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  • Writer's pictureDavid Wadsworth

Base Training Starts Now!

Updated: Mar 19

If you’re looking to perform this road season, you need to be thinking about setting up your season now.  “But it doesn’t start till the end of April!”.  I know…. But

developing a big engine to win races takes months, not a few weeks, so now is the perfect time to get going.


Base training is usually associated with riding lots of long slow distance miles.  This may not appeal to everyone… “I really want to smash out some hard efforts!” would be the other extreme.  There are some significant issues with working at high intensity year-round, including burn-out, over-training, and failure to improve after that initial performance jump which occurs in the first few weeks. 

Base work doesn’t have to be only simple slow riding, but neither should it be a complete smash-fest. 

A complete lack of structure and progression won’t optimise development of this key attribute, so a considered approach is needed.


Base training has a clear purpose that is critical to performance 

It is the time of the season where aerobic power is developed.  Also thought of as “engine size” or in scientific circles “oxidative power”, it is the key physiological attribute underpinning success in all endurance sports

Aerobic power means the ability to produce energy by burning fat and carbohydrate using oxygen.  Aerobic energy production occurs only in the mitochondria of your muscle cells and produces more energy per gram than the glycolytic (anaerobic) system.  It requires a good set of lungs to extract oxygen, a powerful heart to pump blood to the muscles, a lot of capillaries to get the oxygen rich blood to the muscle cells, and lots of very efficient well-developed mitochondria to make the energy.  Developing aerobic power means improving all these aspects to become a fitter faster better rider.


How can you develop aerobic power? 

Like everything, there’s more than one method and which I use to develop an athlete depends on factors like:

  • How fit you are currently?

  • What’s your training history?

  • What are your goals?

  • How much time per week do you have to train & recover from training?

  • What type of base training is your unique physiology best suited to?


Why develop the aerobic system now?  What are the benefits?

  • Foundations first approach – your aerobic engine is the foundation of endurance success.  A big engine is required to tolerate the high intensity efforts and racing once the season gets going.  Jumping straight into high intensity glycolytic work is analogous to building a house without a foundation – it won’t stand up for long!

  • Aerobic training works.  It gets you fitter, which means you can ride at a lower heart rate and lower lactate level for any given power output.

  • Push big power all day long: To finish a long hard race in the front group requires excellent aerobic power.  It is the key to developing fatigue resistance or put another way, aerobic power underpins the ability to ride big power all day long and still have something left to take the win.

  • Improved fat combustion & carbohydrate sparing: Aerobic fitness means your muscles are better at burning fat for fuel (which has the advantages of producing more of energy per gram than any other fuel and an essentially unlimited supply for exercise meaning it does not run out at the end of a race).  This in turn spares carbohydrates (which the body has a limited store of) for when you really need them to win.  Aa a result aerobically fitter athletes are far more likely to be there for the winning move as they are fitter and have more glycogen left to launch the winning attack.

  • Better lactate consumption & faster recovery from efforts: A well-developed oxidative system can burn more lactate and help you recover much faster from hard efforts in races.  Riders who can repeat hard efforts again and again are more likely to win.  We all know what a hard effort “in the red zone” feels like – you must pedal slower to recover for some minutes before you can push the pedals hard again.  Riders who can make lots of lactate (which implies a strong glycolytic system) but who lack aerobic power cannot recover from repeated efforts nearly as well and run a greater risk of being dropped from the lead group.


A key reason that we seek to develop aerobic power right now is that aerobic development takes time, and lots of it. 

Measurable improvement takes at least 6 weeks, and most physiologists recommend 12 weeks of training to optimise this energy system.  It is this system which has the potential to get better every year, so spending time developing it is essential. 


Key things to consider in building aerobic capacity:

  • Consistency

  • Appropriate intensity – not too hard, not too easy

  • Appropriate volume: not too much, not too little

  • Appropriate frequency – we know that additional training days, even simple recovery rides, improves your fitness more than doing nothing


David has several spots on his roster for dedicated cyclists now.  As a coach he can work out how much aerobic base training you require, what type, and for how long.  He can create a bespoke training plan to optimise your development and can advise on what options you have to build base if your weekly time is limited.  Building your engine without excess fatigue or destroying yourself is critical.  Get in touch now if you want some expert advice.


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