Building Your Fitness Foundation

If you’re a beginning cyclist, or you’re working to establish a baseline level of physical fitness, start here. The workout plans in this article are designed to ease you into a regular cycling routine that you can build on as your skills and fitness improve.

General Guidelines

Before you get started, here are a few guidelines that will help ensure the time you spend on your bike gives you the best results possible:

  • To improve your fitness, you need to ride your bike at least 3-5 times per week.
  • Each workout should last at least 30-60 minutes.
  • Your workout plan needs to include at least 1 recovery day per week, during which you do not ride.
  • Begin each workout with a warm-up consisting of some stretching followed by at least 5 minutes of light pedaling.
  • End each workout with a cool down period—shoot for at least 5 minutes of easy riding at a slow and easy pace before getting off your bike for the day.
  • As you work your way into a regular cycling routine, begin by focusing on volume—how often you ride and how long your rides are—rather than intensity. At this early stage, your rides should be primarily in Zones 1-3 (see Bicycling for Fitness: Fundamental Concepts).
  • During the first three months of cycling, scale up the amount of time you spend pedaling by roughly 10% each week.

Beginner’s Workout 1: An Open-Ended Plan

If you want a more open-ended approach to getting into shape, this plan gives you plenty of flexibility to explore different possibilities and discover the type of cycling you like best.33 This plan is designed to squeeze the most out of just three rides per week—the minimum required to see steady improvements in skill and fitness.

In this routine, you’ll do three rides per week. You choose which days to ride and which specific ride to complete on each day. Just be sure you hit each of the rides once per week. Increase the length of your rides by 10% every week and after 4-6 six weeks you should be ready to move into more intense workouts.

Here are the rides you must complete each week:

  • Long Ride: Your weekly long ride needs to be at least 60 minutes long. Maintain a steady and easy pace—you should be able to carry on a conversation throughout the entire ride. This ride is designed to help you build up your endurance.
  • Ride on Hilly Terrain: This ride should be between 30-60 minutes long. The idea is to build cardio and lung health, as well as muscle strength, by pedaling against resistance. It’s best to find terrain with gentle rolling hills. If hills are hard to find in your area, bump up the intensity of your ride by pedaling on flat terrain in a harder gear.

Begin with a 10 minute warm-up at a slow and easy pace. Then pedal a little bit harder for 5 minutes in Zone 2. At this point, you should be breathing hard enough that you can only speak in single sentences. After 5 minutes, take it easy with 1 minute of recovery. Repeat this cycle until you’ve hit the 30-60 minute mark. In the beginning, you’ll probably need to end the ride closer to 30 minutes. But as you improve, push yourself to complete a full 60 minutes.

  • Hard Ride: Every week, you need to complete one hard, 25-50 minute ride. Start out with an easy 10 minute warm-up. Then alternate between pedaling as hard as you can for 30 seconds and pedaling lightly or coasting for 1 minute. Repeat the cycle 5 times then pedal slowly for 10 minutes of cool down and recovery. As you improve and get stronger, increase the number of cycles.

This plan is based on: Reynolds, Hannah. “How often should I cycle to get fit?” Cycling Weekly. January 19, 2018

Beginner’s Workout 2: A 12-Week Plan

Like the previous plan, this one is designed to get you accustomed to riding your bike several times per week and will help you build a strong foundation of physical fitness no matter where you’re at now. Here’s how it works:

Phase 1

WEEK 1

MON TUES WED THURS FRI SAT SUN
 

- 60 minute ride

-Stay in Zone2 as long as you can, maintaining a smooth and steady pace with slightly elevated heart rate

- When you get tired, give yourself 5 minutes in Zone 1 then try to return to Zone 2; repeat as needed

Rest day
-60 minute ride
-Complete 5 cycles: 7 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2, followed by 5 minutes at slightly more intense Zone 2+
Rest day
- 90 minute ride
- Look for terrain with gentle rolling hills
- First 30 minutes in Zone 2
- Second 30 minutes, push yourself into Zone 3 on any inclines then return to Zone 2 on flat ground and downhills
- Last 30 minutes in Zone 2
Rest day
- 2 hour ride
- Pedal in Zone 2 as much as you can

 

WEEK 2

MON TUES WED THURS FRI SAT SUN
 
Rest day

 

