Cycling Training Plan for Beginners

Posted On April 07, 2022 / Training Intel

By: Drew Hincapie

cyclists out for training ride

4, 8, & 12-Week Cycling Training Plans to Get You Ready for a Gran Fondo

Whether you’re prepping for your first ride or training for your first Gran Fondo, you need a plan. As a beginner cyclist, a cycling training plan will help you set goals and maintain your focus until you reach them. And what more exciting goal than a Gran Fondo–a fun but challenging ride alongside your cycling community. Long rides are vital to increasing endurance and strength, but you can’t start logging miles in the saddle until you’ve mapped out how often and at what intensity your training sessions should be. Our cycling training plans outline every week training for a 15, 50, or 80-mile Fondo and give you rest and nutrition tips to improve your performance because training doesn’t stop when you stop pedaling. 

Getting started

The first goal is to set a distance to work toward. If you’re brand new to cycling, start with the 15-mile cycling training plan, even if you’re working toward a longer Fondo. You’ll want to give your body time to adjust to the technique of cycling and build up strength and endurance. Once you pick a plan, commit to it because the long rides are most important to improving performance. Don’t let rain or chilly weather stop your progress. Just be cautious and follow tips for cycling safely in rain or cold weather.  

How often should you ride each week?

As a beginner, ride 2–3 times per week for a total of 2–3 hours. As you improve your performance, you can ride longer and more times per week. Rest is always important, but it certainly cannot be neglected if you’re new to cycling. Cycling pros can go 5–7 days before taking a rest, but beginners need at least 2 rest days during the week. 

How long does it take to recover from a ride?

Shorter rides take 24 hours or less to recover from, but high-intensity rides require 24–48 hours of recovery time. Rest is important for muscle and tissue recovery and to keep your brain and body from burn-out. If you do too much too soon or over-train, you’ll see no improvement or even a decline in performance. So increase your training slowly and don’t max out during every ride. Age is also a factor in how much rest you need. Children and senior adults need more rest than young and middle-aged adults. And anyone of any age should get plenty of sleep for optimal performance. 

How many rest days should you take?

Cyclists of all skill levels should get at least one full rest day per week and the day before a Fondo. Full rest doesn’t mean just time off the saddle doing some other form of exercise; it means taking a day off and letting your body repair itself. It’s good to take breaks from cycling during the week for other forms of exercise like strength training or swimming. But listen to your body–if you’re in pain or fatigued you should take it easy. 

What to focus on

1. Improving technique

Improving your cycling technique reduces your risk of injury and saves energy. As you train, you learn how to move with your bike and maintain control with a relaxed posture and smooth pedaling. As you learn to tackle descents, winding corners, and bad weather, the more skilled you’ll become. Long, slow rides are a great time to focus on technique. Remember the basics–relax your upper body and keep your head up and feet flat. Often, problems with technique come from an improperly fitted or positioned saddle. Learn how to measure your sit bone width to find your saddle size.

2. Increasing power

Intervals and uphills are two of the best ways to increase power. Intervals are short segments at maximum intensity. For example, you could follow a warm-up with 20 minutes at 85–90% max heart rate, rest for 10 minutes, and then repeat. At first, save intervals and uphills for shorter rides, but as you improve strength and endurance, mix them into longer rides. You can also ride against the wind or cross-train with weights. Strengthening your core will stabilize you in the saddle and increase your power. 

3. Increasing endurance

Long rides are fundamental to any training plan. They’re the best way to increase strength and endurance and will lead to the fastest improvements. But a good cycling training plan builds distance gradually to avoid injury and over-training. Fueling with a healthy amount of carbohydrates before and during your ride will also give you more energy to ride for longer without getting fatigued. 

Hydration & nutrition

What nutrition is best for cycling?

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are stored in muscles as glycogen and are the body’s go-to and most efficient energy source. They should be your main fuel supply for cycling. You begin to burn carbs as soon as you start pedaling so it’s important to replenish them throughout your ride and reach full endurance potential. Replenishing your glycogen stores before, during, and after your ride will keep you from hitting a wall of fatigue. For shorter rides, you don’t need to worry about your carbohydrate intake during the ride, but if you’re cycling longer than an hour, then you’ll need to replenish 30–60g per hour.

