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Training Principles

After setting goals and having a more personal understanding of yourself and what you are truly capable of, it's time to start planning your training. There are a handful of principles and concepts you must keep in mind when developing an effective plan.

The five basic concepts needed to create an effective training program are specificity, progressive overload, adaptation, individuality, and reversibility. All must be considered before any technical or nuanced aspects are added, it doesn’t matter how many of the newest, high-tech tools you are using if you don’t abide by these principles.


Whatever your goal is, whether it be a race, ride, Strava segment, weight loss, or general health and enjoyment, your training should be specific to that goal. You need to tailor your training toward your specific goals and schedule. Although this is a simple concept, it can be the hardest to properly implement because it requires a deep understanding of the specific event/ discipline you are training for, taking into account other forms of exercise you may do, work and life stress, and many other confounding variables to your training.

There are levels of specificity starting fairly generalized and becoming more specific as you get closer to your goals. The most obvious is if you are training for a cycling race, your training should involve cycling. While running is a great exercise for cardiovascular health and fitness, it isn’t specific to cycling so it won’t give as much benefit as if you spent that time cycling. Getting more granular, think about what exactly your goal demands of you, and think about what your strengths and weaknesses are, and how they relate to the event.

Progressive Overload

By planning out your workouts in advance, you can make each one progressively more difficult over time, and you can do it predictably and measurably. If you try training as hard as you can all the time, you’ll quickly find that you are not only tired all the time, but also not making the progress you would hope. By starting your training cycle a little easier than you can handle, you can progress into the difficulty and slowly push yourself to your absolute limit.

There are a few ways to implement progressive overload into your training, the two most common are increasing duration and increasing intensity.

Increasing duration

One of the most effective and simplest ways to make gains through progressive overload is by increasing the total duration of a training cycle by adding. The easiest way to think about this is by adding to the total time ridden each week. Adding just 20-30 minutes to each ride throughout a week could end up with an additional 3 hours of total duration by the end of that week. Remember to keep these changes relatively small over the course of a week, shoot for a 15% increase if you’re relatively experienced and riding a lot, or 30% if you’re fairly new or have limited time to ride. This would mean only adding an hour each week if you typically ride 10 hours a week and you’re moderately experienced, or an hour a week for a 5-hour week if you are new and have not spent more than a year of structured training.

Another way to use duration as your progressive overload method is to increase the total time-in-zone in your key workouts. Say you have a 3 x 5-minute workout planned as your key workout, that’s 15 minutes within the target intensity zone. The next time you perform that key workout, you will want to find a way to increase that total time in zone. There are many ways to do that, you could simply tack on an additional 5-minute effort, you could shorten the interval but do more of them (like 4x 4 minutes), or completely restructure the workout to a different format that still ends with your goal time-in-zone.

Remember that this is just one tool to use when implementing progressive overload. There is a limit to the amount of time in a day,the time you can invest in a week, and the amount of total workload you can recover from. This should not be your ONLY method of progression, but it is a good option.

Increasing intensity

Another way to implement progressive overload is by simply riding harder. This method should be used sparingly since the intensity you ride at has a big effect on the type of adaptations you make. Due to this, it’s best to keep these intensity changes small and strategic.

Say you have a set of 20-minute threshold intervals at 98% of threshold heart rate, if you want to increase your intensity to 100% in the first week, this is doable and still in the range of the same physiological adaptations. However, if you do that one more time to 102% of LTHR, You will find this workout becomes incredibly difficult or even impossible to complete. Not only that, you will now slightly change the processes in the body you are training so while you progress the intensity, the type of adaptation may be different. If you try to do this one more time again to 104% of LTHR for 20 minutes, there is just about a 0% chance you will be able to complete the workout unless your zones are set incorrectly in the first place.

What’s a better way to increase intensity then? You could simultaneously decrease time in zone for the workout. For instance, instead of attempting 2x20 minutes at 102% LTHR, you may have a much better chance of completing a workout built as 3x10 minutes at 102% LTHR instead. While this doesn’t change the fact that the physiological processes are different and the training adaptations might be slightly different, the workout is now much more manageable and more importantly, possible to complete.

Putting the previous two methods together, you could actively change the physiological processes you are targeting and change the duration you are performing them to reflect this change. Going back to the 2x20 minute at 98% LTHR example, you could do that the first week as a zone 4 workout, but the following week you would make your key workout a zone 5a and the week after 5b.


Individualization is closely related to specificity, if specificity is for how you need to train for your goal event, individualization is how you need to train given your ability. You should have an idea of how much time and effort you can put into riding, you understand what your strengths and limitations are, and you understand your training and health history. Your training should be custom-tailored to fit you and you alone, no other person has the same lifestyle and history as you.

For this reason, it is difficult for most athletes to get the most they can out of pre-made training plans without intervention from a coach or mentor who can help individualize the plan. These plans are often designed for everyone but optimized for no one.


Adaptations happen when you aren't training but instead recovering from training. Allowing yourself adequate time to recover between hard training cycles or even key workouts is what helps you progress over long periods. Each key workout, and to an extent maintenance and easier rides too, will increase your fatigue and decrease your performance.

If you never give yourself the opportunity to recover from these rides, your performance will continue to decline and you can become stagnant. By pushing yourself hard during your overload period and recovering thoroughly during a shorter recovery period, you can stair-step your way up to higher levels of fitness. Your performance slowly declines during the overload period, but by the end of the recovery period, you will adapt and become stronger than you were at the start of the previous overload.

Over a few weeks, you will overload your body by increasing intensity, duration, or some combination of the two. This will make you weaker up until the point where you can adequately recover from all of that training stress you accumulated. It is during this recovery period that the adaptations are made and you become stronger.


Reversibility is the use it or lose it principle. If it takes time and effort for you to gain fitness and skills, with a lack of effort it will take time for that fitness and skill to revert to what it was before training started. Many beginner athletes, especially those who are just getting into self-coaching, erroneously mistake the adaptation phase for reversibility. It is easy to see the decreasing fatigue from recovery as a decrease in total fitness if you are not careful and you are unable to look at the big picture.

Think of reversibility as losing fitness after a substantial amount of time off; if you take a 2-week off-season you will lose fitness, but it will not be nearly as much as you may think. If it took you 2 weeks to lose that fitness, it is reasonable to think you could gain the majority of it back in another 2 weeks. You won't be able to gain it all back that quickly, but it will be nearly 1:1 between the time to achieve fitness and the time it takes to lose it, and vice-versa. This time to recover lost fitness will take substantially longer the longer your time off is, so it is best to avoid taking large breaks like this.


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