Following a structured cycling training plan will help you ride further and faster. It’s simple and easy to do and can be very rewarding.
It’s also something that all of the pro riders do to maximise each training session for maximal fitness gains. Although, the pros need to peak at certain times of the year for the big events, so their training often looks a little different.
Most pro riders aim to be in peak physical condition for the Tour de France. And while you may not be competing for the yellow jersey, choosing to follow a cycling training plan can work wonders for your training.
So, this blog post will provide you with a twelve-week cycling training plan for beginners designed by head BC level 3 core and track coach Jason Streather of PDQ Cycling.
How do I make a cycling training plan?
Before we dive into the cycling training plan for beginners, we first need to discuss how to make a training plan.
This will provide you with the essential info if you want to create your own plan, but also provides insights into why our plan created by Jason is structured the way it is.
You may prefer to create your own training plan to better structure your training around the type of riding you enjoy or any trips or long-distance rides you have planned (badlands, the coast to coast, cycling across Europe, etc.).
We recommend following the below practice for the best results when creating a new training plan:
- Variety is essential
- Know your training zones
- Be flexible with your training plan
- Don’t forget strength training & stretching
- Focus on long-term progression
- Rest is as important as training
Variety is essential
If you do the same ride at the speed and the same effort each session, you won’t improve.
Add variety to your training to stimulate the aerobic and anaerobic systems — think longer endurance rides, interval sessions, hill climbs, and even technique-focused rides.
Not only will adding these sessions improve your riding, but it will also help prevent things from getting stale.
Know your training zones
Know your training zones to make life a lot easier. Most structured cycling training programs ask you to train at specific effort levels (including the plan we have for you).
One way to measure your effort is heart rate — this method is accessible for most people. Alternatively, a better option is a power metre but you don’t need an expensive set of pedals to tap into the right zones.
Calculate your training zones by doing an FTP (functional threshold power) test. You can do this on Zwift with one of the many test options.
Be flexible with your training plan
If you have three kids and a full-time job, it can be difficult to squeeze in those all-so-important training sessions. Therefore, you need to plan your program around your lifestyle.
We’re not saying you should skip sessions (although that’s also allowed) — but you may choose to perform certain sessions on an indoor trainer. Perhaps you’ll do bodyweight exercises instead of going to the gym, and maybe you’ll have to cut the occasional ride short.
A great example of planning your training around your lifestyle is doing your longer rides on the weekend. Most people work Monday to Friday and have more time on the weekends for the longer stuff.
When we asked Jason about flexibility around the plan, he said: “a happy rider is a faster rider.” That means working around your schedule to make training more enjoyable. Jason also mentioned the need to take days off if you get sick, if the weather is icy, or if you’re exhausted and don’t feel up to training.
Don’t forget strength training & stretching
Many cyclists can be found racking up countless hours on the bike, but too few hours in the gym.
Research shows strength training in cyclists improves endurance. It also reduces your risk of injury and provides many other benefits, such as better climbing, a more stable riding position, and added power to climb those steep hills.
Stretching also has its place in all training plans. But you don’t need to write it into your plan. Instead, stretch little and often. It can be as little as 5 to 10 minutes a day with extra stretching after a ride.
Focus on long-term progression
You won’t get faster overnight — you should focus on long-term progression.
That means gradually increasing your training load over weeks and months. Don’t go from riding once or twice a week to six times a week with an additional strength training session.
Keep it slow, manageable, and realistic. Remain patient and stick at it and you will see progression and great results.
Rest is just as important as training
We know how addictive and enjoyable riding can be, especially in the peak of summer when the coca cola is cold, the weather is hot, and the descents keep coming. But rest is just as important as training.
Always include a minimum of one rest day a week. You can stretch on this day, but avoid cycling and weights.
Also, you may choose to add periodisation into your training — periods of hard work followed by less intense training weeks to keep the body fresh and constantly improving. These are also great for a mental reset.
