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  Last updated: 11/25/2019

Structuring a Training Program

Developing and refining a training program for a specific event is the ultimate challenge for a coach. And it is their insight in this area that often makes the difference between a good coach and a great one. As you work to develop your own program, I'd offer these thoughts. (sources include Andy Reid, a PhD candidate at the Otago University School of Physical Education in Dunedin, New Zealand, and comments by Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong's coach.) Although Andy Reid did the original analysis for a kilometer time trial, the same approach and concepts should be applicable to track, road, and MTB competition.

Training should be specific for the competition being considered. A common mistake is to look at an event as a single ride, but any event can be broken down into several segments and specific modifications added to your basic program to address the unique needs of each of these segments of the event.

For example "Using the Kilo TT as an example, here is what I am trying to say.The most specific way to prepare for the kilo would be to go out and ride a Kilo every day, or every second day with a day of rest to allow us to adapt to the 'training'. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it!), this would probably become rather boring and that boredom (through the monotony of the training program) may indeed lead to overtraining (Carl Foster,Med. Sci. Sports and Exercise Vol. 30 No. 7 P1164-1168, 1998).

However, if you break the 1000 meter TT into its component parts:

you are able to add specific training for each part of the event i.e.:

This parsing or breakdown of an event into its components when developing a training program is often done without specific comment by coaches in many athletic fields. But it is an approach that you can use as you training up for your own personal PR. Think about your event in terms of its major challenge - for a long road ride, it is probably Speed Maintenance segment while an MTB event would include frequent episodes of Acceleration. Appropriate training programs would then include extra days for the relevant major component of the planned event.

This separation into segments is to some degree artifical and these training segments are interrelated. For example, although the final 200m of a one kilometer event is anaerobic (ie a sprint), it is impacted by the training of the aerobic system. A highly developed aerobic engine will delay the time (even by a few seconds) that you will become anaerobic at the end of the kilo, and will minimize lactate levels until late in the ride.Thus a kilo rider, in this example, should train the erobic system to stall the negative effects of accumulated lactate as late into the event as possible. In this was VO2max and aerobic conditioning which improve the lactate threshhold overlap and impact sprint performance. Training only with sprints and failing to include some longer distance rides (longer than the "sprint" event) would leave you performing below your personal best.

But there needs to be balance, and too much compartmentalization in training can have its own negative effects. Andy Reid, also a PhD student in the School of Physical Education at Otago University, notes that training for both swimming and running have progressed over the last few decades from from a purely segmented (or compartmentalized approach with an emphasis on interval training working on one aspect of fitness per session back to a more "integrated" approach.

In one workout an athlete training under this integrated approach will include aspects of sprint training, specific endurance and general endurance. Can we apply this approach to the training of cyclists?? Consider this regimen. Add in at least one day per week of what we'll call "race practice sessions" that give a combination of

This is probably the optimal order, working on sprints when you are freshest. But as you get closer to your event you can start with the longer stuff and finish with the sprints so that you are sort of mimicking what goes on in a race.

The above are good for the shorter sprint and time trial events, but what about the longer, perhaps multiday events? Chris Carmichael noted that the major breakthrough for Lance Armstrong occured when he stopped focusing his training on his anaerobic system (too many days of sprints/intervals and long rides at close to 100% V02max) and began to train his aerobic system. This allowed him to increase his AT, be "fresher" near the end of the race with less lactate on board, and as a result capitalize on his anaerobic capacity near the end of the race day. An added benefit was less recovery time from lactate build up and a stronger next day on the bike. Training too hard, too many days in a row can be as bad as under training.


Science supports intervals as the best path to improving your performance, but howshould you split your time between your interval training and what we will callactive recovery - riding at lower intensities?

This article supports the fact that maximizing training adaptation depends on the appropriate distribution of training timeover the training intensity zones. Researchers compared riders based on the time spent in three different zones: Zone 1, below aerobic threshold (where you can happily spin for hours), Zone 2, which is between aerobic threshold andanaerobic threshold (or comfortably hard), and Zone 3, which is above anaerobic threshold(or where the suffering really starts).

Those who spent most of their training time in Zones 1 and 3 instead of Zone 2enjoyed greater gains in their anaerobic power. This strategy of alternating between easyand very hard effort (avoiding the middle) is known as polarized training.

This is another well written articleon training intensity balance. And for those interested, here is a link to the abstract of the original scientific paper.Although these are papers on running, the CV training benefits should be quite similar for cycling (and swimming).

So we know there are two pieces to the puzzle.

  1. Focus your training time on both ends of the intensity scale, avoiding the middle
  2. And find the right balance. Don't short change the benefits of that easy riding.
If you don't allow adequate recovery (riding at lowertraining intensities) you will not only fail to gain any benefit from the extra time you are putting in, butmay actually sacrifice your performance.

So 20% of your training TIME at a moderate to high intensity, a perceived effort of 6 - 10 or > 77% MHR.And 80% of your training time at a PE of 4 or less.

Now that you have the numbers, the challenge will be to keep those "slow and easy rides slow and easy.My guess is you will have to work to keep that HR down.

Buried in the middle of this blogis a nice practical suggestion on how to apply the 80/20 approach to maximize improvement. Do more than this andthe there is little up side but significant downside. Although this is for running, I think the sameapproach can be applied to biking.

To quote: "Don't calculate total miles per week in your diary; that will encourage you to pileup junk miles and prevent you from learning how to run fast. .....Set up a program in which you

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