The Proven CTS 9-Week Holiday Cycling Training Plan

Three Workouts, No Excuses.

I talk with busy athletes juggling cycling goals with full-time careers and families pretty much every day, and when it comes right down to it you fall into two primary categories: those who figure out how to get it done, and those who rattle off a litany of circumstances that prevent you from being the athlete you want to be. With the holidays, snow, short days, and cold temperatures rapidly approaching, excuses are getting easier to find.

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’ll give you three solid workouts, each lasting less than an hour, which will keep your cycling fitness from disappearing as you navigate through the Holidays. What do I want in return? Nothing much, just a promise that when January arrives you’ll put all this Holiday nonsense behind you, drop the excuses, and get back to a respectable training schedule. I’m not asking you to give up your day job, just carve out 60-90 minutes three to four times a week. With the workouts below you’ll have decent fitness to build on, and even with as little as six hours a week during January and February you can emerge into the early spring with an aerobic engine ready for a strong spring and a great season.

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But before we get to next year you first have to make it through November and December with some semblance of fitness. For pros and hard-core amateurs, December is time for base-building and lots of miles, but for most amateur racers and enthusiasts, it’s the time when your summer fitness recedes to the point that you give back almost everything you gained over the past ten months. For many cyclists, the workouts below may not be enough for you to retain all your power and fitness; but you’ll keep a lot of it – and much more than if you just ride steady a few times a week – and considering the minimal time commitment, these workouts deliver tremendous value.

The Workouts

Across November and December you basically have nine weeks, and that’s plenty of time to target training to the two primary areas necessary to get you through to January: power at lactate threshold, and power at VO2 max. Why not base aerobic power? Because the workouts are longer and more boring, and hence less likely to actually get done. Not to worry, your aerobic engine will get all the stimulus it needs from these higher-intensity workouts, and since they are so short, separating the training sessions by a single rest day will provide enough recovery time to ensure high-quality workouts and consistent progress. Starting and ending each of the following with 5-10 minutes of spinning, you’ll still be on and off the bike in less than an hour.

Click here for complete descriptions of the workouts below, plus CTS Field Test Instructions and CTS Training Intensity Range Calculations.

SteadyState Intervals accumulate a lot of work at just below your lactate threshold power. They are steady efforts ridden at 90-95 rpm and 86-90% of CTS Field Test power output or 92-97% of field test heart rate. Start out with three 6-minute intervals with six minutes recovery between them, and then progress to longer intervals rather than harder ones. Intermediate riders might do three, 8-minute intervals and more advanced riders three, 10-minute intervals.

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OverUnder Intervals are like SteadyStates with a twist that makes the time seem to go by faster. Instead of sitting at one intensity for the whole 9-minute interval, you’re going to start out at SteadyState intensity for two minutes, and then ramp up your effort to the maximum you can sustain for one minute, before returning to SteadyState intensity again. Continue this two-minute steady, one-minute hard cycle until the end of the interval. Complete three intervals, with six minutes easy spinning recovery between each. These are great for developing sustainable power as well as the ability to handle changes in pace during group rides, centuries, and races.


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Power Intervals are the maximum-intensity intervals you’ll be doing in the second half of December. It may seem like a strange time to be doing all-out, 60-second efforts, but some short, really hard workouts are easy to fit into a holiday schedule – and since they’re max efforts you’ll even be OK if you have to do them on a hotel bike with no heart rate monitor or power meter. After your spinning warm-up, start the interval session with four, 60-second all-out efforts, each separated by 90 seconds of easy spinning. These are very hard and you won’t be fully recovered in time to start the next interval, but that’s what makes the workout so effective. Take six minutes easy spinning recovery between sets. Beginners should do two sets, intermediate riders three sets, and advanced riders may be able to add a fourth. For riders in all groups, your pace/power output should be similar (within 10-12%) for all of these efforts. Once your pace or power output falls off more than about 15% – even if you’re in the middle of the workout – you’ve done the best you can and you’re done for the day.

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The CTS 9-Week Holiday Cycling Training Plan

The plan below is a recommendation for how to distribute the three workouts above across the nine weeks. Week 9 is New Year’s Week, so working backward from there in 2016, Week 1 would start Monday, October 31.

Workout Frequency by Week SteadyState Intervals OverUnder Intervals Power Intervals
Week 1 XXX
Week 2 XX X
Week 3 XX X
Week 4 (2 wkts only) X X
Week 5 X XX
Week 6 XXX
Week 7 XX X
Week 8 (2 wkts only) X X
Week 9 (New Year’s Week) X XX

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Comments 7

  1. I bought both editions of time crunched books (and a eat ride sleep tshirt) and (none of your plans are for over 50 riders why? Have you ever written up one? I tried your experienced competitor program 3 times and I get sick by week 9 and I’m more advanced than the beginning program. I want to be in the best shape possible to race at my age with the idea of a limitation of time. Your program is ideal for me time wise except for my burn out problem. If you have never written out one. I’m willing to purchase for a few bucks an 11 week plan, but your book plans are don’t work for the older athlete and all my master rider friends agree. Every young rider swears by your plan. Can you give an old dog a bone and write up something for me?

  2. A great schedule to offer some structure for the “trainer season” that happens in the more Northern climates. Allows some flexibility, but has some definite goals too. A good supplement to the other Time Crunched and Strava workouts.

  3. I’m 1/4 of the way through a 11-week Time Crunched Cyclist program now. I did two cycles last year and increased my average speed last year 30%. all the pain and sweat in the basement pays off in spades on the road. “the biggest efforts yield the largest gains.” Thanks CTS!

  4. Just an FYI but Monday, November 2, 2016 was on a Wednesday. Also, can an ordinary, average joe-blow do this program or is just for “career professionals” as Chris has stated in many of his articles and videos?.?.

  5. This is an excellent article and just what I need following surgery that kept me off the bike for 3 months. I was just back at basic endurance fitness at the end of the season and ready to train hard but I needed something to get me fitter without it coming too early in the winter season. So this will be perfect without overcooking it and two weeks into it is proving to be that so thank you very much and keep on with the great articles!

  6. I Live in Houston, TX and train with HR. I notice that when I do a workout on a trainer, inside in low humidity/cool conditions, it’s very difficult for to reach my various target HR levels for a given workout, whether that be tempo, steady state, P.I.’s, etc. I understand that for a given power output, my HR will be lower in cool conditions than in hot conditions. So my questions is, should I also do a Field Test in cooler conditions to establish a more accurate max HR rate to use for cooler (fall/winter or indoor) conditions, as opposed to the outdoor filed test I did in late May?

  7. Great schedule and very motivating! I have used the CTS Field Test and the CTS Training Intensity Calculations for five years now with great success. I have followed both the Experienced Competitor and Experienced Century programs in your Time-Crunched book. When I upload workouts to Strava the HR Zone calculations are different. When comparing them the automatized Strava Tempo HR (Zone 3) is 0.80 to 0.95, whereas the CTS Steady State is 0.92 to 0.95. I’ve manually adjusted the Strava Custom HR Zones to be as close to CTS as possible but the tool does not allow the manipulations be exactly match my CTS HR calculations. Have you or others experienced this? Does a heart beat or two difference really matter that much? Any ideas on resolving the differences? Thanks for the great news letters!

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