Cycling base training: how to lay a strong foundation for your next season

December 20, 2022

Cyclist in Spain

Image by Faris Hamza from Pixabay

Every cyclist, who has at least moderately looked into structured training, will probably be aware of base training. If you had troubles in the past with kick-starting your cycling season, or just want to make sure that your base training plan is solid, BigBonkTour has you covered. In this article, I will focus on the most important aspects of it and will provide you with an example week that will work for the majority of athletes.

Key takeaways (TL;DR):
  • Try training in blocks- 3 weeks of training, 1 week of rest (reduced volume).
  • It is about volume, not intensity. If you lack time, do not try to compensate with intensity.
  • You can still go to the gym but put it on maintenance mode (same weights, 2x fewer repetitions).
  • Don't become an off-season hero by being fast when it doesn't matter.
  • If you have an opportunity, consider a training camp.


First of all, we need to lay down and understand the foundation of base training. As you are closing in on the end of the lifting/strength period, the goal is to increase cycling volume while keeping the intensity low. A primary focus for this period is to start raking up those kilometers and only secondly if you want to, you can add a couple of interval sessions per week, that are not complicated and would serve as kindling for the build period that will come after base training. To emphasize this, the goal of these interval sessions is to not become faster/sharper short-term, hence it is optional.

If you were going to a gym after your off-season, now it would be a good time to start reducing the number of repetitions you were doing in the gym while maintaining the same weights. So if you were doing 6x10 squats, it would be a good idea to dial it down to 3x10. This way you will still be putting in some maintenance mode strength workouts while allowing your body to be more rested for what matters now- cycling.

Update your HR and Power training zones

Before you start with actual training, make sure you are not building workouts based on your old and inaccurate data. Check BigBonkTour’s HR zones calculator to determine your new training zones using one of the three methods available.

BigBonkTour will soon have an article on power zones, but until then TrainerRoad has a great in-depth piece on the topic.

Training blocks

Training blocks will vary from athlete to athlete, but a good choice is 3 weeks of training, and 1 week of rest. If you are a more experienced cyclist, 4 weeks of training might work for you, although there is not much difference between the two approaches.

When it comes to how much you should train during the base period, a good rule of thumb is to go increasingly longer every week of your training block. I like to start with 8 hours of cycling during the first one and then add 2 hours increasingly, so 8 -> 10 -> 12 weeks work fine for me. Every other workout depends on your schedule but should go on top of 8/10/12 hours of cycling. So if you would still like to do gym, cut it in half and plan an additional 2x30mins days on top.

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Below there is an example of an active training week, feel free to adjust, but here are the main takeaways and logic behind it:

  • There are 1 or 2 rest days. I like to have a “recovery spin” added if I feel extra good, otherwise, I’d just have a day off. Remember that you get stronger when you rest after workouts, so 2 days of rest is a must.
  • Steady-state intervals. I like doing either 1x20 (2x20 later) or 3x12 (4/5x12 later) FTP efforts. This will clear the monotony and will act as kindling for more complex and intense workouts during the build period.
  • If you are going to the gym, move priority from the gym to steady-state intervals. Do intervals on the same day before the gym, or move the gym to the next day. Gym work is now only supplementary/on a maintenance mode.
  • Everything else is Zone 2 (Can even be Zone 1 in the beginning). Don’t be an off-season hero, there is no need to be fast during base training. If you are riding with mates and they start competing, don’t participate. You will be dropping them when it will matters.
  • A long ride during weekends, if your schedule allows it. Otherwise, you might have a hard time completing all planned hours of cycling. Especially when it is still pretty much unrideable conditions on workdays evenings.
Training blocks example

8 hours cyclist base training week example.

Rest week doesn’t mean sofa and chips

Rest week might sound like Netflix and legs up for a whole week, but that is not the case. During the week allow your body to recover from all the stress you put it through by dialing down the volume. Try to stay within 5-6 hours of training with no steady-state intervals. It would be beneficial to include a short core strength session. Here is a list of workout ideas for recovery week:

  • 1 hour around the block with no more than 50% of FTP.
  • 2 hours of Zone 2 with 5x30s intervals at 115% of FTP to boost recovery.
  • 45 minutes of 50-60% recovery spin around the block.
  • Stretching and foam rolling.

Try to recover during rest week, it is important not only physically, but mentally, a well-rested and eager athlete will always perform better during both races and hard training.

Training camp

Training camps are an excellent way to build the base engine for the upcoming season, given that there are no distractions and you can focus on cycling. During the years, together with my friends, who ride on a continental level, we concluded that during 2 weeks of training camp an athlete usually racks up a month’s worth of load. Last year I wrote an article where I gave 6 tips before you go on a cycling training camp.

Training camp doesn’t always mean 2 weeks abroad, an athlete can go through a similar experience at home by simply taking a couple of weeks off work and making sure that there are as few distractions as possible. Rapha 500 is a great example of that, I did it a couple of years ago and wrote an article that focuses on the gains you can expect from it.

My training camp in Alicante

My 2022 training camp in Alicante region (personal archive).

Let’s wrap it up

As you can see, base training should not be complicated, all you want to do is steadily increase volume and reel yourself into the upcoming build period. If there is 1 thing you should take from this article, it is this - it is better to go easier than too hard during base training. Remember that racing is still far in the future and there is no need to tax yourself both physically and mentally.

I have covered more training topics on BigBonkTour, give it a read!


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