How to structure your training rides
Cyclists and mountain bikers often want to get the most from their time on the bike, and adding structure that’s linked to short-term and longer term goals to your riding, is perhaps the best way to do this.
There are many ways you can add structure to your rides and in this post, I’ll highlight some of the easiest and most effective ways of doing so. Applying these metrics should allow you to turn rather aimless riding into lazer-focused training, helping to get you on the path to achieving your goals for the year.
Set a duration
One of the most basic and common ways to structure a ride is by duration, i.e. how much time you’ll actually spend riding. This is a great place to start and far better than distance, which is what a lot of beginners use.
Your body in and of itself doesn’t know distance covered, and it has too many variables like elevation, wind and surface associated with it to be consistent. The body does however respond to time spent exercising, so it’s something that can be better applied from one ride to the next.
Duration has a close relationship with intensity, so it’s better used when structuring similar workouts. For example, you might use duration as the key structural metric when progressing your endurance rides, keeping intensity constant and gradually increasing the amount of time spent riding.
Target an average power
Training with power in general is by far the best way to structure almost every type of training session. Combined with heart rate, it gives a very precise picture of how stressful a particular workout or string of workouts were.
Using average power to structure a workout is the best way to train consistently from session to session, as it is an objective measure of work, rather than effort. Your watts tell you what you’re actually doing, as oppose to heart rate alone, which feeds back how much effort you’re putting in.
Average power is best used for steady rides like longer endurance sessions or for recovery rides, but also for long intervals, where you would structure each work interval with an average wattage goal. Normalised power can be used for rides with varying intensity (like races) to better reflect the training stress and metabolic cost to you as a rider.
Perform a certain number of intervals
You can also add structure to constituent parts of a wider training session too, and one way to do this is assign a number of repetitions to an interval workout. Combined with a wattage or heart rate goal for your intervals, prescribing a certain number of “reps” will help you to relate what you’re doing to the training plan as a whole.
For instance, if you’re trying to build your anaerobic endurance from one week to the next, you could keep the wattage goals the same and increase the number of interval repetitions week on week.
I have a video here with a tip on prescribing interval repetitions which should help you get the most from these type of sessions:
Ride until a set TSS is achieved
TSS stands for Training Stress Score and will be particularly familiar to those who use TrainingPeaks or WKO+ software. It’s simply a single measure of how stressful a workout was and uses a few different metrics in order to calculate the score.
TSS can be used for both heart rate training and power-based training, and can be calculated on the fly by many devices like Garmin Edge systems. Therefore, you can set a TSS goal for a certain type of workout and then simply ride at the appropriate intensity until that TSS is achieved.
Again, you might prescribe a TSS goal to a workout as a whole, or to a distinct part of a training session, like a set of hill repeats or sprints.
Prescribe a target heart rate
Finally, for those training only using heart rate, an average BPM or beats per minute goal works very well as a way of structuring training. As mentioned before, heart rate tells you how hard you’re working at any given point, so is a good way to pace different rides and monitor fatigue levels.
Of course, heart rate is open to many more variables than power, including the amount of sleep you’ve had, your temperature etc, but it’s still far better than nothing at all.
Be careful when assigning heart rate structure to very short intervals though, as there is a considerable lag effect with heart rate. Instead, use to structure long, steady rides as well as longer interval bouts too.
Once you're comfortable adding structure for the first time, combining metrics together to make workouts even more targeted is highly recommended. For example, setting goals of both time and intensity, or power and heart rate will help to make training sessions more specific to the demands you're preparing for than if used in isolation.
See what metrics you can combine to make your sessions very goal-orientated, and you'll soon be getting far more out of your time spent training.
How do you structure your training? Let me know in the comments below, and feel free to ask any questions you might have on the topic.