How to Build a Strong Week of Your Cycling Training Plan
By Chris Carmichael,
Founder and Head Coach of CTS
Not one of the athletes I coach works a standard 5-day-a-week, 9-5 job. I’m not sure how many people do anymore, and by the time all three of my children have careers I’m nearly certain no one will. With so much variation in people’s professional and personal calendars, there can be no one-size-fits-all training schedule. This is inevitably the fatal flaw for static training plans, unless a person can find one that matches their individual schedule. Whether you are trying to adapt a static training plan or create your own plan, here are some of the core principles to follow.
Why am I comfortable telling you this? Because creating training schedules is just one component of the work we do as coaches, and I have always felt that the art of coaching is more impactful for improving performance than any particular workout or training schedule. Creating an effective training schedule on your own is like following a recipe. Coaching is like having a personal chef. The outcomes are not even remotely the same, even though both result in a meal on the table.
A Standard Training Week for Cycling
Let’s start with a pretty typical example of a 4-workout week of cycling training:
|Rest Day||Intervals||Rest day||Intervals||Rest Day||Easier intervals or Group Ride||Long Endurance Ride|
And an example of a standard week of cycling training with 5 workouts:
|Rest Day||Harder Intervals||Moderate intervals||Endurance or group ride||Rest Day||Hard intervals or hard group ride||Long Endurance Ride|
Why This Structure Works
For athletes who at least have a traditional two-day weekend, the schedule above is often a good starting point. The days of the week don’t matter, meaning that if your “weekend” is actually Sunday and Monday, you can just shift this pattern of workouts to match up with your weekend. This workout structure works whether you are doing moderate tempo intervals or high-intensity VO2 max intervals. Within the 4D and 5D structures, here are the important considerations:
Interval Frequency and Spacing
Scheduling interval workouts is a matter of balancing work and rest. You want to be rested and fresh to execute high-quality efforts. But you don’t want too much time between workouts because the stimulus from an individual workout fades, and to make progress you need a net increase in training stimulus over time.
4-Day Training Week
In both examples above, the interval workout days are preceded by a rest day. A 4D plan typically includes harder intervals on Tuesday and Thursday, with more moderate or sustainable intervals on Saturday, and a longer ride on Sunday. An alternative is to think of the Saturday/Sunday block as the start of the training week, with the hardest workout of the week on Saturday, a big volume or workload day on Sunday, another interval day on Tuesday, and an endurance ride on Thursday. When you move to a 5D plan, you have two choices, depending on what you’re after.
Endurance Focused 5-day Training Week
If you are preparing for a long endurance event, or your in a period when your interval workouts are below lactate threshold, you could start with intervals on Tuesday and Thursday, with an endurance ride on Wednesday and a two-day block of longer endurance rides on the weekend. Progress to rearranging the three-day block to start with interval days back to back, followed by an endurance ride. Keep in mind, the three-day block can also include Saturday and Sunday with two mid-week rides.
High-Intensity 5-Day Training Week
If you are performing 10- to 20-minute lactate threshold intervals or shorter intervals above threshold, schedule the harder interval on the first day of the three-day and two-day blocks so they are both preceded by a rest day. In the example above, that means Tuesday and Saturday, and then use Wednesday for a moderate interval workout (like Tempo intervals) and complete endurance rides or group rides on Thursday and Sunday.
The type of intervals you will be doing will vary by the demands of the event you’re training for, and how far out you are from your goal event. However, for most athletes two interval days per week works well, and typically more than three per week leaves too little time for adequate recovery.
Make Time for a Longer Ride
CTS Coaches use TrainingPeaks which we also include in our TrainRight Membership and WKO+ to monitor athlete performance and prescribe training. One of the most usable charts for athletes is the Performance Management Chart (PMC). In the screenshot below, the red dots represent the Training Stress Score for the day. The pink line represents fatigue (Acute Training Load), the blue area represents fitness (Chronic Training Load), and the yellow line represents form, or how you’ll feel and perform (Training Stress Balance. Today’s CTL minus today’s ATL gives you a number for tomorrow’s form).*
In the first half of this time period, the athlete was riding for 60-90 minutes with intervals three or four times per week, but the Training Stress Score for those days was still only hitting the mid 80s. Between the training stress and the time between workouts, his fitness stagnated. The only exception was the fitness bump from one 3-ish hour ride on December 7. Starting around Christmas, he completed more rides with training stress scores between 150-225, none of which were longer than 3 hours. During the entire period visible here, he never rode more than 7 hours/week. His fitness didn’t skyrocket, but over time the longer rides added enough training stress that fitness decay between rides didn’t completely wipe out the gains.
The Performance Management Chart doesn’t tell the whole story of your training, but I mention it here because if you feel like you’ve been working consistently and diligently but not getting anywhere, you may need to find a way to get a bigger hit of training stress once a week.
Adjusting for Non-Standard Weeks
The sample training weeks above are a good starting point, but as I said at the beginning of this post, there are a lot of people who have non-standard work hours, on top of busy personal lives. To adjust a weekly training structure from those starting points, remember:
- Schedule the highest-priority workouts directly after a rest day. Note, I didn’t automatically say “the hardest”. Typically this applies to the highest-intensity interval workouts in the week, but if you are not doing hard intervals it can also apply to the longest moderate-intensity endurance days.
- Create blocks that start with the highest intensity first. If you have a three-day or two-day block in the week, schedule high-intensity workouts on the first day of the block so you (See #1), and then step down so the “easiest” workout is on the last day of the block.
- Consistency is crucial, but so are big days. Six one-hour rides per week is consistent, but it’s hard to make substantial progress because you can only generate so much training stress in 60 minutes. Rearranging that time to three two-hour rides or one three hour ride and three one-hour rides all still add up to 6 hours/week, but concentrating workload can be an effective way amplify the effect on your fitness.
- Progress to more advanced block training. Speaking of amplification, there are benefits for some athletes to schedule hard workouts on back-to-back days. And some athletes may need to train four days in a row because of their personal and professional schedules. You’re concentrating workload and amplifying the stimulus, you just have to be mindful of scheduling adequate recovery after or between blocks.
* Training Stress Score (TSS), Acute Training Load (ATL), Chronic Training Load (CTL) and Training Stress Balance (TSB) are registered trademarks of TrainingPeaks.
Great article! However, when I was competing at a high level in swimming, each workout had elements of intervals and endurance. Does that only work in time intensive training (4-6 hours per day)?
You are a big advocate of weight training year round for this typical group of athletes often suggesting 1 or 2 sessions per week yet every training plan never allows time for these. You can’t do them on an interval session day and it’s going to eat into recovery ability to do them on a rest day!
For what it’s worth, I do my strength training on interval days. I do the intervals first and sacrifice quality on the strength training. It leaves the recovery days free to recover and makes the hard days hard.
What if I was training for an endurance race in April and broke my hip in a training session with the group… How do I start again and how do I change my program to still be able to do my race in April?