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Cycling training tips: 10 time-saving tips

Cycling training tips
(Image credit: Rouvy)

It’s a feeling many riders are familiar with. You start the season with lofty goals, whether that’s to race, achieve a personal best on your local time trial course or complete a mountainous sportive, but work, family and social commitments mean your cycling training takes a back seat. 

If you have a limited time to train, it’s still possible to get into shape - you just need to be smart about how you spend your time in the saddle. 

We caught up with two top cycling coaches to uncover 10 time-saving cycling training tips.

1. The indoor trainer is your friend

Indoor cycling gives the best bang for your training buck, removing the external variables that can affect the quality of a session and allowing you efficiently target a specific area of fitness in a short space of time. Our pick of the best turbo trainers will help you get the setup you need to get the most out of your limited training time. 

“The quality of an effort can be guaranteed as there are no cars, traffic lights, roadworks, corners or downhills to break up the efforts,” says James Spragg of Spragg Cycle Coaching.

2. Use the turbo trainer year-round

Indoor training is typically associated with winter, when the weather is poor or there’s limited light. However, using the indoor trainer year-round allows time-crunched riders to add consistency to their schedule, according to Ian Jenner of Rule 5 Cycling Coaching.

“Consistency is everything,” says Jenner. “Being able to ride indoors when you can’t get out for a long road ride really helps keep you in a training rhythm and gets you into the habit of making exercise a part of your daily life.”

3. Keep it sweet

‘Sweet spot’ training is considered to be the most effective way to efficiently build endurance, according to Jenner, and is between 83 and 97 per cent of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP).

“Working within these percentages pushes up your FTP without incorporating the training stress of true threshold efforts,” he adds. “It will help you build an aerobic base and is great for those with limited time to train.”

Apps like Zwift, Rouvy and TrainerRoad allow you to test your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) (the maximum power you can sustain for an hour) if you ride with a power meter or smart trainer. Jenner says sweet spot intervals should be between ten and 20 minutes in length, with two or three intervals per session, and a five to ten minute break in between each. Remember to warm-up and cool down before and after.

4. Plan ahead

Planning is key if you want to balance your training with work, family and social commitments, and will allow you to squeeze in a session to a tight schedule.

“Try to plan ahead,” says Jenner. “Look at the week in front of you and figure out where you can find time to do a session. Book in that personal time so you’re mentally prepared to train, even if it’s only 30 minutes.”

5. Be prepared

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, as the old adage goes. As well as planning your schedule in advance, having your indoor training setup ready and waiting removes another hurdle that could stop you from riding.

“Leave your bike on the turbo,” says Spragg. “That way you can just change and jump on. And have a good fan!” - Our guide to the cheapest Zwift setup will help you choose the right turbo trainer, fan, and explain everything else you need to take your training indoors.   

Alternatively, a dedicated smart bike is always ready to ride, meaning you don’t have to worry about attaching your regular machine to the turbo every time you want to train indoors.

6. Take advantage of technology

Indoor cycling apps have revolutionised indoor training, with Zwift's virtual roads of Watopia, or the peloton-view of The Sufferfest providing much-needed stimulation when turning the pedals.

Whether you want to join a virtual group ride, race, follow one of the app’s dedicated training plans or simply spin the legs, the multitude of options can provide a living and breathing virtual world to immerse yourself in when training indoors.

7. Make the most of your commute

If you’re able to ride to work, you can use your commute to squeeze in valuable training time. “There’s no such thing as junk miles,” says Jenner. “Time on the bike always has a benefit, from nailing your pedalling technique to using your commute to squeeze in a training session.”

Jenner recommends using the quietest leg of your commute for intervals. He says: “Sprint away from every set of traffic lights or every telegraph pole. Simply choose something that works on the route you take. Use the other leg for recovery.”

Above all, stay safe on the roads. “Be smart,” Jenner says. If the traffic is heavy one day or the weather isn’t great, then move the session to a time when it’s safe to do so.”

8. Remember to recover

Recovery is often neglected in the constant pursuit of fitness but it’s vital to rest up and allow your body to make the adaptations triggered by your training sessions.

“Don’t get so caught up that you forget your recovery days and easier workout weeks,” says Jenner. “You need to allow the body to adapt and absorb all that hard work.”

