While I’ve put together one cyclocross-specific training plan, it won’t be online until the workout editor is released which should be any day now. In the meantime, there are a number of workouts and even training plans that are sufficient in terms of the type of conditioning ‘cross riders need to undergo in order to be competitive.

Outside of the obvious skills training required by cyclocross’ various course obstacles, dismounts/remounts, and running, ‘cross racers rely on high aerobic power (VO2max) and high sustainable power (FTP) with plenty of short, intense anaerobic efforts sprinkled in. Similar to more technical criteriums & short track MTB races in these respects, riders are required to bury themselves for short periods of time, “rest” while still working at a high level of output, and settle into high percentages of threshold power for more extended efforts with seldom any time for rest.  Accordingly, the same type of conditioning necessary in crits and short cross-country races are the ones which benefit ‘cross racers as well.

So a cyclocross competitor needs to have a deep aerobic capacity which can be attained via VO2max repeats in the 2 to 3-minute range at power levels in excess of 110% of FTP. As riders become fitter and key events become closer, these efforts are still in order but the recovery between intervals and sets of intervals decreases from week to week as fitness rises. The Time-Crunched Training Plans are built in exactly this manner and both the Novice Competitor & Experienced Competitor versions are ideal.

And since these training plans require minimal weekly hours, riders can spend any remaining available conditioning time – don’t neglect to set aside time to address those handling skills! – targeting their muscular endurance by lengthening their over-under workouts with additional intervals, longer intervals, or even harder over-segments during the shorter over-under workouts. They can also utilize some of the particularly time-efficient and taxing combo workouts that mash VO2max efforts together with some endurance-boosting over-unders.

Finally, some once to twice-weekly doses of anaerobic efforts are certainly in order for those racers who have a hard time generating enough power to speed up sets of steps or over sets of barriers without dismounting, building quick speed upon remounting the bike, or accelerating away from or up to a group of riders. Workouts like Mendel or Williamson, Hale or Ebbetts, or even the Nevada City Classic are all good options.

To distill this advice down to its basics, target your VO2max power first and foremost and spend additional training time working on improving your sustainable power. Then, it’s up to you to determine how to spend your remaining training time; increasing the work requirements within your muscle endurance workouts, spending surplus training time targeting those short, hard bursts of power, or working on your technical skills & running, all of which depends on how much time you have and which weakness limit your race performance the most.

Good luck – you cross addicts have both my admiration and my sympathy.

-Coach T



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Chad Timmerman

Chad Timmerman is the Head Coach and Co-Founder of TrainerRoad — cycling’s most effective training system. He has nearly 10 years of coaching experience as a Level I USA certified Cycling and Triathlon coach. When he’s not developing structured training plans for TrainerRoad, you can catch him sharing his coaching advice on the Ask a Cycling Coach podcast. To get Chad’s best cycling knowledge delivered to your inbox, sign up for his free 6-part email course Train Smart, Get Fast.

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