WHAT IS BASE TRAINING?
Base training is the term used to describe slow, steady rides that serve to improve your aerobic fitness and efficiency.
‘Aerobic’ fitness refers to how well your body fuels itself through oxygen. Improving your aerobic fitness via base training makes you more effective and efficient when you ride, and more able to use your body’s fat reserves as energy. No matter how skinny you are, we’ve all got a lot of hidden body fat to burn, so having a good aerobic engine means you can ride all day long!
When we say ‘slow and steady’ riding, we mean it. It’s the type of pace where you can easily hold a conversation with a friend, and you don’t feel too out of breath. So that means no town-sign sprints or hunting after Strava segments!
For base training to be effective, it shouldn’t only be slow, but reasonably long in duration – a slow, 10-minute ride doesn’t count! Anything over around 90 minutes is ideal, but the longer the better, especially if you’re already very fit.
Base training can be carried out all year around, but it’s most effectively used in winter when your big sportives or races are a few months away. Doing the low, slow work in winter means you have time to up the intensity in spring.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF BASE TRAINING FOR RIDERS LIKE YOU AND ME?
Steady base cycling in winter forms the platform – or the base – of faster things to come!
If you imagine your fitness as a house, the base is the foundation. Having a good aerobic base makes you strong and resilient for the higher intensity training that you build in spring and summer. Those faster, harder rides to come will help you win races, beat your mates to the café stop, and crush some KoMs on Strava.
SHOULD I DO BASE TRAINING?
Base training is good for all cyclists, whether you’re a beginner, an accomplished racer, or a casual commuter.
Taking the time to ride a little slower and steadier rather than trying to beat PBs every time you cycle will do wonders for your fitness.
If you ride just for the fresh air and fun, doing some slow steady riding will enable you to go longer and further. And if you’re a thoroughbred racer, getting your base miles done will start the process that makes you ready to win the biggest of races.
Base training is a go-to for professional cyclists who might train for 30-40 hours a week, but it works for all of us, even if we ride just five times a week.
One thing to be mindful of however – if you’re short of time to train, you need to throw some higher intensity rides (perhaps one or two per week) into your schedule. Otherwise, only ever riding slowly for a short total amount of time will see you lose fitness.
With that in mind, here’s how you do your base training.
OK, SO HOW DO I DO BASE TRAINING?
As mentioned above, the way you approach your winter base training will depend on how many hours you have available.
For those of with full-time jobs, families and a busy social diary, it’s all about making more of less.
For time-crunched riders, it’s best to spend around 50-60% of your training time during your base phase doing the low, slow base riding outlined above.
Keep your heart rate at around 65-75&% of your maximum heart rate, and try to make these cycles longer than you would normally go out for. The rest of your training time should be spent at higher intensities – maybe one ride of doing intervals or hill repeats, and one ‘tempo’ ride of a continuously tough pace per week.
If you’re lucky enough to have 15+ hours per week, or perhaps you’re off on a training camp, you should adjust the above recommendations slightly.
Aim for around 70-80% of your time at the base pace where you can easily hold a conversation and your heart rate is low. The remaining 20-30% of the time is when you enter some Zwift races, target some KoMs, or do more structured interval training.
Remember, building your foundation through the winter means you will be strong in spring, and ready to step things up ahead of your big goals. Base miles are worth every minute, so saddle up, slow down and enjoy the ride!