Fats

Fat stores are a less efficient and more sustained energy source than carbohydrates. Cycling consistently will improve your glycogen stores and allow your body to use more fat for fuel. This is why experienced cyclists go on “fasted rides” occasionally. Their bodies store glycogen better and reach into fat stores for more continuous energy on longer rides, so a pro cyclist may cycle for 2.5–3 hours before refueling for the remainder of the ride. Omega 3 and Omega 6 found in nuts, avocados, and fish oil are the best sources of fats. 

Protein

Protein is important for repairing tissue and building muscle, so it’s great to eat before and after a ride. Replenishing with protein within 30 minutes after a ride can speed recovery, but you don’t want to eat too much protein right before a ride or you might feel nauseous. Give yourself at least 90 minutes after a heavy dose of protein before cycling. 

Eating a balanced diet of carbs, fats, and protein before and after your rides will help your performance and recovery. You should be mindful of fueling your body well all day, filling up your storage tank for your next ride. Avoid simple, sugary carbs and stick to complex carbohydrates like potatoes or oats, and steer clear of saturated fats. Also, be careful not to pig out before a long training session or a Fondo. Overeating will make you feel sick and sluggish. 

What to eat while cycling

Energy gels, energy bars, energy chews, bananas, and honey are all great supplements while cycling. Choose whichever is easiest to digest and carry. And make sure you supply yourself with enough carbs for your ride. 

How much you ingest on a ride depends on the distance. For rides shorter than 1 hour, fluids and whatever you ate for breakfast will be a sufficient supply of energy. But any distance over 1 hour calls for extra fuel. An average cyclist rides 15-16 mph, so the 50 and 80-mile Fondos are where fuel really matters. You’ll need to refuel 30–60g of carbs for every hour.

What to drink while cycling

Don’t simply drink to hydrate; drink to refuel. Your body needs electrolytes and carbohydrates while cycling, and sports drinks are a great source of both. Sodium and carbs improve the absorption of the fluid. Find a sports drink in a flavor you enjoy, so you’ll stay motivated to stay hydrated. 

How much to drink while cycling?

How much you drink varies based on ride length and how much you sweat. In other words, how long, how intense, or how warm your ride is. All cyclists should drink 16 oz. per hour, but double that if the ride has high temps or intensity. One good rule of thumb is to drink a little water every 15 minutes. Your body will not be able to absorb more than 32 oz. of fluid an hour, so don’t exceed that amount. Hotter temperatures mean you should increase your water intake, but not necessarily your sports drink intake since you have to account for carbs. Remember to always drink when you’re thirsty, but don’t only drink when thirsty. You may need to hydrate even if you don’t feel like it. Either way, make sure you drink 16 oz. of fluid each hour. 

4 week–15-Mile Cycling Training Plan

Fondo distance: 10-15 miles

Preparation time: 4 weeks 

WEEKLY MILES MON. TUES. WED. THURS. FRI. SAT. SUN.
1: 10mi  1x 5mi easy 1x 5mi easy
2: 12mi  1x 5mi easy 1x 7mi easy
3: 15mi  1x 5mi easy 1x 10mi easy
4: 18mi   1x 6mi easy 1x 12mi easy
5: 15-Mile Fondo!

 

8 week–50-Mile Cycling Training Plan

Fondo distance: 50 miles

Preparation time: 8 weeks 

WEEKLY MILES MON. TUES. WED. THURS. FRI. SAT. SUN.
1: 40mi  1x 10mi easy 1x 15mi easy 1x 15mi easy
2: 45mi  1x 10mi easy 1x 15mi easy 1x 20mi easy
3: 50mi  1x 10mi moderate 1x 15mi easy 1x 25mi easy
4: 52mi  1x 12mi moderate 1x 15mi easy 1x 25mi easy
5: 60mi  1x 15mi moderate 1x 15mi easy 1x 30mi easy
6: 65mi  1x 15mi intervals 1x 15mi easy 1x 35mi easy
7: 70mi  1x 20mi intervals 1x 15mi easy 1x 40mi easy
8: 55mi  1x 10mi intervals 1x 15mi easy 1x 30mi easy
9: 50-Mile Fondo!

