TR Guidance: how to choose between BASE and BUILD?

For reference, I am a “newborn” cyclist (age 47, weight 98kg, started cycling 8 months ago for fitness, best ride 35 miles @ 16 mph). It’s sometimes hard to use TR because it relies heavily on things I’ve never heard of, or asks me to make choices where I not only can’t choose wisely, I don’t even understand the options!

Here’s my latest conundrum: how do I know when I’m “ready” for a BUILD phase?

I’ve done some SSB training since August, roughly 150 to 250 weekly TSS, but haven’t really been able to follow a plan. Now I’ve signed up for a fundraiser ride on Feb. 29, and I need to ride 52 miles in three hours (~17.3 mph) to make my goals. I’ve also raised nearly $3,000 for the Dolphins Cancer Challenge by betting people I can make that speed, so I gotta deliver. :smile:

I’m ready to commit to mid-volume, roughly 450 weekly TSS until my “race” day. I’ll have exactly 10 weeks from Training Day 1 to Race Day. And I’ve made some progress: FTP is UP from 140W to 180W, and weight is DOWN from 105kg to 98kg. But what will help me improve the fastest now: BASE or BUILD?

@Chad, how does a beginner like me make that choice? Thanks for any advice you can give.

P.S. Just a thought: it might help user retention, and/or might help bring in more users, if TR can make these kind of choices and learning “issues” a little easier for users. Maybe some descriptive, to-the-point videos explaining concepts like “when to base vs build” or “different race types”? Maybe letting users buy one-hour individual coaching sessions, or a premium annual plan with one coaching hour per month, to help users figure out their path and make better decisions, therefore better progress? Just thinking this might make TR an even better value proposition. FWIW, I’d sign up.

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You tagged me, but I suspect you meant to tag Coach Chad Timmerman? If so, he’s @ Chad (without the space, I just don’t want to tag him unnecessarily). I am not a TrainerRoad employee, but I help moderation on the forum.

To your basic suggestion and questions, TR has a number of resources for learning and using their app.

My primary source is the main support center.
https://support.trainerroad.com/hc/en-us
I use the search there to find answers to many questions.

Lots of training questions are covered here.
https://support.trainerroad.com/hc/en-us/categories/200097620-Training-Questions

They also have the blog that can be searched too.

When you are active on a TR plan, you can use the new Plan Builder to setup training with events in mind.

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My thanks and my apologies, Mr. McNeese. I did mean to tag Coach Chad Timmerman, as I think it’s not just a “what do I do” question but “how does this kind of question help TR grow and better serve its userbase” question. I’ve edited the OP accordingly.

Also thanks for all of your suggestions; I appreciate the effort. I’m a big believer in RTFM and I’ve spent a bunch of hours on the TR Youtube channel, watching the podcast, and searching the support pages, the blog, and the forum. That’s why I think many beginners would just chuck it and use something else if they got as lost as I currently feel… I’m more stubborn than most!

But despite my efforts, I still not only don’t know enough to make that choice well for myself, I’m not really even sure how to learn how to make that choice. :grimacing: Hence my forum post, as I’m fresh out of ideas.

If I had to guess at my own training plan, I’d do this:

  • 4 weeks of sustained power build
  • 1 recovery week
  • 4 weeks of sustained power build
  • 1 recovery/taper week, and my fundraiser ride is the Saturday of that week

But I’m still not at all sure of whether I’d get the best training benefit from BUILD, or BASE, and why.

Anyway, thanks again for your input.

I think the answer to your question might depend on whether you have “done some base training” or you have completed the TR Base Training phase. The plans go up in intensity from base to build and each builds on the previous one. So if you have essentially completed Base then go to build. If not start Base and complete it, then go to build

For those with multiple years of structured training under their belt, Build could be the better choice. However, if you are relatively new to training with structure, then Base will be the better way to spend your available training time.

The logic in the new plan builder reflects this logic as well, so it’s as easy as entering your events, answering a few questions, and we’ll do the rest :+1:.

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How far out are you? 10 week? If you have a decent base, SSB1 and a Sustained Power Build leading up to your event. SSB is great for a Fondo type event.
And co trays in your fundraising.

Hey cannon. Welcome!

To me it sounds like you’ve done some good base training and have some good fitness, but I still think going into build would be tough.

