Base Phase Training: Everything You Need to Know
To get faster on the bike, there’s an optimal, science-backed training process to follow. The results of your race season hinge on how you approach the beginning phase of your training, which is known as the Base Phase.
Many riders take a traditional approach to building their base fitness in the Base Phase, despite not having a schedule that allows for a large number of dedicated training hours. If you fall into this bucket of wanting to get faster, but not having (or wanting to dedicate) a lot of time to training, there is another approach that will prepare you for a faster season.
A quick note: We visited TrainerRoad in Reno last year to discuss the concept of a blog series designed to educate athletes about the principles of exercise physiology. This series is the result. Thanks to coach Chad and the team at TrainerRoad for all of their hard work putting this together. Links to all articles in the series are listed here.
- Base Phase Training: Everything You Need to Know
- Build Phase Training: Everything You Need to Know
- Specialty Phase Training: Everything You Need to Know
- Re-build, Off-season, or Maintenance for Your Fastest Season
Can Any Rider Get Faster?
Even if you are more time strapped than you’ve ever been, you can achieve your fastest season. In my 25+ years of racing experience and 10+ years of coaching cyclists of all disciplines and backgrounds, I’ve found athletes who want to get faster do not need to dedicate an exhausting number of hours each week to training.
Far too many cyclists hold the limiting belief that their job, family and other responsibilities determines if they can become a stronger cyclist or not. These things do not decide if you get faster, rather how you train does. It’s the quality, not quantity, of your workouts that gradually build you into a faster cyclist in the most efficient way possible. This is not a theory, but a fact. A fact which I have dedicated my life to researching and proving valid in my role as TrainerRoad’s Head Coach.
High-quality interval workouts give you the same amount — if not more — fitness gains as long hours of low-intensity work. In preparation for your fastest season, I’m going to dive deeper into this training principle within the context of Base Phase training.
What You’ll Gain from Optimal Base Training
Optimal training begins with the Base Phase. By dedicating a phase of training exclusively to establishing a foundation of fitness, you are able to put a laser-beam focus on the fundamentals.
Foundational development of various energy systems occurs during the Base Phase. These adaptations include slow and intermediate muscle fiber attributes, fat metabolism via greater mitochondrial proliferation, and increased capillary beds within your muscle tissue. These characteristics translate into greater aerobic and muscular endurance through increased oxidative enzymes, increased delivery of oxygenated blood to the working muscles, and even increased pumping capacity of the heart.
How to Achieve Optimal Base Training
Cyclists establish a foundation of fitness through a healthy balance of Aerobic Endurance, Muscular Endurance, and Form/Speed/Power work. You can accomplish this one of two ways:
- High-volume training focused in Power Zone 3 (Tempo), Power Zone 2 (Endurance) and Power Zone I (Active Recovery). This is otherwise known as “Traditional Base training” and requires approx. 10-20 hours/week minimum to reap its intended benefits.
- Lower volume training is focused on a wider variety of power zones (VO2max, Sweet Spot, threshold, tempo). I refer to this type of training as “Sweet Spot Base” training and it requires as little as 5 hours/week to reap its intended benefits.
I recommend the Sweet Spot Base training approach to 99% of cyclists, as it broadens the base in a much more optimal way: through applying progressive, properly timed and systematic training stress. I suggest athletes spend 12 weeks in Base training.
Example of a Sweet Spot Base workout: I’ve created an entire Base Phase training plan with the Sweet Spot Base approach in mind — it’s appropriately named Sweet Spot Base. An example of a workout (which you can replicate for yourself on or off the trainer) you can expect in this plan is a workout I’ve called Eclipse.
Eclipse is a 3×20-minute interval workout with 5 minutes of recovery between intervals. The intervals oscillate between 88-94% of FTP, and aim to further muscular endurance and enhance aerobic capabilities. Prior to these Sweet Spot efforts, the workout kicks off with a structured 15-minute warm up that’ll get you riding in the Active Recovery, Endurance and Tempo zones, and ends with a 5-minute cool down in Active Recovery.
Why the large difference between a Traditional and Sweet Spot Base Approach?
The discrepancy in the number of training hours required for Traditional Base versus Sweet Spot Base training to be effective begs the question: How can an athlete get faster with fewer training hours? Here’s the cold, hard truth. Despite being well intentioned, many athletes following a high volume, low-intensity traditional base approach do not fully realize how many hours are required to get the type of gains they’re chasing. As mentioned above, it’s in the ballpark of 15-20/hrs a week.
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Key Points to Know About Base Training
The problem: Many riders following a traditional approach are not able to dedicate an appropriate number of hours to training each week and so they fall short in their efforts and never achieve the fitness gains they’re working for.
The solution: Sweet Spot Base training. Base training accomplished through higher intensity intervals that fall inside or around the Sweet Spot power zone (88-94%) allows cyclists to build their aerobic capacity in less time while preparing for the intense demands of their race season. What’s more, by stressing the aerobic system just enough, necessary groundwork is laid early in training to increase aerobic capacity in later phases of training.
Takeaway: Riders can earn more fitness in less time through high-intensity Sweet Spot Base training.
Can I Skip Base Training?
Some riders may be tempted to bypass their base training, but if you’re new to the rigors of high-intensity training or you’ve been off the bike for an extended period of time, a focus on base training is especially important. Don’t skip it.
If you’ve been out on the road tackling unstructured, low-intensity miles, you won’t need to put as much focus into establishing a foundation of fitness, but you still should dedicate some time to it. Everyone can benefit from re-entering their training season in the Base phase. It simply comes down to how much time and how often you feel you should revisit it.
Summary of Base Phase training
Building a foundation of fitness is the first step toward achieving your fastest season. This is done through a foundational training, otherwise known as Base Phase training. There are two approaches to base training: traditional base training and Sweet Spot Base training. Cyclists achieve greater fitness in less time following the Sweet Spot Base training approach.
Continue reading this series.
About this guest post series:
To help you achieve your fastest season, Chad Timmerman, TrainerRoad’s Head Coach, shares his proven, science-backed training process that takes busy athletes from base to peak fitness. Coach Chad’s complete “How to Coach Yourself to Peak Fitness” guide was originally published on TrainerRoad’s blog.
TrainerRoad makes cyclists faster through their proven, all-in-one training system. Riders of all disciplines and fitness levels use TrainerRoad to perform structured indoor workouts, follow science-backed training plans, and analyze their training with easy-to-use performance analysis tools.