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A Full Guide to Base Training: Part I

Posted by Mikey Ducard on

For those looking to utilise the winter season to get themselves in peak form heading into the on-season, base training should be a focal point in the off-season, among other elements. Dreaming of out-riding friends on that climb on your carbon bike wheels, or taking first in the opening race of the new season? Here’s where you need to start!

In the first of our two-part guide, we will be discussing the following:

- What is base training?

- What is the importance of base training?

- How do I carry out effect base training?

- What are the benefits of base training?

Here goes…

What is Base Training?

Base training is a form of training that helps to teach your body how to make use of your oxygen in the most efficient way it can. Base training rides are characteristically of a long and steady nature, undertaken at a moderate intensity which allows your body to make the necessary adaptations. Winter, therefore, is the perfect time to build your base.

What is the Importance of Base Training?

Building an aerobic base is arguably the single most essential element to off-season training; this is because it’s the foundation that your season is built upon. It’s a fact that so many riders don't hit their full potential on the bike because they disregard this vital phase of training. The point of base training is to prepare your body for the demands of what’s to come when the season kicks in, and this works from the top – at elite level – right down to the semi-serious sportive riders. This is your foundation of steady miles and resistance training in the gym, which sees you on to safely making harder efforts as the year progresses.

How Do I Carry Out Effective Base Training?

Part of the endurance-building base phase – through steady mileage on the road - achieves a host of physiological changes in your body. Effective base training should be carried out at typically at between 65-80% of Max heart rate. You should also be able to have a chat with someone you’re riding with without the need to pause the conversation for deep or extended breaths.

Additionally, this is the point at which it is best to dial in your attention on your cadence. Spinning between 95-105 rpm for as much of the training ride as possible is the green zone to aim for. Riding at this cadence helps to ripen a good pedalling style. Basically, the lower intensity you’re riding at while doing your base training allows you to train for extended hours on the bike, which is a good thing here because training a lot will help you own a strong foundation that’ll be called on when you need to go fast during the on-season. There are plenty of people who underestimate the effect of steady aerobic training, and they are usually at the back on the peloton, struggling to hold on to a wheel, and blowing hard!

A point to remember here is that you may well not see any real significant effect from the hours of steady aerobic training you’re putting in, but if you’re consistent, you’ll see that after a while base training will be pretty much effortless for you. Approximately twelve weeks after adopting this training method, you’ll be able to sustain an average speed and heart rate that was literally inconceivable earlier in the year. Hard work and focus really does pay off!

You will, of course, see riders who tear up the criterium races, who also avoided base training, however, when they take to the road during the off-season, they’re fading after 90 minutes into a three-and-a-half-hour ride. It’s a case of dialling in on establishing a really good base that you can be proud of and utilise and then shift the attention to other specific elements of training during the winter that can be performed indoors if the weather isn’t looking so appealing.

What Are the Benefits of Base Training?

Okay, you’ve got this far; you know what the training is about and how to carry it out, but here’s the part where you can fully see what it’s all for.

Riding at this pace stimulates your slow twitch (type 1) muscle fibres and in doing so, makes them far more efficient. This allows them to contract without the need for more oxygen. In fact, they can operate using less and less oxygen from the blood! Base training also opens the door to having a bigger, stronger heart, as well as making you a more efficient rider overall.

Base training is like a personal assistant who takes care of everything for you; it teaches your body to conserve glycogen stores within the muscles and vital organs, and causes your body to burn the larger stores of fat instead of muscle glycogen. If you’re coming back from an injury, or if you’ve slackened off with the rides, this can help you lose notable levels of weight that you may have gained.

A big factor that should be taken on board by riders looking for reasons to go hard on the base training is that this method of training, (done consistently) in the required zone and cadence over several months, can extend your time to glycogen depletion by as much as 75%! This means that you’re far less likely to experience the dreaded “bonk” during high intensity rides.

Base training will do all of the above, while also increasing the efficiency of your respiratory system. This is done by increasing the volume and complexity of vascular capillaries responsible for carrying oxygen rich blood to those muscles of yours that are working.

You can expect your blood vessels to become larger and more flexible, which makes it easier for the flow of blood. What’s more, base training gives you improved levels of energy producing mitochondria cells in the muscles which give permit your body to produce higher power frequencies, but for the same level of work rate. Base training sounds pretty appealing now, right?

The end goal with all of these benefits coming into your arsenal is that come the on-season, you can cope with long distance rides with relative ease.

Hopefully, for those out there who aren’t convinced by the base training yay-sayers, this will kick-start them on the right path that will see them taking their ability as a rider to new heights!

Check in on us soon for part II of our guide and learn more.

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