Cycling Training for Beginners - The Why, What and How to Train for performance

Hello All!

Many of you are new to structured training. If you haven’t seen this post yet, I highly recommend reading it. My goal in preparing this guide was to summarize the most important things riders need to know and consider when starting cycling training. It explains a lot of concepts from the most relevant cycling research/books in a way that is practical and understandable.

Pay close attention to the Recovery section and Group Rides/Races section. Happy to answer any questions you may have!


I think that i would add “fear of missing out” (AKA #FOMO) as a way to sabotage recovery rides-especially on Zwift where there is always something going on. I had to rearrange my recovery days as I rode too hard yesterday on Zwift but had superfun today on a recovery outdoor gravel ride and met my favorite local bike store Trek guys at an event on my trail. I got to try an electric bike! Wow (fun but no plans to buy one soon). My local gravel trail is the perfect place for a recovery “turtle pace” ride outdoors.


Yes! So true about FOMO!!

This is a great topic and fits perfectly with the question that has been rolling around in my brain for the past few days. I did read the entire article above about the benefits of structured training, but here’s the situation I’ve found myself in:

There is a group ride that I love to do on Wednesday nights with my friends. It’s basically a “rip your legs off” ride- 30 miles as hard as you can go. I get dropped averaging 18+ mph. The group usually averages closer to 20mph. 2 of my girlfriends have about the same speed/strength/experience as me and have been doing this ride every week for about 4 weeks along with our usual weekend rides. They can now keep up with the group most of the time. I’ve been focusing on more structured training, joining this group occasionally (2 or 3 times), doing the same weekend rides, and feeling like I’m getting stronger and using my power more effectively, but I’m still getting dropped on Wednesday nights.

I’m really enjoying all of this coaching and information, and this is not my first go-round with structured training. I’ve completed all 3 years of Zwift Academy. But sometimes I feel like I gain more strength and speed across the board by joining “rip your legs off” rides regularly, than by doing structured training. Why is that?

Great article! Definitely agree with Mary that on zwift they make the FOMO real.

Question I’ve been mulling for awhile I’d like thoughts on, what do you do if you also teach a spin class 2x a week? I never really feel like I’m “recovering” during the class, but I’m certainly not going all out during it like I would for my own workouts, so I try to get some cycling in on the days of the week I’m not teaching, as well as weekends. Since I picked up the class I’ve been riding 6 days a week, which is definitely starting to take a toll. Any advice on how to approach this? Do you really back off while teaching? Teach a workout you need to do? Any thoughts would be awesome, thanks!

Hi Stacy,

Lots to consider here. I will ask a few questions to shed some more light.

  1. If you do the Wednesday night ride, weekend rides, and training (workouts), how many hours are you riding a week and how many days, on average?
  2. You said you are not new to training. Have you done any other training outside of ZA workouts? Those only account for 2 or so months out of 12. In addition, ZA is a talent ID program, not a training program. The workouts are designed to bring out the strengths and weaknesses of participants- you could say they are more like tests, not a training plan with a progression.
  3. The “ripping your legs off” ride can be fun. Is your objective to be able to hang with the group? If so, yes, showing up to the rides sure help, because you learn the group dynamics (where people accelerate, hammer, slow down, etc), learn about the other riders and which wheels to follow or not follow (who pulls a lot, who pulls a little, who is the strongest, etc.), learn bike handling and positioning. So as you can see, it’s not all about power. There is a lot more to it. Check out this post: Fast Group Rides - how to hang on
  4. What is the style of the Wednesday ride? Is it race-like or is it “organized” (pacelines, single file, two by two etc.)?

One thing to keep in mind is… our bodies are unique, and things are not always simple. Cycling training is a lot like nutrition, in that everyone reacts differently to different regimes. But most importantly, not everything is what it looks. Once you start digging deeper, you often find that the rides/training/schedule, etc. of what we think people do is not what they actually do. So please do not compare your progression with your friends’.