9. Don’t forget about bike handling

If you’re short on time, indoor training is the most efficient way to improve your fitness - but technique matters, too. Riding outside enables you to hone your bike handling - particularly important if you’re training for an event that placing a particular emphasis on technique, like descending or cyclo-cross skills.

“Riding indoors gives you a structured workout where you can really hit your targets but it can’t compensate for improving your bike handling skills,” says Jenner. “Riding outside helps you work on bike handling, cornering, descending and the general confidence you can’t get inside.”

10. Enjoy it

Above all, cycling should be fun. Juggling an ambitious training schedule with countless other commitments can be stressful, but be flexible and don’t lose sight of why you ride.

“It’s good to remember why we all like riding bikes,” says Jenner. “The outdoors, the views, the climbs, the places we visit and the friends we meet.”

When you look good, you ride well. The enormous diversity of garment designs which are updated or introduced each season, prove that cyclists are inarguably influenced by what they wear. It might be one of the most accurate instances of placebo performance enhancement in cycling, but every rider has a bit of kit which triggers their best effort.

Find the gear that has significance and ensure it is clean and available when you need to get onto your indoor trainer. Whether it is riding in a favourite pair of socks, which have carried you through a memorable road ride, or even placing a cherished race participation number in your field of view, small triggers can get you into the correct mental state and sustain your effort.

Wearing bits of kit that have significance, also helps to establish boundaries. If you are riding in your work socks, friends and family members might not recognise that you are truly in the zone, training with absolute intensity. The more authentically you dress for your indoor training session, the closer you’ll get to zoning into maximum intensity – and the more others will respect that you are serious about training time, and not to be bothered.

Two-week indoor HIIT training plan

As the name suggests, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) combines short bursts of high-intensity with low-to-medium intensity recovery periods.

These short, but very intense, workouts do wonders to boost your aerobic and anaerobic fitness, your insulin sensitivity, which helps promote fat burning, and other physiological adaptations such as skeletal muscle oxidation capacity and hydrogen ion buffering capacity — all the ingredients to make you a faster and stronger cyclist. This kind of training is ideal for those who need to make every second count.

Shock your body back into shape with the following two-week HIIT training plan, courtesy of Jarred Salzwedel, sports scientist and S2S coach (jarred@sciencetosport.com):

Monday   REST

Tuesday   1 hour long-slow-distance – zone 2 – any cadence (1 hour)

Wednesday   Warm up 15 min – zone 2 and 3, followed by 6 x 2 min maximum intensity with 3 minutes recovery between repeats – zone 2 / warm down 15 min zone 2 (1 hour)

Thursday   IMTG ride: 1 hour LSD – zone 2 ONLY. Fasted state: do not eat breakfast. Drink only water. Keep to zone 2 only! (1 hour)

Friday   REST

Saturday   2 hours – zone 2 only. After 30 minutes do 5 x 15-second maximal effort sprints on FLAT terrain (perform a 15-second effort every 10 minutes). Do not shift down the block but allow cadence to reach absolute maximum and then try to hold that cadence for a full 15 seconds (2 hours)

Sunday   Warm up 45 min – zone 2 and 3, followed by 8 x 4 minutes zone 5 (or above 80% peak PO) with 4 minutes rest between repeats. Warm down 45 minutes zone 2 (2.5 hours)

Monday   1 hour recovery in zones 1 & 2. Keep cadence > 90 (1 hour)

Tuesday   REST

Wednesday   1 hour LSD – zone 2. Any cadence (1 hour)

Thursday   Warm up 15 min – zone 2 and 3. Follow with 10 x 30-second maximal sprints (start from slow speed on 8-11% gradient, and accelerate as hard as you can and keep dropping through the gears to maintain high resistance). Rest 5 min between each sprint (you can stand still and gasp for the first 2 min). Warm down 15 min zone 2 only at high cadence (90-115) (1.5 hours)

Friday   REST

Saturday   Warm up 45 min – zone 2 and 3, followed by 8 x 4 minutes zone 5 (or above 80% peak PO) with 4 minutes rest between repeats. Warm down 45 minutes zone 2 (2.5 hours)

Sunday   3 Hours LSD – zone 2. Any cadence (3 hours)