Learn how to grow your base fitness to keep going stronger for longer.
Base-phase training is about increasing your endurance, thereby improving your cardiovascular system. A typical base-phase training session would involve riding for two or more hours at a steady pace (zone 2/Endurance).
This type of training will result in increased capillary and mitochondria growth, enabling more oxygen to travel to working muscles. While endurance training may not directly make you faster, it will prepare the body for the demands of high intensity training and racing later in the season.
While the professional riders may have enough hours in the day to clock up time in the saddle and build a strong base, most of us are much more limited for time. Mainly I find that the athletes I coach can manage to fit one longer ride in each week which is a great start! Generally I would recommend increasing the duration of this longer ride gradually throughout the 8-12 week base phase, from around two hours up to five hours. This of course depends a lot on the age of the athlete and the style of event they are training for.
SUB-THRESHOLD OR “SWEET SPOT” TRAINING
So, what to do with the precious few remaining training hours you may have? Generally, during the week, working athletes will have around one to two hours to fit a quick training ride in each day. While training in zone 2 for longer time periods will improve cardiovascular fitness, training for shorter periods of time in this zone will have very little benefit. Instead I would recommend including intervals at sub-threshold pace. Sub-threshold zone training is commonly referred to as ‘Sweet Spot’ training.
According to internationally renowned exercise physiologist, Andrew Coggan, your ‘sweet spot’ occurs at 88 to 94 per cent of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP), or roughly 95 percent of your Threshold Heart Rate (THR). Including intervals at 100% FTP is one sure way to help lift your Threshold Power; but such training is very taxing on the body and therefore needs to be limited in duration and frequency. Dropping the intensity of the intervals to be within that sweet spot range will mean your body copes far better and therefore you can include more intervals. I recommend including at least six weeks of sub-threshold zone training prior to riding at and above threshold intensity.
EXAMPLE: BASE PHASE TRAINING WEEK
Below is an example of a typical base-phase week of training. I have structured in two sub-threshold/‘sweet spot’ sessions, an unstructured bunch ride and a longer endurance ride. In between these specific training sessions I would recommend one or two cross training sessions (core/functional strength, swim, jog etc.) and at least one day totally
Monday: Cross Train
Tuesday: “Sweet-Spot” Hills Session
Wednesday: Rest Day
Thursday: Unstructured bunch ride
Friday: Cross Train
Saturday: “Sweet-Spot” MTB Session
Sunday: Long Endurance Ride
‘SWEET-SPOT’ HILL INTERVALS SESSION
Here is an example of a great quality hills session that targets your ‘sweet-spot’:
10min Low Intensity
1 x 5min @ 100% FTP or THR
5min Low Intensity
4 x 10min hill climbs @ 88-94% FTP or 95% THR *
Ride easy for 5-7min in b/w these intervals (roll down the hill)
10min Low Intensity
*Alternatively, 2 x 20min hill climbs works well if you have a climb long enough
You can progress this session by adding in time to each interval. For example, week 2 include 4 x 11min hill climbs.
UN-STRUCTURED BUNCH RIDE
It’s always good to throw an un-structured bunch ride into your week. By riding with others, you will naturally mix up the intensity and get a good work-out!
‘SWEET SPOT’ MTB INTERVALS SESSION
Here is an example of a session you can do out on the trails, targeting that sub-threshold intensity level (AKA ‘sweet-spot’). Use a variety of terrain for this session.
15-20min Low Intensity
2min Tempo Pace
1min Threshold pace
1min Low Intensity]
X 2 sets
5min Low Intensity
3 x 15min @ 88-94% FTP or 95% THR *
Ride easy for 5-7min in b/w these intervals
15-30min Low Intensity
*Obviously your power and heart rate will shift up and down a lot due to the variable terrain. The aim is for norm power and average heart rate to be within these ranges.
You can progress this session by adding in time to each interval. For example, week 2 include 3 x 17min intervals.
LONG ENDURANCE RIDE
Hopefully you will have time to include one longer endurance paced ride each week. I recommend starting with two hours in zone 2, and increasing this endurance ride by around 20-30min each week. Of course it is important to include some recovery weeks along the way, with decreased volume. Here is an example of how you can progress this endurance ride over an eight-week period:
Week 1 – 2hrs
Week 2 – 2.5hrs
Week 3 – 3hrs
Week 4 – 2hrs (recovery week)
Week 5 – 3hrs
Week 6 – 3.5hrs
Week 7 – 4hrs
Week 8 – 2.5hrs (recovery week)