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Cycling training plans: What they are, why they work, and where to find them

Wahoo training plan
(Image credit: Wahoo)

A cycling training plan is a way of structuring your training in advance to achieve maximal performance gains and adequate rest in your allotted training time. In other words, it’s planning out your training so that you will get faster.

Cycling training plans can be designed for any rider and for any purpose. There are no real limits to the breadth of training plans, and you don’t have to race in order to have one. In fact, a structured training plan is the best way for most riders to improve their fitness, whether they’re riding to work or trying to win the Tour de France.

We talked to Ian Boswell at Wahoo, and he said, “One of the most understated reasons of following a training plan is not because it’s going to force you to train hard, but more than that, it will force you to recover and actually rest.” Included in their training plans, the Wahoo SUF Training App helps you improve not only your cycling fitness, but also your overall health, mental focus, and strength.

There are thousands of training plans available online, many of which use their own software and training apps – now let’s show you where to find them.

Where to find cycling training plans

Wahoo SYSTM

The most unique aspect of the Wahoo Systm Training App is at the very beginning: the 4DP® test. This multi-faceted power test is meant to analyse your cycling fitness across four different dimensions of power. From there, Wahoo SUF can create a training plan tailored to your specific needs, and help you address your weaknesses in cycling.

In Wahoo Systm, you can sort through training plans based on volume, hours, and more. Along with plenty of structured workouts, the training plans include mental training, yoga, strength training, and meditation to help you get the most out of your training. “You don’t get those adaptations until you rest and absorb the training,” Boswell says.

Pro tip: Boswell recommends signing up for a training plan with a friend, partner, or training buddy. “It’s a great way to be accountable and stay motivated,” he said.

Numeric and graphic information makes workouts simple to follow. The blue bars are the prescribed power (in micro view at top and macro view of the whole workout at bottom), the green line is actual power and the red line is heart rate

(Image credit: Courtesy TrainerRoad)

TrainerRoad

Claiming to be “cycling’s most complete & effective training system,” TrainerRoad has garnered almost a cult-like following thanks to its passionate user base and popular “Ask a Cycling Coach” podcast. TrainerRoad is has its own training app that can be downloaded onto your phone, computer, or tablet, and is designed for indoor riding, although workouts can be pushed to the best cycling computers to ride outside.

TrainerRoad categorises its training plans into Base, Build, and Specialty, depending on where you are in your season in relation to your goal event. Plans are available for road cycling, triathlon, and off-road events including mountain biking and gravel, and you can also create your own custom training plan. One of the standout features of TrainerRoad is the price, as plans start at just $19/month.

Cycling apps

(Image credit: Training Peaks)

TrainingPeaks

TrainingPeaks might be the king of online training plans, as they also support hundreds of coaches and their creation of custom training plans. The library on TrainingPeaks is almost endless, and you can sort through training plans by price, popularity, sport subtype, keywords, and more. Plans start at just a few £, and you can find one for every type of rider and experience level.

Plans in the TrainingPeaks library are written by TrainingPeaks Coaches (i.e. people who pay for a TrainingPeaks Coach account), which means that they won’t be vetted to the same standards as TrainerRoad or Wahoo SYSTM, for example. The training plans aren’t limited to cycling either, as you can find indoor-specific plans, race plans, strength training, yoga, and lifting throughout the TrainingPeaks library.

Zwift Training Plans

(Image credit: Zwift)

Zwift

If you’ve got a Zwift subscription, then you have access to over 1,000 structured workouts, plus hundreds of training plans at no extra cost. The only downside is that you may be paralysed by the paradox of choice – with so many workouts and training plans to choose from, it’s hard to know which ones are right for you. But with the help of a few of Zwift’s search filters, you can narrow down your options in terms of volume, plan duration, rider level, distance and more.

British Cycling

In partnership with TrainingPeaks, British Cycling offers 13 different plans for all levels of cyclists, including indoor and outdoor riding, and is tailored for many different types of riders. Starting at £30 per plan, there are four-week, eight-week, and 12-week plan options, plus a three-week plan that you can try out for free. These plans are compatible with online training platforms such as Zwift, and written by professional coaches. British Cycling members can also receive a 20 per cent discount on any of these plans.

Private Coaches

You can find cycling coaches around the world through social media, a quick Google search, or your local bike shop. There are many different levels of coaches with varying levels of expertise, so take your time to learn about them – what they do and what they’re good at – and have a one-on-one conversation with them before setting up your first custom training plan. 

There are hundreds of private coaching businesses in cycling, ranging from international companies to local connections. Dig Deep Coaching and CTS (Carmichael Training Systems) are two of the biggest that come to mind, while you can also find numerous smaller companies (such as myself) and private coaches around the world. Most of these companies offer a portfolio of written training plans, and many of them work through TrainingPeaks as well.

There is another type of training plan that we haven’t yet covered, and that is one custom-written by a coach. These custom training plans are tailored specifically to you, to help fit your work, lifestyle, goals, and preferences. As opposed to a canned training plan – even one that self-adjusts using AI – a custom training plan written by a coach will add a whole new element of commitment and personalisation to your training.

With a coach, you have a human connection, and someone you can talk to about training, racing, and sometimes life. An eight-week training plan on a calendar can only give you so much motivation, and you can’t explain your worries, doubts, or emotion to a screen. A coach can help you through the struggles of cycling – it’s one of the toughest sports in the world, and is often a mental battle as much as it is physical. Coaches can help you recognise signs of mental fatigue and mounting life stress, which is something a machine cannot do.

Example training plan

When asked for an eight-week training plan recommendation from Wahoo SYSTM, Boswell excitedly said, “the 200-mile Ian Boswell Unbound Training Plan!” While his competitors were riding 20+ hours per week in Texas and California, Boswell was doing structured 60 to 90-minute rides on the indoor trainer at his home in Vermont. “Indoor training is very specific, and eliminates all variables such as stoplights, cars, and traffic… It’s much more convenient to jump on and do something indoors,” he said.

The best training plans are tailored specifically to certain riders and events. For example, an eight-week training plan designed for the TT National Championships will look a lot different to a training plan designed for a season of crit racing. Similarly, a professional rider’s training plan will look a lot different than a working rider who can only ride eight hours per week.

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Zach is a freelance writer, the head of ZNehr Coaching, and an elite-level rider in road, track, and Zwift racing. He writes about everything cycling-related, from product reviews and advertorials, to feature articles and power analyses. After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science at Marian University-Indianapolis, Zach discovered a passion for writing that soon turned into a full-fledged career. In between articles, Zach spends his time working with endurance athletes of all abilities and ages at ZNehr Coaching. After entering the sport at age 17, Zach went on to have a wonderful road racing career that included winning the 2017 Collegiate National Time Trial Championships and a 9th place finish at the 2019 US Pro National Time Trial Championships. 

Nowadays, Zach spends most of his ride time indoors, competing on RGT Cycling and racing in the Zwift Premier League with NeXT eSport.