Building towards a big ride? Use our endurance cycling training plan to boost your long-distance potential
Here's how to boost your endurance engine - we've partnered up with Alzheimer's Research UK to bring you in-depth training plans for your cycling goals
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This plan is for: Riders aiming to take on long-distance sportives or their first 100 mile ride, or simply to build their endurance capabilities.
This plan will: Make you fitter, leaner and faster for long-distance events lasting over five hours. The structured sessions will help you improve your climbing, speed and endurance, enabling you to tackle epic challenges with confidence and determination.
You will need: A good level of base fitness — you’ll have cycled consistently, three or four times a week, over the previous six months leading up to start of structured training.
You can find more of Cycling Weekly's training plans in partnership with ARUK over here.
This plan will build your aerobic base and improve your aerobic capacity. It targets those aspects of performance that build cycling endurance and the ability to complete longer events strongly and confidently.
The initial phase is focused on building muscular strength and developing cycling cadence, which in tandem boost fatigue resistance and reduce muscular fatigue.
In the next phase, volume is increased to enhance aerobic fitness by stimulating greater mitochondrial biogenesis (production of mitochondria — the powerhouse of the cell), enhanced capillarisation in the muscles (blood supply), and the development of slow-twitch muscles fibres. The low-intensity sessions help train the body to more efficiently use fat as a fuel source, while the higher aerobic efforts, in sweetspot and tempo ranges, improve economy.
Weekly volume: 8-10hr per week
Total volume: 90hr over 10 weeks
Our 2023 training plans are brought to you in association with Alzheimer's Research UK.
Cycling training plan for endurance
Click here to download a high resolution PDF of the full 10-week plan.
How to use our cycling training plans
For our cycling training plans, different parts of the rides are described using numbered cycling 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 have a heart rate monitor or 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:
|Perceived exertion||Effort level|
|0||Nothing at all|
|8||Starting to hurt|
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 HR 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 (FTP) — and your zones are based on a percentage of this figure.
|Zone||Name||Average power (% FTP)||Average HR|
(% FTP HR)
|1||Active 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.|
|2||Endurance||56-75%||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.|
|3||Tempo||76-90%||84-94%||5-6||More 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-spot||Sweetspot||84-97%||88-100%||6-7||Between 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.|
|4||Lactate Threshold||91-105%||95-105%(may not be achieved in first few efforts)||7-8||Similar 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.|
|5||VO2 Max||106-120%||>106%(may not be achieved in first few efforts)||8-9||The 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.|
|6||Anaerobic Capacity||N/A||N/A||10||Ultra-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.
Understanding the terms used within these training plans:
Cadence (rpm): the number of revolutions of the crank per minute — the rate at which a cyclist is pedalling/turning the pedals. If you do not have a cadence sensor, then simply think in terms of ‘medium’ (85-95rpm), which should feel natural and normal with no increase in upper body movement; ‘high’ (95-120rpm) is often described as ‘spinning’ — it feels out of your comfort zone and may cause you to bounce slightly in the saddle and breathe at a faster rate.
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 Zone 2 endurance 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: Cross training describes another activity that’s not cycling: a range of activities either outside, 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 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, 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 here.
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