Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced? What Training Should You Focus on?

by | Nov 30, 2019 | Training

How complicated do you need to make your training? It is, after all, as simple as riding a bicycle. 

This Joe Friel blog post is one that I think of and reference often. I have used it (and adapted it) as a simple framework for deciding how to train a given athlete. An (over) simplified summary is that beginners (1st year in sport) might focus on increasing frequency (how often they ride). Intermediate riders (1-3 years) should focus on volume (duration), while for advanced riders (3+ years in sport) the key aspect is the intensity (both easy and hard) that you ride at.

The utility of this framework is not in getting to advanced asap but I think in the strategies and focus that it brings given your training history. Rather then Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced I have suggested alternative names below.

Beginner or Frequency Focused 

In theory, training should be simple when we are a beginner. Really any riding will help! Too often new riders are sold on advanced gadgets, coaching, and gear. Start riding and gradually try to ride more days of the week. Ride how you feel, don’t stress on heart rate or power. Commuting, beach cruiser rides, mountain bike skills or group road rides are all going to help make you a better rider.

In short, just get out and ride and don’t let people complicate bike riding in your first couple of years of training.

Intermediate or Volume Focused

I look at this category as being most cyclists since many athletes start riding later in life and never get a chance to push their volume (or frequency) consistently for several years. So even if you have been riding for many years, it is possible that volume may still hold importance for you if you have not been training consistently for several years.

Many of the adults I coach have limited time to train due to family and work obligations.

There are several strategies worth considering to get benefits of volume on a compressed schedule.

  • Similar to the beginner category, could increase your weekly volume by adding another ride or two. Commutes and short morning spins can help! Double days on the weekend around family activities during the day may be less disruptive to the family agenda.
  • Getting in bed earlier to get up earlier to train in the morning.
  • Stephen Seiler who has studied and popularized the idea of polarized or ’80:20″ training was on our podcast (here) and suggested redistributing available time to allow for a long session once a week rather than multiple short sessions. This might even reduce your frequency (2 rest days) but might allow you to sneak out for valuable 3-hour session on the weekend if you are around an extra night during the week. shorten some workouts during the week to allow for a longer workout one day of the week.
  • Finally, it is important to observe that even the volume limited athlete can do intense intervals. H.I.I.T. styled intervals have shown great benefits to aerobic function and work on critical cycling skills (e.g. acceleration, breathing, form, cadence).
  • Utilizing the ‘middle ground’ intensities of Tempo/Sweet Spot hold great utility as well once volume and volume distribution have been optimized

Advanced or Intensity Focused

Friel’s suggestion is that once we are about 3-4 years into our training for cycling we should be concerned with intensity. I would emphasize that assumed in this is a consistency in training that involved suitable volume (practice time!) to allow for adaptations to your fitness, especially your aerobic efficiency.

What’s Your Heart Rate?

Can you (and do you) do long rides easily? How difficult is it for you to train under 75% MHR. If you find you can ride comfortably under 75% MHR then it is likely that intensity is important for you. I like the simplicity of the MaF test (how many watts can you average for 30min at ~70% or 180-age heart rate). You might also simply notice you are riding comfortably and able to chat with friends for several hours.

What got you here, won’t get you there = EASY!

Once you can ride comfortably then you must be careful assuming that longer rides (or harder endurance) will get you faster as it has thus far. This is a common mistake in elite athletes. More volume will seldom get you where you want to go, or at least more hard miles without discipline won’t.

You aren’t dropping your endurance rides out of your plan but rather being careful to ride at low-intensity. Easy enough can be defined many ways, I like 70%MHR or around ~130-140bpm for most people as a rough limit. Advanced athletes generally are fine with this because they are riding quickly even under that limit and going over that limit requires notable exertion. In the “Uphill Athlete” the authors suggest that experienced athletes (who aren’t aerobically limited) should be wary of zone 2 workouts and shift to a more polarized strategy of zone 1 (easy endurance) and intense intervals.

Low-intensity needs to be observed carefully to ensure that there is sufficient recovery and motivation for interval days. I believe the ‘talk-test’ (easy endurance zone) for endurance rides for these athletes is critical because it emphasizes easy endurance AND FUN, SOCIAL INTERACTION that offsets the demands of the hard days.

How Hard?

What this intensity is will get tricky. Each athlete will respond well to different types of training and what your best workout is will evolve as you progress deeper into your ‘advanced athlete status’, which comes with the positives of experience and the challenges of aging.

Whether you respond best to high intensity or threshold is something you can figure out over time. It seems that focusing on repeatable efforts is a commonality in athletes who are successful for long periods. Think 4 x 8-12, 2-4 x 15-20 and 4 – 5 x 3-5 as examples of sets that are challenging but also not ‘maximal. One Strava TT is not advanced training.

Thinking about what you are preparing for, the critical moments as I call them will also help you decide if you are training specifically each week. Make sure you are familiar and able to thrive in the critical moments in your race. Now that you have practiced long enough to have ‘advanced’ experience and fitness.

What Is Your Focus?

If you need help deciding on how to arrange your training and setting targets and goals for the next few blocks consider trying one a Smart Athlete 100% Made for You Training Plan … a 100% Custom Plan made based on your ability, your goals, your tools, and your time available.

Apply for your 100% Made For You Plan Here


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