Having said that, what I might recommend is jump into SSB II for six weeks and then see how you’re going. From there you could drop in 4 weeks of a build (General Build, maybe) or possibly drop in 4 weeks from the sportive or rolling road race specialty.

SSB II has some good VO2 work to help your top end, but still gives you plenty of muscular endurance work to build out your aerobic systems.

Finally, it’s awesome you have the time to commit to MV, but maybe start with low volume and supplement for the first few weeks. If all still good and you’re nailing every workout, move to MV.

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OK… so I still don’t know why Base is better than Build in my situation, and I’d really like to know. But I thank each of you for chiming in, and I’m hearing a very clear consensus that I should start with Base. So, knowing that the Plan Builder looks like a great tool but is still beta, and that I might miss any problems, here’s what it’s telling me:

  • 2 weeks SSB2
  • 1 week recovery
  • 3 weeks Build
  • 1 week recovery
  • 2 weeks Century
  • 1 week taper/recovery, with “race day” on that Saturday
  • 1 week recovery

Based on your advice that I should start with Base, does this look just right, or is there a little too much recovery in there?

I hear you. I’ve tried that, actually, and for me it works the opposite way. Between work, business travel, and the family, what ends up happening is that some workouts get canceled: so instead of LV 3/week, I’m getting one or two. I’d rather schedule 5/week for MV, knowing I’m likely to miss one a week, two at worst. I have more of a scheduling problem than a muscle problem. But thanks for the recommendation, it’s a good point.

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You are still creating the base in your legs. Years and years of training will create a solid foundation upon which to build.

Think of it this way. Doing base, you will put the foundation down for a house. Those with years of the sport in our legs have a pretty solid foundation for the house. Going to build too early will have you create a house on not as solid of a foundation – so when things get tough, the house can shake easier and have bad things happen to it. (Imagine a house on sand – walls are there, but underneath does not really support them).

So by focusing on base, you may have weaker walls, but they are more likely to survive the shaky test.

Those that have spent years creating the foundation can spend time creating stronger walls so it is harder to create that shaky environment.

I am short on time, but I hope this makes sense.

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Yes, it makes sense. Thanks.

In the general view, I think it would be good for TR to create some videos, tutorials or docs to help newbies understand these things (and others), because some people will dig until they’re satisfied but others will just assume “this is too pro for me” and go to Zwift. And I’d like to see TR do as well as possible.

As far as my specific needs are concerned, I’d like to know more about WHY and HOW Base and Build are different from each other… I’m just curious that way. But for now, I’ll go with the Base --> Build --> Century progression as recommended.

My only remaining task is to vet that Plan Builder gave me good advice according to @Bryce. As long what Plan Builder gave me is good, I’m off to the races.

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I have some good news for you :slight_smile:

These can be found in the TrainerRoad Help Center under Training Questions. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, so feel free to poke around :+1:.

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Thanks, Bryce. I’d seen those a couple of months ago, but some of the content didn’t fully register because, even though I don’t know much right now, I knew even less back then. :smile:

I think I get it now. Thanks. :+1:t2:

I’m not convinced that’s the right approach. Often Mid Volume means doing the 3 specific workouts from Low Volume (a VO2 one, a Threshold one and a sweetspot one), and then adding some extra lower intensity stuff to bulk up the volume. If your scheduling problems mean that you end up missing the main workouts and just doing the filler, you won’t be getting the intended adaptations from the plan. The calendar is your friend here - it means that you can put the LV version in and then move the workouts around to fit with your schedule.

In terms of the plan, forget the speciality ones - they are for fine tuning and you don’t have time for that. The way I think of it is that Base will allow you to go for longer, Build will allow you to go harder. So if you think that you’re going to struggle to finish, definitely stick to Base - you will improve your endurance better that way. Given you are starting with a bit of base already, if you wanted to go with this then I’d skip the first couple of weeks of SSB1 (do the RAMP test though) and then follow the plan so you are done in 10 weeks. If you decided that faster is the key and you have enough endurance, I’d go with the first week of SSB2, a down week, and then Sustained Power Build. That’s hard, but it will mean you can put out sustained power for a while (eg if you have some big climbs on your route).

Good luck.

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You might get some more specific recommendations from other users if you make your TR data public.

My $0.02, based on your description, I think this is a classic case for completing as much of SSB 1/2 with min 3-day/week compliance as you can. Being this new, you’ll get a ton out of it. Longest ride of 35 miles in this case suggests lots of room to just build longer endurance with solid structured SS efforts - assuming you don’t want to go ride ridiculous amounts of time in Z2 outside or indoors this time of year.

