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Winter Cycling with Heart Rate Training Plan

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author : JorgeM
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Power and HR Zone Calculator

Heart Rate Version - Full Plan

Powermeter Version - Full Plan

The Cycling plan is a general cycling program geared to help triathletes and cyclists improve their Critical Power over a 16 week period.

The Critical Power (CP) is based on the work of Monod and Scherrer developed on 1965 and refer to a power level that could be sustained for “a very long time without fatigue.”

Though this model has it limitations, it allows you to predict with reasonably accuracy the average power that the athlete could sustain up to 60 minutes via short maximal efforts (longer than 3 minutes and shorter than 30minutes); CP intimately relates to Maximum Lactate Steady State (MLSS).

MLSS is defined as the highest steady state exercise level one can maintain while also maintaining equilibrium between the elimination of blood lactate and the diffusion of lactate into the blood. The reason why this is important is because MLSS is an excellent tool for assessing fitness level, predicting endurance performance, and designing training programs.

More often than not athletes/coaches use the term Lactate Threshold though in most instances they are referring to MLSS. A great read to understand the difference between these terms is Philip Skiba’s Understanding Threshold.

The use of the CP model enables the athlete to perform non-invasive testing to determine their CP which in order to perform specific training to increase it and track performance over time.

By knowing your CP athletes can also develop pacing and fueling strategies and predict performance. Also, this is perhaps, the most important training adaptations for all endurance athletes racing from sprints to Ironman; the bottom line is: if you increase your CP it will allow you to go faster!

Is the program for me?

This is general plan that can be followed by most athletes. It can is adjusted based on your current fitness level which is determined via the testing weeks. Based on that the athletes can progress based on their needs but it is important to remember:

  • This is a general free plan which was not designed to meet your specific needs. You need to make the necessary adjustments to match your own limitations. Do not push beyond your limits, and please use common sense.
  • Make sure you have been cleared by your Primary Care Physician to start a training program. Beginner Triathlete, E3TS Coaching and Jorge Martinez are not responsible as we won't be monitoring your training or able to make adjustments to match your needs. You acknowledge that if you follow this plan, you choose to do so at your own risk

Do I need a power meter?

While the plan is designed to increase your critical power and using a power meter will make following the plan a somehow easier, it is not necessary. The plan has a version for those

training with a power meter and one for those training either using a Heart Rate Monitor (HR) or using Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE).

Bear mind using HR has its limitations hence read the important notes sections to learn how to adjust some of the sessions to match your needs and make it easier to follow.

What else do I need?

The plan can be perform indoors (on a trainer, rollers, etc.) or outdoors. The durations of most sessions is relatively short (~1 hr) because the sessions are rather intense and it assumes most of this sessions will be perform indoors. If you do some of your riding outdoors you can adjust some of the sessions by doing the intervals longer and the intensity easier.

For the program you need a bike/trainer-roller or it can be done on a spinning bike (or another variation), after all, any training is better than no training! You will need a power meter, HR or just do it by RPE. If indoors, you will also need a cooling system (fans, windows, AC, all) as failing to do so can hinder your ability to perform. Finally it is wise to have plenty of fluids handy and a towel.

Plan Support

This plan is only supported by the Winter Cycling Training Group - Join the group to ask questions.