Best cycling training programs
Okay, here’s what you came here for: the best cycling training plans.
We have one main plan for you, created by Jason of PDQ cycling. Instead of providing three separate plans (beginner, intermediate, and pro), we have one plan and suggestions on how you can adapt the program to your fitness level.
Cycling training plan for beginnersThe beginner plan has 2 rest days a week, 1-2 harder sessions, a long ride, and a group ride each week. It also includes necessary strength training to keep you strong and injury free.
Over a period of 12 weeks, you will ride a mix of sessions, including efforts at zone 3 and 4, cadence drills, sweet spot efforts, and those long weekend endurance rides to help increase your aerobic endurance.
Every fourth week of the plan is a recovery week. You will still be training, but at a lower intensity to help the body rest, recover, and adapt to the training. For example, during the group ride you can sit on the wheel; when strength training lift lighter weights; and on other rides, stay in the inside chain ring for easier pedalling.
It’s worth noting that virtually all sessions can be done on a turbo or smart trainer. This is great when pressed for time, but it can become mentally challenging when riding for upwards of 2 hours inside.
Cycling training plan for intermediateIf you’re looking at the beginner plan and you perhaps think it’s a little too easy, don’t worry.
Jason mentions how you can adapt the plan to your current fitness level.
For instance, you can increase your weekend long ride, you can remove 1 of the 2 rest days and replace it with an additional zone 2 or sweet spot session, and you can increase total time spent on the bike.
The fitter you become on the bike, the more difficult it is to improve. So you need to increase stress on the body by either increasing training intensity or volume. You can also increase both.
The beauty of training zones allows most plans to be scaled to any riding ability, allowing you to increase that intensity. You’ll also be training in your specific zones to maximise training benefits.
Cycling training plan for pro racers
Creating a cycling plan for pro racers and riders is a lot more difficult than your average cycling training plan.
Pros need to be in peak physical riding shape at certain times of the year, so their sessions will look different. They will also do longer training rides on rest weeks than your average rider.
For example, a pro rider could be riding upwards of 4 to 5 hours for their weekend long ride. They also have fewer rest days, do more stretching, and can fully prioritise recovery more than us mere mortals.
A few pieces of advice from head coach, Jason Streather
To help you have the most fun and success with your training, we have a few extra pieces of advice from Jason:
- Use Zwift races to add variety
- Pace partner is your friend
- Listen to your body
- Hydrate before, during, and after training
Use Zwift races to add variety
If you’re spending a lot of time training indoors, perhaps during the peak of winter, then Zwift races can replace interval sessions. It’s a great way to keep things fun while still getting in a great workout.
Pace partner is your friend
Keeping with the theme of indoor training, if you find yourself spending more time in Watopia than outdoors, consider using pace partner.
You can chase the pace partner during a group ride, keeping them just in sight and then sprinting to catch back up, resting, and repeating every five minutes. Jason mentions how this can be a great training session.
Listen to your body
Jason emphasises the importance of rest and listening to your body. It’s age-old advice, but guidance that serves some of the best riders. “If you’re tired and can’t face training, have a rest.” The same applies to getting sick — it happens, so deal with it as it comes. Missing a session or two is not the end of the world.
Hydrate before, during, and after training
Many riders don’t drink enough fluids during training. But an even bigger number forget to drink before training, setting off on their ride dehydrated.
As a general rule of thumb, aim to drink at least one small bottle in a couple of hours leading up to your ride.
Staying hydrated will improve performance and reduce fatigue.
Follow a cycling training plan to get the most out of your cyclingIf you follow a training plan, you know exactly what session you’re doing on each day. There’s no decision fatigue, and it’s much easier to focus on your training with minimal distractions.
Choosing structured training will also help you become a faster rider capable of riding longer distances. With a mix of sessions intentionally picked to stimulate all kinds of aerobic, anaerobic, and muscular adaptations, you’ll become a well-rounded cyclist.
Download the beginner cycling training plan and begin structured training today.