Perhaps the most common question I field is from new subscribers wondering where to start, which plan is the best jumping-off point. Probably the second most popular question diverted to the head coach is from current subscribers who have completed some base training but want a plan that’s more specific to their personal goals. In light of this, I’m a little embarrassed to have taken so long to more formally answer these questions. I’ve tried to break things down in such a way that you can bypass those steps and questions that aren’t germane to your particular trajectory while still gaining a good understanding of where to begin and how to progress.
You can skip ahead by selecting which of the following questions more closely mimics your own, you can jump right to my work-in-progress flow chart at the bottom of this post, or you can read through my more lengthy responses if you’re interested in gaining a better understanding of how much can go into proper plan selection.
Question 1: Do you have a reasonable level of base fitness?
New subscribers typically fall into one of 2 categories – new to TrainerRoad and new to structured training – and many fall into both, but in any case their first question is often the same, “Where do I begin?”. Regardless of which category riders fall into, my first question is, “Do you have base-level fitness?”, because without a reasonable level of base conditioning under your belt, my recommendations become very limited for a number of reasons. The first of which is safety, especially when it comes to riders who haven’t taken part in any sort of fitness routine for some time (or ever) who are wise to consider a health exam and physician’s sign-off before diving into any training plan. Outside of safety, it’s just a matter of common sense. You can’t put the cart before the horse unless you’re content with a high probability of injury because base conditioning not only preps your heart, lungs, muscles and mind for greater challenges, but it conditions the less sexy, structural components of your kinetic system – your joints, tendons, ligaments, etc.
Here’s some guidance when it comes to our Base options:
Sweet Spot Base:
- I have a reasonable amount of time to train, but it’s not my life
- I’m also running and swimming
- My race season is a few months away
- I still have a lot of improvement to make on the bike
- I like the variety and challenge of sweet spot work
- I want to see an FTP improvement in 6-8 weeks
- I have lots of available training time in the winter
- I’ve been riding for a long time and I’m beginning to see diminishing returns
- My race season is many months away, and I plan on training for many months in a row
- I’m ok with building a base (which might be boring) to reap rewards later
Question 2: How much time can you devote to training?
There’s obviously a question of how much time can you devote to training, and more specifically, how much time can you spend on the bike. Some riders are simply that, bike riders, but many of our athletes are triathletes, duathletes, adventure racers, etc. and only have so many available training hours each week which means their time on the bike is only one way that they’ll spend their limited training time.
Questions 3 & 4: How soon do you need your fitness? How deep does your fitness need to be?
Then comes the question of how fast you need your fitness, and relatedly, how deep do you want your fitness to be. The body is tremendously adaptable and can yield big changes in fitness in relatively short training durations, but fitness gained quickly is what is sometimes referred to as “brittle fitness” because it breaks down comparatively quickly. Athletes with more time, and I’m talking about several months here, can cultivate a much wider base which will later allow them to their build high-level fitness on something far more robust than a couple months of crash-like conditioning. But both types of fitness have their place and I’ve many times been a practitioner of each.
Question 5: What types of rides or events are you training for?
Finally, the questions become a little more tailored to specific goals and perhaps goal events. For example, many riders want to be generally fast, some want to be faster time trialists, still others want to be faster at their very own rolling-course district time trial. Those riders who aren’t new to TrainerRoad, structured training, or perhaps neither often skip straight to these more specific questions.
So even though there are a LOT of potential scenarios, I’ve tried to encompass the majority of them in a visual representation which I hope will make this process simpler both when starting out and also when progressing from plan to plan. I’ve also recently incorporated a few very good suggestions from those of you who have already seen earlier iterations of this flowchart, and I’m happy to make further changes based on welcome feedback from you all. Train smart, ride hard, have fun.
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TrainerRoad Training Plans
Want to check them out for yourself? You can we wide range of training plans we have available here: http://www.trainerroad.com/cycling/plans.
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