Looking to boost your fitness? Kickstart your riding with our cycling training plan for beginners

Ready to get fit and healthy through cycling? Then this is the plan for you! In partnership with Alzheimer's Research UK

Image shows a beginner completing a training plan.
(Image credit: Future)

Are you looking to add some structure to your riding, and for some guidance on how far to go and what intensity to ride at to maximise on fitness gains? Following a cycling training plan is a great way of building up your fitness effectively.

This plan is for: Riders who are relatively new to the sport and who are keen to embark on a challenge to improve their fitness and overall health. You do not need to have previously completed any cycling events or be part of a local club or training group.

Find intermediate-level cycling training plans for building up your endurance and stepping up to race here.

This plan will: build your aerobic fitness over 10 weeks to a level at which you can ride confidently at a consistent pace for three hours; you will be sportive-ready within six months.

Before you start, you will need: A moderate level of fitness, having exercised once or twice a week for at least the past four weeks.

How it works: The training is divided into two five-week blocks with training targets within each block. The first five weeks is primarily focused on building consistency in exercise doing low-intensity workouts and making sure the frequency of training is prioritised. The second five-week block sees the training volume increase as your aerobic fitness moves to a higher level. Some higher-intensity workouts are also introduced as a training stimulus to further develop your endurance capacity. Alternative training sessions off the bike help develop muscle groups that are not used in cycling, so as to continue building endurance while reducing the likelihood of injury as the training load increases.

Weekly volume: 6.5-8hr per week 

Total volume: 65hr over 10 weeks

Our 2022 training plans are brought you in partnership with Alzheimer's Research UK (opens in new tab).

Cycling training plan for beginners

Block 1

Image shows a cycling training plan for beginners.

(Image credit: Future)

Block 2

Image shows a cycling training plan for beginners.

(Image credit: Future)

Download this cycling training plan for beginners in PDF form here

Should I taper before my big event?

If you are using this 10-week plan to develop your fitness towards a planned event or personal challenge, then follow these guidelines:

In Week 10, do not ‘cross train’; your only activities should be cycling. Aim to do three short rides, all at a moderate intensity, lasting no longer than 90 minutes each. The day before your event, rest and relax.

How to use our beginner cycling training plans

For our training plans, different parts of the rides are described using numbered training zones. The plan is to work at that level of effort for the time given. Making the most of your time means working at the right effort level for you. Here’s how to work out where your training zones are.

Understanding the intensities

During each training day, each effort has a prescribed ‘Zone’ (e.g. Z1, meaning Zone 1). If you do not use a heart rate monitor or train with a power meter, you can also use Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) to judge intensity. The Borg scale, from one to 10, provides a guide to how these effort levels should feel:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Perceived exertionEffort level
0Nothing at all
0.5Extremely easy
1Very easy
4Somewhat hard
6Getting harder...
7Very hard
8Starting to hurt
10Extremely hard

If you have a heart rate (HR) monitor and/or power meter, we suggest finding out your training zones. We recommend Andrew Coggan’s training levels, explained on the table below.

To find your functional threshold heart rate and power (needed to develop your zones), you will need to complete the following procedure:

After warming up, perform an all-out 20-minute effort, either inside on a turbo or outside on a quiet road. This effort is similar to a time trial effort. Once you have your average HR and power number for this 20-minute test, use this number as your 100 per cent threshold figure. Take your average power for the 20 minutes and multiply by 0.95 (e.g. 225W average x 0.95 = 209W FTP). This number is your Functional Threshold Power — and your zones are based on a percentage of this figure.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
ZoneNameAverage power (% FTP)Average HR
(% FTP HR)
Perceived exertionDescription
1Active Recovery<55%<68%<2"Easy spinning" or "light pedal pressure", i.e. very low level exercise, too low to induce significant physiological adaptations. Minimal sensation of leg effort. Relaxed breathing.
2Endurance56-75%69-83%3-4"All day" pace, or classic long slow distance (LSD) training. Sensation of leg effort/fatigue generally low. Breathing is a little heavier than in Zone 1.
3Tempo76-90%84-94%5-6More frequent/greater sensation of leg effort/fatigue than at Zone 2. Requires concentration to maintain. Breathing deeper and more rhythmic than in Zone 2. Breathing too hard to chat.
Sweet-spotSweetspot84-97%88-100%6-7Between high Zone 3 and low Zone 4. For riders who aren’t using a power meter, I’d call sweetspot “medium hard”. It’s just below your 25-mile TT race pace, but harder than a traditional tempo workout.
4Lactate Threshold91-105%95-105%(may not be achieved in first few efforts)7-8Similar to TT race effort. Relentless feeling of leg effort/fatigue. Breathing too hard to say more than the odd word or two. Mentally very taxing to maintain.
5VO2 Max106-120%>106%(may not be achieved in first few efforts)8-9The maximum effort you can sustain for three to eight minutes. Intended to increase VO2max. Severe leg effort/fatigue. 'Ragged' breathing; unable to speak.NB: Average heart rate less useful as a metric, as HR will be rising throughout the interval.
6Anaerobic CapacityN/AN/A10Ultra-high-intensity intervals of 10-30 seconds, designed to increase anaerobic capacity. Flat-out; no holding back. Heart rate of limited use.