-75 minute ride
-Stay in Zone 2 as long as you can, maintaining a smooth and steady pace with slightly elevated heart rate
-When you get tired, give yourself up to four 7-minute intervals at a slightly slower pace
-76 minute ride
-Complete 4 cycles: 12 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2, followed by 7 minutes in slightly more intense Zone 2+
Rest day
- 90 minute ride
- Look for terrain with gentle hills
- First 30 minutes in Zone 2
- Next 45 minutes, push yourself into Zone 3 on any inclines then return to Zone 2 on flat ground and downhills
- Last 15 minutes in Zone 2
Rest day
- 2 hour ride
-Pedal in Zone 2 as much as you can

 
This workout is based on a plan designed by cycling and triathlon coach Oliver Roberts, published at Cycling Weekly: Arthurs-Brennan, Michelle. “Cycling training plan for beginners.” Cycling Weekly. May 2, 2019.

WEEK 3

MON TUES WED THURS FRI SAT SUN
Rest Day

 - 90 minute ride

- Stay in Zone 2, pushing into Zone 3 if you’re able

- When you get tired, give yourself up to three 10-minute intervals at a slightly slower pace

 

- 90 minute ride

- Complete 3 cycles: 20 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2, followed by 10 minutes in slightly more intense Zone 2+, pushing into Zone 3

Rest day - 90 minute ride
- Look for terrain with gentle, rolling hills
- First 15 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2
- Next 60 minutes, push yourself into Zone 3 on any inclines then return to Zone 2 on flat ground and downhills
- Last 15 minutes in Zone 2
Rest day - 2 hour ride
- Pedal in Zone 2asmuchas you can, and if you feel up to it, push into Zone 3


WEEK 4

MON TUES  WED THURS FRI SAT SUN
Rest Day - 60 minute ride
- Complete 3 cycles: 10 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2, followed by 10 minutes of slightly more intense Zone 2+, pushing into Zone 3
Rest day - 90 minute ride
- Look for terrain with gentle, rolling hills
- First 30 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2
- Next 30 minutes, push yourself into Zone 3 on any inclines then return to Zone 2 on flat ground and downhills
- Last 30 minutes in Zone 2
Rest day - 60 minute ride
- This is a relaxed cruising ride; just have fun!
- 2 hour ride
- Pedal in Zone 2asmuchas you can, and if you feel up to it, push into Zone 3

 

Phase 2

WEEK 5

MON TUES WED  THURS FRI SAT SUN
Rest day - 90 minute ride
- Start with 30 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2
- Complete 3 cycles: 10 minutes in Zone 3, followed by 5 minutes in Zone 2
- Finish with 15 minutes in Zone 2
- 90 minute ride
- Start with 15 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2
- Complete 2 cycles: 10 minutes in slightly more intense Zone 2+, followed by 5 minutes in Zone 3, 10 minutes in Zone 3+, and 5 minutes in Zone 2+
- Finish with 15 minutes in easy Zone 2
Rest day - 90 minute ride
- Look for terrain with gentle rolling hills
- First 30 minutes in Zone 2
- Second 30 minutes, push yourself into Zone 3 on any inclines then return to Zone 2 on flat ground and downhills
- Last 30 minutes in Zone 2
Rest day - 2 hour ride
- Pedal in Zone 2asmuchas you can, and if you feel up to it, push into Zone 3

 

WEEK 6

MON  TUES WED THURS FRI SAT SUN
Rest day - 90 minute ride
- Start with 30 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2
- Complete 3 cycles: 12 minutes in Zone 3, followed by 3 minutes in Zone 2
- Finish with 15 minutes in Zone 2
- 90 minute ride
- Start with 15 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2
- Complete 2 cycles: 10 minutes in Zone 2, followed by 5 minutes in Zone 2+, 10 minutes in Zone 3, and 5 minutes in Zone 2+
- Finish with 15 minutes of smooth and steady Zone 2
Rest day - 90 minute ride
- Look for terrain with gentle rolling hills
- First 30 minutes in Zone 2
- Next 45 minutes, push yourself into Zone 3 on any inclines then return to Zone 2 on flat ground and downhills
- Last 15 minutes in Zone 2
Rest day - 2.5 hour ride
- Pedal in Zone 2asmuchas you can, and if you feel up to it, push into Zone 3


