Base Training vs. High Intensity: Part 2

base training vs. high intensity

Base Training vs. High Intensity: Train to Train

Welcome to Part 2 of my series on Base Training vs. High Intensity Training.  In today’s post we will be looking at traditional base training, what it is and how its done.

According to Joe Friel, the base period is when you train to train.  By slowly building a platform for fitness throughout the base period, you are preparing your body for greater stresses that follow in the later phases of training.  During the base period you train to train, not train to race.

Traditional base building has been the method of choice for professional cyclists for over a century.  For as long as there has been bike racing you have heard stories of top racers training by going on epic, day long rides.  But just because its been around for a long time and the pros do it doesn’t mean its the best option.  Like doping.  Or racism.

During the base period, long, steady rides cause changes in how the body uses oxygen and burns fat, making it more efficient.  Traditional base training has been shown to increase the number of capillaries (little blood vessels that carry blood to your muscles), increase the number and size of mitochondria (the cell’s power plant), and causes the body to produce more of the enzymes that turn fat into energy.

By building a strong aerobic base, you enable your body to better handle the stresses of more intense training and racing during the season.

How Its Done

Base training is simple.  All you need to do is long, steady rides while keeping your heart rate in Zone 1 or 2.  Simple, right?

Its important to keep a steady pace, so no cheating by coasting.  Keep those pedals turning.  Its also a good idea to stay to the flats, keep away from hills where more effort is required (and you can coast on the descents).  But if you must climb some hills, stay in the saddle to work on hip flexor strength.

A few weeks of that will build a nice, big aerobic engine.

A good base phase would be about 12 weeks.  Divide that 12 week period into 3, 4-week cycles with increasing hours each week and every fourth week being for recovery in order to prevent overuse injuries, illness, burnout, and over training.

Its also good practice to focus on the amount of time spent riding rather than distance rode.  So set yourself time goals for each week.


Now, I can hear you saying: “I see the pros going out for 6 hour rides, I don’t have time for that!”

Yes, the pros will go for 6+ hour rides, but luckily you are not a pro.  You don’t need the same workload as them to get the same benefits.

When talking about long, steady rides, long is a relative term.  Your ride can be anywhere from 90 minutes (or 1 hour on the trainer) to multiple hours.  Two hours is a good amount of time to aim for but a novice rider could do less than that.

But as you progress as a cyclist and get more miles into your legs, you will have to increase the length of rides in order to generate enough workload to produce the desired affects.

I can also hear you saying: “Long, steady rides are booooooring.  I want to go smash it with my mates!”

Interval training can be a lot more interesting than steady rides, especially on a trainer.  But high intensity workouts can be very taxing, both mentally and physically.  Long, steady rides can be an escape from structured training and a throw back to the joys of just riding your bike.

In Part 3 of Base Training vs. High Intensity Training, we will take a look at the argument for high intensity training as an adequate substitute for traditional base training.  There is a lot more exciting and interesting arguments for that one so you are in for a real treat.

Base Training vs. High Intensity Training: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

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