You can build a strong aerobic base, in a time-efficient and effective manner, with a structured base training plan. Here’s why base training and aerobic fitness are essential for every cyclist and how you can make sure you’re building your base properly for the season and goals that you have.

What is Base Training?

The start of a new season means the start of base training. Base training is an important part of every cyclist’s training because it establishes your foundational fitness, endurance, and aerobic capabilities.

Base training is typically completed within the Base Phase. The base phase is made up of endurance-based workouts and sustained efforts designed to build your muscular endurance and grow your aerobic energy system. Building your aerobic fitness at the start of your season doesn’t just create a strong foundation; it also sets you up for harder and more intense workouts later on.

Cycling base training typically takes between six and twelve weeks and starts at the very beginning of a training season—well before racing begins. Because base training builds the endurance and fitness necessary for the subsequent phases of training, it’s a vital part of your training progression.

Why Building an Aerobic Base is Important for Cyclists

Cycling is an endurance-based sport. Even athletes who identify as sprinters or prefer short distanced events are reliant on their endurance capabilities. The aerobic energy system is the primary source of energy during any type of sustained effort, which is why the base training is primarily concerned with building the aerobic base.

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Further, the specialized fitness that you’ll work on closer to your primary event or goal is dependent on the aerobic fitness you build at the start of the season. Introducing specialized intensity before building your base fitness can result in a plateau in fitness or a premature peak. But building a strong foundation before you build your event-specific power will allow you to reach an even higher peak and at just the right time.

How to Build Your Aerobic Base

To build your aerobic base, you’ll need to complete a structured training plan with workouts specifically targeted towards challenging your aerobic energy system. Properly structured base training will have endurance-based workouts designed to gradually challenge your aerobic abilities and progressively increase your ability to hold sustained power. 

To achieve these goals TrainerRoad offers two different base phases for cyclists: Sweet spot base and Traditional Base. Which base phase you should choose will largely depend on the time that you have available to train and your experience with base training. Here’s the main difference between the two training phases and how to know which one is right for you. 

Sweet Spot Base Training for Cyclists

The sweet spot base training plan is the base plan we recommend to the majority of athletes. Sweet spot training uses workouts that target the sweet spot training zone to train your aerobic system. The sweet spot zone, as the name implies, is a power sweet spot between tempo and threshold. Athletes can sustain sweet spot power for prolonged periods of time with greater productivity then they would in tempo, and less incurred fatigue then they would in threshold while still actively challenging their aerobic fitness. It essentially allows athletes to efficiently target their aerobic system in less time.

Targeting the sweet spot zone, instead of the endurance zone, offers a more time-efficient way to target the aerobic energy system without taxing the legs too much as threshold work does. Or taxing your daily schedule like traditional base training does. Sweet spot is the most efficient way to train the aerobic energy system, making it the ideal approach to base for most athletes.

Carson is an example of a typical sweet spot workout found in sweet spot base.

Traditional Base Training for Cyclists

Traditional base takes the conventional approach to base training—low intensity for long hours. Our traditional base training plan consists of workouts between 90 and 180 minutes with intervals, primarily in the endurance and tempo zone. These workouts are longer than the sweet spot base workouts, and at a lower intensity and ultimately require a significant time commitment (upwards of 20 hours a week).

We generally only recommend the traditional base phase to a small sub set of athletes. In particular, athletes who have a lot of time they can and want to dedicate to training. If you don’t have ten plus hours to commit to training each week, you’ll get much more out of the sweet spot approach.  

Koip is an example of a typical endurance workout found in the traditional base plan.

How to Plan Your Base Training

With this information in mind, you can begin planning your base training. Planning out your season is easy to do. All you need is your schedule and your goal events. Or if you’re not racing, your training goals. With this information, you can use Plan Builder to plan your base training plan.

Where to Start

The best part about base training is that you need absolutely no prior fitness or established strength to get started and be productive. You can begin base training at any time with any level of fitness. With that being said, if you have upcoming goals, you’ll want to plan your base training ahead of time to make sure you get everything done in time to peak for your event.

Because it takes between two to three months to complete a base training plan and four more months to complete Build and Specialty, if possible, you’ll want to start base training seven months before your priority event. With that said, if you have more or less than seven months to train, it’s no problem. Plan Builder will add or subtract weeks of training to your plan to fit everything in, and base training is likely to be included in that progression regardless of the time frame you have.  

If you don’t have any events on your calendar and you’re training just to get faster, you can start base training whenever you reach a natural starting point. After the off-season, vacation, or time off can be a good time to jump into base training. With that said, if you have any tangible goals, like a particular ride you want to achieve, and you want to tie it to a date, consider starting to build your aerobic base well in advance of those goals. So you can complete an entire base, build, and specialty progression.

Base Training Plan Example

Use Plan Builder to make scheduling and planning as easy as possible. Just enter your goal events, your availability to train, and your current experience with interval training. When all is said and done, you’ll have your base training all laid out and a training plan that will look something like this:

This is a winter cycling training plan
Plan Builder training plan with a Sweet Spot Base phase at the beginning.

Photo by Nick Wilson @_nickwilsonphoto and modeling by Calvin Smith @seesmith

For more cycling training knowledge, listen to Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.

Getting Faster with TrainerRoad

Ready to get faster? Driven by science and data, TrainerRoad provides the training, planning, and analysis tools you need to become a faster cyclist with a focused and straightforward system. Create a custom training plan with Plan Builder, complete workouts indoors, outside, or with friends, and prove that your training is working with post-ride analysis tools. You can be confident that you will become a faster cyclist, and over 1,500 stories from TrainerRoad athletes prove it. Try TrainerRoad with a 30-day, money-back guarantee.

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Meghan Kelley

Meghan Kelley is a writer, XC MTB racer and all around fan of trails, rocks, dirt and the desert. Her years spent racing XC and working at TrainerRoad has translated to a passion for all things cycling.