spring training mistakes

Spring Training Mistakes Cyclists Should Avoid


By Jim Rutberg,
CTS Pro Coach,
co-author of “Ride Inside“ and
The Time-Crunched Cyclist

You cannot expect to train the same way year-round and perform at your best in a specific season. Summer sports athletes build fitness in the winter and create performance in the spring so they can win in the summer! By making good choices now and avoiding the mistakes other athletes make, you can have a summer to remember! Here are some of the mistakes you want to avoid.

Mistake: Ramping Up Training Too Quickly

You’re excited, we get it. After months of cold weather, bundling up to ride outside, or mostly riding indoors, you want to go play outside until the streetlights come on (or later). However, increasing your weekly training hours and/or training intensity too quickly can lead to setbacks.

We rarely increase training volume (weekly hours or miles) and training intensity (time spent at or above Functional Threshold Power or Zone 4) at the same time. Rather, increasing volume first – by adding time to individual rides or adding additional training sessions – provides the aerobic conditioning necessary to support a subsequent addition of intensity.

For many athletes who sustained or increased training volume through a base building period in the early season, this is the time to increase training intensity. Again, this can be accomplished by adding time-at-intensity within individual interval workouts (e.g., making intervals longer or including more repetitions), or by adding an additional interval workout to your weekly schedule. A conservative rule of thumb is to incorporate two “hard” interval workouts into your training week, meaning workouts with intervals at or above FTP. This leaves room for Zone 2 endurance rides and slightly harder Zone 3 (e.g., Tempo, Sweetspot) workouts for the balance of weekly rides, along with 1-2 rest days or recovery rides.

Mistake: Not Ramping Up Enough

On the other end of the spectrum, some cyclists are too slow to respond to the changing of seasons. It’s not just the warmer weather and longer days, because those changes aren’t relevant for athletes in year-round warm climates or athletes unaffected by daylight hours. Spring is the gateway to summer, when many athletes have big goal events! Now is the time to modify training to shift from a focus on base building to a focus on sport-specific and event-specific training.

One misconception we see is that “Fitness = Performance”. Fitness is not performance. A big aerobic engine is a tool that can be used to perform at a high level. The ability to oxidize more fat at a higher percentage of vo2 max is a wonderful physiological adaptation to training, but as my colleague and “Time-Crunched Cyclist Podcast host, Adam Pulford, has said many times, “There’s no trophy for fat burning.” The trophies are for going faster, digging deeper, crossing finish lines, and yes… beating your friends.

To perform, you need access to the full range of your physiological capacities and psychological skills, plus the savvy to know when to use them and how to apply them for maximum effect. If you have performance goals for the spring, summer, or fall this year, it’s time to level up and shift to a performance-training focus. That means gradually adding workouts that address event-specific demands, like accelerations and sprints for criterium racers, technical terrain for mountain bikers, extended and back-to-back rides for ultradistance gravel racers, etc.

Mistake: Ceasing Strength Training

Strength training is an important year-round activity for endurance athletes, and the importance grows as athletes age beyond 40. However, there are only so many training hours available in the week, and training sessions must be balanced by adequate recovery, so you can’t just keep adding more to your training plate. As cycling focus increases, your emphasis and goals around strength training should shift.

Ideally, athletes who are primarily cyclists and who are therefore using strength training to support cycling performance and a healthy lifestyle, should aim to continue strength training 1-2 times per week throughout a period of heightened focus on cycling training. These workouts do not need to be long but should be full body and include the major movement types (i.e., push, pull, hinge, squat, carry). We prefer this to shifting to a core/torso-focused strength program because it addresses the core in the process.

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Mistake: Putting Away the Indoor Trainer

“The best ability is ‘availability’”. I can’t recall who told me that originally, but it was probably Adam Pulford, too. Indoor cycling is the most effective way to increase “training availability”, meaning it is often a cyclist’s best opportunity for increasing weekly training volume by 1-2 hours. Riding inside extends the available time you have to ride because you can get on the bike for an hour early in the morning or after sundown. You can ride while your kids are doing homework or after you put the roast in the oven. When there isn’t quite enough time to ride outside between business calls, you can hop on the trainer.

Time is the most powerful lever we have for improving endurance fitness. Adding modest amounts of training time to days or weeks and consistently training over periods of months and years can be your stealth superpower. So, don’t put the trainer away just because the grass is green and the sun is shining. Use it once a week to increase training availability and reap the long-term rewards.

Mistake: Excessive Calorie Cutting

When short-sleeved jerseys are a little (or a lot) snug after a winter in the back of the closet, athletes often get too aggressive about weight loss. If you want to lose weight, remember that you didn’t gain it overnight and you won’t lose it overnight either. Dramatically cutting daily energy intake at the same time you’re increasing caloric expenditure is a recipe for poor quality training, diminished post-workout recovery, and general misery.

If you are increasing training volume or intensity, and therefore increasing weekly energy expenditure, let the expenditure create your calorie deficit. This means sticking to your eating behaviors off the bike and increasing on-bike energy and fluid consumption to support training activities. For many athletes, this strategy is simple and effective for achieving modest weight loss (5-10 pounds over 1-2 months). A more proactive approach – like Sports Nutrition Coaching with Stephanie Howe, may be necessary for athletes with different weight loss or performance goals or dietary restrictions.

Warmer weather and longer days bring on Spring Fever for cyclists, yet many make training mistakes that derail their seasons. With more than 20 years of repetitions coaching thousands of cyclists through this seasonal transition, these are some of the common errors CTS Coaches help athletes avoid or correct. It’s not a comprehensive list, but avoid these mistakes and you’ll be well on your way to a successful summer!


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