I would wager full compliance to do mid volume SSB2 5-days/week could totally destroy you at this stage - it pretty much killed me first time even after thousands of miles and a couple years of riding and no kids / easy life management. Most say do LV and add when you can the first time through.

If you think it’s not “advanced” enough or won’t challenge you because it’s called base, I’d say spend a couple days attempting a pair of the easier SSB2 saturday and sunday workouts (on two consecutive days) like Kaweah and Geiger + 2 and see what you think. These are not at all the hardest you’d encounter in the plan - but will give you an idea of whether you really have a solid base.

Assuming that pair feels really hard, then look forward to completing SSB1/2 and possibly making it through a lot of the tough SSB2 workouts more comfortably before your target ride - and imagine how much that improvement will help you cruise at say a mere 75% of your FTP for 3 hours and set PRs all over the place. If you can crank a couple days at 85+% for 90 mins/day, you can start seriously thinking about 75% for 3 hours.

On the other hand, if you breeze through them, maybe re-test FTP to make sure it’s still correct, and only then consider build. It would be a surprise to find some of those longer SSB2 workouts are too easy or unproductive at this stage in your cycling career.

Once you complete a full SSB 1-2 cycle on schedule with good compliance, even on low volume, you’ll be at the point you can just go out and do 50-75 miles at a solid non-race pace without even thinking about it - which is basically your goal here.

Can’t see any point to specialty here and I’d almost look at it as an early beta bug for feedback if plan builder was putting that in.

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As someone else said - Base will allow you to finish - that is the key thing really so that is what I would chose.
Note you have been doing 200-250 TSS a week and you are now upping it to 450+ a week. That is quite a lot of work and you will feel much more tired than you have done previously.

You will also need to get outside at least once a week for 90 mins or more if the weather is suitable.

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This is a very important observation. A big jump in TSS requires, especially over a period of weeks, would cause me to focus on getting lots of rest and good fueling. This might be even more important for the middle-aged TR user (IMHO).

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I agree with this fully. Do as much of The actual SSB1+2 plan as you can, aim for full compliance in LV. That should get you plenty fit. If you have more time, add as much of SPB as possible and 1-2 weeks taper.

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I’m not saying this is true for you, but I think MANY new riders choose not to do Low Volume because “low” is a bad word. They also don’t want to do Base because it sounds below them. (Personally, I am guilty as charged)

My advice. Trust the system. Many of us would benefit from just doing the Low Volume versions of Base, Build, Base, Build, Base, Build over and over and sticking to the plan, being as close to 100% complaint as possible. Trying to do too much too fast is far worse than doing a bit too little. You’ll very likely end up overtrained, burnt out, injured, or sick, or as others mentioned, skipping all the workouts where the “magic happens”.

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First, thank you to everyone for the thoughtful advice. I’ll try to respond briefly but fully:

  1. I’ve made my TR data public in case that’s useful. No shame in being a novice.

  2. I wasn’t being arrogant about Base being too little challenge, I was pushing too hard from fear of failure. Part of the “maybe I should move to build” thinking came from just recently completing a two-hour ride at 90% of my FTP, in two one-hour legs with a 10-minute rest stop (my “I feel better now” ride), which sounded to me like there’s a “base” there on which to “build”. But I have only 6-7 months of training behind me, not years; and I need to add mostly endurance, not speed; so I’ll stick to Base as suggested.

  3. I’ve redone my plan, and it’s now essentially a full MV SSB: 4 weeks SSB1, recovery week, 4 weeks SSB2, taper week ending with my fundraiser. Weekly TSS starts at 360, rising to 450 by the end. That seems to be in line with everyone’s recommendations.

  4. I understand the risk of overtraining. I’ll be careful to cut down if I feel that I can’t do it well.

  5. I plan to substitute my “difficult” Saturday workout for a (roughly) two-hour long outdoor ride, gradually extending that over time. More TSS, but less intensity, and it’ll get me hours in the saddle to build that endurance. So each week would have 2 “difficult”, 1 “medium”, 1 “easy” workout, and an outdoor ride.

  6. This time of year is the BEST (only?) time to be outdoors in Miami, so I want to take advantage of that.

I’m starting to feel more comfortable with all this. Again, thanks. Any further feedback or thoughts?

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