 

12 week–80-Mile Cycling training Plan

Fondo distance: 80 miles

Preparation time: 12 weeks 

WEEKLY MILES MON. TUES. WED. THURS. FRI. SAT. SUN.
1: 40mi 1x 10mi easy 1x 15mi easy 1x 15mi easy
2: 45mi 1x 10mi easy 1x 15mi easy 1x 20mi easy
3: 50mi 1x 10mi moderate 1x 15mi easy 1x 25mi easy
4: 57mi 1x 12mi moderate 1x 15mi easy 1x 30mi easy
5: 65mi 1x 15mi moderate 1x 15mi easy 1x 35mi easy
6: 70mi 1x 15mi intervals 1x 15mi easy 1x 40mi easy
7: 80mi 1x 20mi intervals 1x 15mi easy 1x 45mi easy
8: 85mi 1x 20mi hills 1x 15mi easy 1x 50mi easy
9: 95mi 1x 25mi intervals 1x 15mi easy 1x 55mi easy
10: 100mi 1x 25mi hills 1x 15mi easy 1x 60mi easy
11: 120mi 1x 30mi intervals 1x 20mi easy 1x 70mi easy
12: 70mi 1x 15mi intervals 1x 15mi easy 1x 40mi easy
13: 80-Mile Fondo!

 

Tips for cycling training types

Easy

Heart rate: 60-70% of max

This pace forms the base of all training, whether you are a pro or a newbie. If you have a heart rate monitor, this pace is 60-70% of your max (e.g. if your max is 180, your heart rate should be 110-125).

  • Maintain a pace that’s easy to carry on a conversation.
  • Keep effort constant. Don’t try to maintain the same speed on uphills. Just keep a nice, easy effort constant. You will be much slower uphill.
  • Focus on smooth pedaling and good posture on the bike. 
  • Finish feeling like you’ve left something in the tank. 
  • Practice your Fondo nutrition as rides get longer over the weeks.  

Moderate

Heart rate: 70-85% of max

Don’t start with a moderate training plan until you have established a cycling base of at least 15–20 miles a week. Ride at the pace you will be targeting for the Fondo.

  • Your pace should be challenging but not so hard that you can’t manage to keep it for an entire training session or full Fondo distance.  
  • As you begin to incorporate this intensity into your training session, remember to focus on keeping the same smooth form as on easy rides while increasing the power smoothly. This takes focus and concentration, but it’s worth it to prevent injuries and to be more efficient. 
  • It’s very important to practice proper nutrition while training in this Fondo pace zone. Practice with different types of energy supply (drink, gel, chew, or bar). 
  • To help you keep your pace high for the longer duration of the Fondo, try and push your carb intake to 60-90 grams/hour. This is the level shown to maximize endurance performance. Start early and fuel often in order to benefit the last half of the Fondo and especially the last 20-25%!

Intervals & Hills 

Heart rate: 85–95% of max

Interval or hill training workouts involve periods of riding that will be faster than your Fondo pace and that you could not sustain for the duration of the Fondo. These sessions work your muscles differently and contribute importantly to overall fitness. 

  • As with a moderate intensity session, aim to maintain your smooth form (try to keep nice round pedaling and relaxed upper body) but apply even more smooth power to the pedals. 
  • Do intervals on hills. If you have few or no hills in your training area, ride intervals into the wind and/or in heavier gear. But again, emphasize smooth power rather than raw speed. 
  • Durations can vary for interval and hill workouts, but we recommend finding a pace you can maintain for 2–5 minutes. This will take some trial and error. Typically, you will start at a pace that seems a little too easy, but by 2–5 minutes at that same pace, you’ll be ready to be done! 
  • Before the first interval or hill session, you should have ridden for at least 15–20 minutes, progressively increasing power to get your muscles warmed up. 
  • Start at 2 repetitions and work your way up to 4 or 5. The rest of the ride should be at an easy pace. 
  • After one interval or hill session, pedal at an easy pace for 1-2 minutes, and then repeat. 

Now that you have your training plan in hand, it’s time to find a Fondo and start cycling. The Gran Fondo Hincapie is a renowned favorite, filled with fun and food for the whole family. You can register for the Fondo Hincapie in 4 locations throughout the year or choose from 20 of the best Gran Fondos in the USA

A cycling training plan isn’t the only key to improving performance–your cycling apparel is just as significant. Choose from our men’s cycling apparel or women’s cycling apparel so you can ride well, in style.

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