The above is based on both the Borg scale of intensity and the training zones developed by Andrew Coggan.

Cycling training plan terms explained for beginners

Understanding the terms used within these training plans:

Threshold Efforts: The term ‘threshold’ means the upper limit of the effort level you can sustain for the period requested. ‘Lactate threshold’ or ‘LT’ refers to the byproduct of anaerobic exercise — the harder your effort, the more lactate accumulates in your blood. The point at which lactate begins to accumulate more quickly than it can be processed is your LT or, in riding terms, the fastest pace you can maintain for 20-40 minutes.

Tempo: Tempo is an intensity often referred to as ‘hard aerobic’ training — a ride that requires more concentration and effort than regular endurance riding. The term tempo means a consistent ‘solid’ effort, suitable for periods of 20 minutes to one hour.

Aerobic Ride: This is generally a short ride (one hour or less) at low intensity. It works your aerobic system without putting too much training stress. Typically, this is a training session that can be done either indoors or on the road. Easy!

Endurance Ride: These rides are carried out at a lower intensity but for longer durations, so they build your ability to perform exercise for prolonged periods of time. Levels of fatigue post-ride will be higher than that of the aerobic training sessions. These rides are normally longer than 1hr 30min.

Cross Training: This term describes another activity that’s not cycling: a range of activities such as strengthening exercises at home or at the gym. Mixing up your activities allows you to work different muscle groups while giving your main cycling muscles a break.

Slow Tension Efforts: These focus on building your overall strength on the bike. We all know strength plays a big part in cycling fitness, and using strategic on-the-bike strength workouts we can maximise this essential component of performance. Generally, these efforts are completed at a low cadence, below 70rpm, and at a moderate intensity.

Endurance Fatigue Resistance: Enhancing aerobic fitness by developing your base endurance, these workouts recruit slow-twitch muscles fibres and train the body to use fat as a fuel source. This session has the additional benefit of teaching your body to work hard while fatigued. Make sure you hit the required duration.

VO2 Max: These is maximal aerobic intensity, lasting between two and five minutes. These intervals are intended to increase VO2max — your maximum rate of oxygen uptake. (Note: It takes a minute or two for heart rate to reach its VO2max level, so do not rely on average HR in these intervals.)

Burst: A burst is a short acceleration out of the saddle, intended to mimic a short/intense change of pace. This is not a full-out sprint; it is more like an effort to jump on to a passing wheel or accelerate over the top of a hill. After the burst, return to a solid steady state effort.

Tolerance Efforts: These efforts develop your capacity to endure prolonged high intensity without fading. This is achieved by completing short durations at a high intensity to accumulate a high lactate state, followed by a short recovery period, inducing oxygen debt and speeding up recovery.

Cycling Weekly provides these training plans in collaboration with Dig Deep Coaching – a global coaching company that works with athletes of all levels across road, track, cyclo-cross and MTB. Whether you are taking part in your first ever Gran Fondo or aiming to compete in the professional peloton, Dig Deep Coaching (opens in new tab) offers personal coaching to help you build your training around your lifestyle and make sure every pedal stroke counts. Learn more about Dig Deep Coaching by signing up to its Training Tips & Advice mailing list HERE (opens in new tab), or follow Dig Deep Coaching on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

If you would like a digital version of your chosen Cycling Weekly training plan, with smart-trainer-ready sessions, please contact Dig Deep Coaching via this link: https://www.digdeepcoaching.com/workouts/cycling-weekly-plans (opens in new tab).


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