Having said that, simply “training” isn’t the same as “effective training”. Also, you must consider your objectives. Why do you train? What do you want to accomplish?

Lastly, a word of caution: “all out”, “rip your legs off” rides take a tool, have a physical cost, and doing too many of them will interfere with the quality of training sessions. But again, it depends on what your goals are…

My own experience

I used to love group rides when I first started, then I started hating them. I was strong but couldn’t hang on. I suffered too much with the group surges, with the hill hammering, with the cross winds. So much so that I did not do group rides for a while (over a year, maybe two). During all that time I was doing structured training, by the way.

Then I changed coaches, and changed my training completely. My training became (and still is) so much aligned with real-life scenarios that it sparked my interest to race IRL and do group rides again. I found good groups (safe, strong and experienced riders) to ride with, and now I am able to hang on no problem at speeds as high as 25-30 mph. The difference is night and day and I am so much more confident. So for me, just doing the rides wasn’t enough. I needed the right training.

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That’s a toughie, @cjhanson! I would start by asking- What’s the purpose of teaching the spin classes- is it part of a full-time job in fitness? Is it a side thing? What about cycling- what does that represent in your life?

The fact is, these spin classes are interfering with the quality of your workouts. They add fatigue without adding training adaptations that will help you on the bike.

Options are:

  • Take down the intensity as much as possible on the spin class and do them on the same day as a bike workout (but AFTER the bike workout) if your schedule allows. That will give you full rest days (completely off).
  • Try to incorporate your own intervals into the class, but from experience that can get very tricky…
  • Ride less and make your bike rides count (avoid rides without a clear purpose).

For over a year I was leading workouts in Zwift and for 2 years also Zwift Academy ride/workouts. I eventually stopped all of them because they were interfering negatively with my training, and I was getting no return on investment for the time I dedicated to them.

Some good questions and things to think about.

  1. I’d say I’m riding an average of 4-5 days a week, and between 5-7 hours a week. Anywhere between 40-80+ miles 1-2 weekend days, then 1-3 short to medium (an hour up to to the 30 mile ride) during the week. Summer has come to Phoenix so I will be doing fewer outdoor rides due to the heat. :frowning:
  2. I guess I couldn’t say I’ve followed training programs other than ZA. I’ve done a variety of FTP-based workouts and interval workouts along with lots of group riding.
  3. The majority of the outdoor riding that I do is various speeds of group rides, or individual climbing rides with friends.
  4. The Wednesday ride is an organized group ride with a few of the strongest riders pulling and everyone else hanging on. Not so much race-like.

As for goals, I guess I have two. One is to finish a double century. The other is to be able to hang on with the group rides that I want to do. I’m not sure what some other goals might be- I like to ride to hang out with friends and to do long miles. I ride because I enjoy it and it’s good for my mental health. :slight_smile: I have zero interest in any kind of racing, either IRL or on zwift. I have some bucket list sportives that I’d like to do.

Stacy, to achieve your two goals, you will need a good balance between hard sessions, endurance rides and recovery. If I had access to your history, I’d be looking at the types of workouts you had been doing (to see if they support your objectives), how you arrange the workouts and rides on a weekly basis, their intensity and duration, how much recovery you get and when. Then I’d look at the same things on a monthly basis to see how your weeks stack up.

One of the most important things in improving performance is consistency, and that is best achieved by a good work load/stress/recovery balance so that you are able to keep going with little interruption due to illness, fatigue or overtraining.

Also, a common mistake I see on people’s schedules is not having separation between hard and easy- most people go moderately hard all the time (tempo anyone?). The key is to make the hard sessions hard and the easy ones, easy, then layer in the skills. There is plenty of room for group rides, but group rides are either SOCIAL or EXECUTION, not training.

More specifically to your two goals- on the group rides you want to be able to hang on- again, without looking at your history I am speculating- but my guess is you need to work more on your zones above threshold and the capacity to surge and recover at a pace that keeps your momentum and speed. On the double-century, you could do it without structured training, but training can make you go faster and feel better during the event.