WEEK 7

MON TUES WED THURS FRI SAT SUN
Rest day - 90 minute ride
- Start with 30 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2
- Complete 3 cycles: 14 minutes in Zone 3, followed by 1 minute in Zone 2
- Finish with 15 minutes in Zone 2
- 90 minute ride
- Start with 15 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2
- Complete 2 cycles: 10 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2, increase pace and intensity slightly for the next 5 minutes, then do 10 minutes in Zone 3, and 5 minutes in Zone 2
- Finish with 15 minutes in Zone 2
Rest day  - 90 minute ride
- Look for terrain with gentle, rolling hills
- First 15 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2
- Next 60 minutes, push yourself into Zone 3 on any inclines then return to Zone 2 on flat ground and downhills
- Last 15 minutes in Zone 2
Rest day - 3 hour ride
- Pedal in Zone 2asmuchas you can, and if you feel up to it, push into Zone 3


WEEK 8

MON TUES WED THURS FRI SAT SUN
Rest day - 75 minute ride
- Complete 3 cycles: 10 minutes in Zone 3, followed by 15 minutes in Zone 2
Rest day - 90 minute ride
- Look for terrain with gentle, rolling hills
- First 30 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2
- Next 30 minutes, push yourself into Zone 3 on any inclines then return to Zone 2 on flat ground and downhills
- Last 30 minutes in Zone 2
- 75 minute ride
- This is a relaxed cruising ride; just have fun!
 Rest day - 2 hour ride
- Pedal in Zone 2 as much as you can, and if you feel up to it, push into Zone 3


Phase 3

WEEK 9

MON TUES WED THURS FRI SAT SUN
Rest day - 90 minute ride
- Complete 2 cycles: 10 minutes in Zone 3, followed by 35 minutes in Zone 2

- 90 minute ride

- Start with
15 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2

- Complete
2 cycles: 10 minutes in Zone 2, followed by 5 minutes in slightly elevated Zone 2+, 10 minutes in Zone 3, and 5 minutes in Zone 2+

- Finish with 15 minutes in Zone 2

Rest day

- 90 minute ride

- Look for terrain with gentle, rolling hills

- First 30 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2

- Next 30 minutes, push yourself into Zone 4 on any inclines then return to Zone 2 on flat ground and downhills

- Last 30 minutes in Zone 2

Rest day

 

- 3 hour ride

- Pedal in Zone 2asmuchas you can, and if you feel up to it, push into Zone 3

 

WEEK 10

MON TUES WED THURS FRI SAT SUN
Rest day - 90 minute ride
- Complete 2 cycles: 15 minutes in Zone 3, followed by 30 minutes in Zone 2
- 90 minute ride
- Start with 15 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2
- Complete 2 cycles: 10 minutes in Zone 2, followed by 5 minutes in slightly elevated Zone 2+, 10 minutes in Zone 3, and 5 minutes in Zone 2+
- Finish with 15 minutes in Zone 2
Rest day - 90 minute ride
- Look for terrain with gentle, rolling hills
- First 30 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2
- Next 45 minutes, push yourself into Zone 4 on any inclines then return to Zone 2 on flat ground and downhills
- Last 15 minutes in Zone 2
Rest day - 3.5 hour ride
- Pedal in Zone 2asmuchas you can, and if you feel up to it, push into Zone 3


WEEK 11

MON TUES WED THURS  FRI SAT SUN
Rest day - 90 minute ride
- Complete 2 cycles: 20 minutes in Zone 3, followed by 25 minutes in Zone 2
- 90 minute ride
- Start with 15 minutes in Zone 2
- Complete 2 cycles: 10 minutes in Zone 2, followed by 5 minutes in slightly elevated Zone 2+, 10 minutes in Zone 3+, and 5 minutes in Zone 2+
- Finish with 15 minutes in Zone 2+
Rest day - 90 minute ride
- Look for terrain with gentle, rolling hills
- First 15 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2
- Next 60 minutes, push yourself into Zone 4 on any inclines then return to Zone 2 on flat ground and downhills
- Last 15 minutes Zone 2
Rest day - 4 hour ride
- Pedal in Zone 2 as much as you can, and if you feel up to it, push into Zone 3

 

WEEK 12

MON TUES WED THURS  FRI SAT SUN
Rest day - 90 minute ride
- Complete 3 cycles: 10 minutes in Zone 3+, followed by 20 minutes in Zone 2+
Rest day - 90 minute ride
- Look for terrain with gentle, rolling hills
- First 30 minutes in smooth and steady Zone 2
- Next 30 minutes, push yourself into Zone 4 on any inclines then return to Zone 2 on flat ground and downhills
- Last 30 minutes in Zone 2
Rest day - 90 minute ride
- This is a relaxed cruising ride; just have fun!
- 2 hour ride
- Pedal in Zone 2 as much as you can, and if you feel up to it, push into Zone 3