What you do this winter can make a difference in your upcoming cycling season in April or May. Base training is different for everyone because of different areas. Some can ride outside all year, and some can’t. All winter base training has one thing in common: the miles. In fact, the phrase “base training”, should really be called “base miles”, because that’s the true focus of base training.
Think of base training as the “base” of your sport. In cycling that base is mileage — that’s it. Basic mileage done regularly at a slower pace than you probably expected. Building anything worthwhile takes time. Use the short days to build your base and you’ll be ready to pick up the pace come warmer weather.
Discipline to Train Slower
Base training might be one of the hardest concepts for a cyclist to understand and implement. It can seem counterproductive to ride slower in order to gain performance later. It’s difficult for cyclists, because they’re so competitive, to take a step back from the intense training of the warmer weather months. But if you have the discipline to train more slowly you’ll gain an aerobic advantage while everyone else is still hammering away. It will pay dividends in improved fitness down the road.
Aerobic in Nature
We often recognize professional cyclists with bulging, well-cut muscles — that’s not base training. Base training focuses on what you can’t see, improved lungs, heart, and circulatory system. In a nutshell, base training is mostly aerobic in nature. Summer training can then utilize the improved aerobic system to it’s fullest, building bigger, faster muscles. It’s like a building; the bigger and stronger the base, the bigger and heavier the structure above can be. If you have a weak base you can’t build very much.
The more base work you do aerobically in the presence of oxygen, the more efficient you are. Base training promotes aerobic improvements that produce muscular adaptations to improve oxygen transport to the muscles. Additionally, it improves the rate of lactate removal and increases energy production and utilization. These types of adaptations occur slowly over time.
Conversation is Key
Cyclist generally agree on a simple principal to define base training: If you can carry on a conversation while riding, you’re riding at an acceptable base-training level. If you need to take a breather from talking when riding you’re riding too hard. Back off.
Heart Rate Monitor
Wearing a heart rate monitor is a more scientific approach to base training. Put one on and warm up for about twenty minutes at a moderate pace before consulting your monitor. The Sally Edwards Zone model is widely accepted among cyclists. It recommends cycling at between 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate for optimum base training.
Pulse by Hand
If you’d rather not use a heart rate monitor, or don’t have access to one, you can do it by hand with a thumb or finger on an accessible vein somewhere on your body. Check your pulse rate by counting the beats in a set period of time — at least 15 to 20 seconds — and multiplying that number to get the number of beats per minute. That might be tricky to do when cycling, but you get the rough idea.
The equation breaks down like this: Say your maximum heart rate is about 190bpm (beats per minute). 114 beats per minute equals 60 percent of your maximum heart rate. Riding at and around this pace is at the low end of your endurance zone and is perfect for base training.
Glycogen and Carbs
Riding at this intensity means you stay active without becoming fatigued. It teaches your body to burn fat instead of glycogen. Glycogen is how your body stores carbohydrates in your muscles,but glycogen is somewhat limited, even when fully topped off it will only last for between 30-90 minutes if you’re cycling at high intensity. Cycling for extended periods requires your body to use fat as an energy source. However, in order to burn fat, your body needs at least some carbohydrates so it’s important to keep eating on a base ride.
Winter base training is zone one to zone two, recovery and endurance pace. When warmer weather arrives, you can up it to zone three which is the tempo zone when you work on holding a consistent high pace. Zone four is threshold training — finding your limits. Zone five is V02, and getting more demanding. It’s intensity that you can hold for three to eight minutes. Training in zone five is very fatiguing and typically burns your legs. Zone six, the anarobic, and zone seven, the neromuscular zone, you are reaching your limits, breaking down muscles to build them bigger.
Indoor Versus Outdoor
The majority of cyclists, if not all, love riding bikes outside, but that’s not always possible. Indoor trainers are inherently boring, but once you’ve committed yourself to the indoor trainer and doing some time on it, you’re already half way there and have beaten the stigma of boredom, hopefully.
Indoor Base Training Advantages
Base training on an indoor trainer can provide the benefits, and with the right frame of mind, can even be enjoyable, since there are no real distractions. No cars, no wind, no hills, no dogs; all of the things that can get in the way of a focused base training session. Another advantage: hours of steady riding can be punctuated occasionally with short bursts or intervals of harder efforts that can be difficult wtih ice, snow, or inclement weather. But don’t overdo it with intervals, remember, it’s all about the base.