Base Miles – keep it steady.
With warmer weather slowly creeping into sight, you undoubtedly are getting excited to get out on the road and begin peddling with a fury. But wait! Even though you may be tempted to give every workout your all, remember that long slow distance (also known as LSD or base training) is just as important as speed work. Base training is the foundation upon which all of your cycling fitness rests.
If you begin speed work without enough base miles, you will get faster, but the downside is that your fitness won’t last as long because you haven’t developed endurance. Base training helps your body build more capillaries which in turn help to deliver more oxygen to your muscles. Additionally, the mitochondria, which are parts of the cells that produce energy, also multiply. The result, with consistent training, is that you will be able to go faster for longer.
Don’t be lured into thinking that the “slow” in “long slow distance” means puttering along.
To produce positive training results your effort should be at what coaches call Level or Zone 2. Level 2 corresponds to about 65-75 percent of your maximum heart rate or your RPE (rate of perceived exertion). They key is to keep the effort consistent, try to not soft -pedal, and if your only available routes are hilly, slow your pace as necessary to keep your heart rate from spiking beyond Level 2.
While you are riding think about keeping constant pressure on the pedals by creating circles with each foot. The bottom of your pedal stroke should mimic wiping mud off of your shoe. Also, try to stay seated for the duration of your ride, even while riding hills. This will help to build much needed muscle which translates to increased strength and endurance. If you find you don’t build muscle well just by riding, add in gym weight work that mimics cycling leg movement – squats, box step-ups, and lunges are ideal.
To calculate how long your base rides should be think of them as about 40-50 percent of your total training time. They can be anywhere from an hour on the trainer, if the weather is bad, to 2 or more hours outside. As far as figuring out how many weeks of base training you need, it will vary quite a bit depending upon your fitness levels; anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks is standard. The best way to tell if you are ready to move to the next level of training, is if your rides are getting faster at the same heartrate or perceived exertion. This is also called your “efficiency factor.” If you ride using wattage, you should see an increase in watts produced for a specific heartrate as your body adapts to base training.
Spring is the ideal time to add in base training, but it’s not the only time that it’s an added benefit in your training cycle. After you peak for a ride or race, take a few days to recover and then add in some more base mileage. You will find that with each training cycle you will ride faster at your Level 2 heartrate and have more endurance.