobic capacity and endurance with moderate volume work at a controlled intensity.   Possible on a turbo trainer for up to one hour in bad weather. Many professional & seasoned riders call this “Tempo” or “Sweeetspot” riding. When on limited time for training this zone works very well. 
    Zone 4              82 – 89%             Lactate Threshold
    Training at this intensity improves ability to utilise lactic acid. This makes it possible to exercise at high performance level for longer duration without oxygen debt.  Training at this intensity requires earlier exercise experience. Training improves performance capacity needed in competitive situations.  Once into this area it is essential that the body is ready, ie. warmed up & fit enough.  Too much at this level will lead to overtraining – a symptom quite common amongst cyclists trying to push themselves too much. Specific sessions based around this training zone last no longer than about an hour (with rest. 
    Zone 5              89 – 94%              Anaerobic Training
    Exercise at near maximal intensities is anaerobic, which means that muscles need more oxygen than can be transferred, therefore intervals vary between 1-5minutes. This type of training is suitable only for the experienced. Training improves maximal performance capacity.  It is impossible to hold this level for any length of time so for long endurance sports it is not necessary to do great amounts of exercise in this area. It will result in raising of anaerobic threshold, improvement of lactate clearance and adaptation to race speed.

    Zone 6              >94%                  Maximal Training
    Exercise at maximal intensities.  This type of training is suitable only for the experienced exercisers.  High intensity interval training to increase maximum power and improve lactate production or clearance. Zone 6 should be done only when completely recovered from previous work.  Intensity should be such that the effort can just be held to the end of the interval, sometimes no more than 6-12 seconds!