Important Notes

  • Make sure to get clearance from your Primary care Physician before starting any exercise program
  • There are 3 key sessions per week plus 1 optional. I suggest leaving 24 to 48 hrs in between sessions. Use the remaining days to fit your swim and run sessions based on your specific goals.
  • If 3 key sessions per week is a bit much for you to fit with a busy schedule or to complete given your current fitness level and own limitations, then do only 2 key sessions leaving 48 hrs in between. That should be good enough workload to help increase your fitness!
  • If you are planning to do 2 training session on the same day (i.e. swim and bike) try to make the non-bike session 'easy' and do more intense ones on non-cycling days. The program is cycling focused and rather intense hence you want to be as rested as possible for each session for optimal results.
  • For those starting with the preparation phase or doing some easy riding before starting the program, do the sessions based on Respiratory Perceived Exertion (RPE) or if you have one, you can use your most recent results for Lactate Threshold Heart Rate (LTHR), Critical Power (CP), Functional Threshold Power (FTP), etc. and just adjust accordingly. The goal is to easy up into the program and get ready to push down the road so don’t stress much about it during those weeks.
  • As you probably know, there are many different definitions floating around regarding Lactate Threshold, Anaerobic Threshold, Functional Threshold Power, AeT, Critical Power, etc. (some correct, some not so much). To avoid getting pedantic about what’s right or wrong just remember, for THIS plan THR is an estimate of the avg heart rate you could sustain for 1 hr all out cycling effort. CP is an estimate the avg power you could sustain for 1 hr all out cycling effort. To learn more read this Understanding Threshold
  • Do some intervals blind meaning don't look at Heart Rate Monitor or Power Meter and guide your effort by Perceived Exertion (RPE); this will allow you to get in tune with your body.
  • Always ride at your self-selected cadence; the best cadence is the one which allows you to push at the prescribed intensity with the lower RPE.
  • If you are training for Ironman or 70.3 and can ride outdoors throughout the year, you can do the optional session longer or ignore it and do something specific to your needs/goals (i.e. ride 4 hrs at steady state power).
  • In some of the intervals you can vary your cadence to simulate the variability of riding outdoors and to break down monotony; still choosing your natural cadence is usually a wiser idea.
  • When doing short intense session based on Threshold Heart Rate, the HR may not be achieved during initial efforts as it will lag begin hence use RPE.
  • Trainer settings - always use same settings on trainer (same resistance, same tire pressure, etc). Use an old tire so you don't waste your fancy racing tires. This is vital for those training with heart rate monitor on testing days if you want to be able to track your progress (compare avg speed)
  • For those training with power –  Calibrate your power meter before EVERY session
  • Stick to the plan and try to do the sessions each week on the same day (i.e. Tue, Thurs and Sat) so you can create a routine and stick to the program. Join a training group so you can keep each other motivated!
  • REMEMBER for testing days, always take the day before easy and always test under the same conditions: time of the day, same tire pressure, trainer resistance, same fuel, same cooling, etc. (or as similar as possible). This will help consistency with the results and help you track performance easier.
  • For those with a run focus (training for marathon, improving weakness, etc) you can just do 2 out of the 4 sessions; for the biggest return on investment do session on Day 1 and 3. For a not as intense program do sessions on Day 1 and 2.
  • For those with a cycling focus, doing the optional 4th sessions is important; if training for an early year IM you can just do a long steady ride as mentioned previously.
  • Each athlete adapts and recovers different from one session to the next, for that reason if you are not able do the prescribed intensity for a given session, make the intervals duration shorter and/or the rest sets longer. If you still can't achieve the target, drop the intensity even more. If you still can't do it then it will be a good idea to ride at an easy intensity or stop the session altogether trying again a day or two later.
  • A proper cooling system  (fans or something) is vital for good training indoors, if you don't have a good way to keep yourself cool then you will struggle to complete the sessions.
  • Always train within YOUR OWN limitations.

Download the Power and HR Zone Calculator

How to read a Power based training session

10' @ 65-70%FT + 5' alternating 20 " @ 110-115% FT
" @ 65-70% + 5'@ 75% T

20x30" (30" 65-70% FT ) @ 95-97% + 5' @ 70-75%

-10'@ 60-65%FT

Do Warm up as 10 min at 65-70% of your Critical Power (CP), then ride 5 min alternating 20 seconds at 110-115% of your CP followed by 40 seconds at 65-70%, after you complete that do 5 min at 75% of CP.

Move to the Main Set: do 20 sets of 30 seconds at 95-97% of CP with 30 seconds at 65-70% of CP as
recovery (Total 20 min), when completed do 5 minutes at 70-75% of CP.

Cool down: ride 5 to 10 min at 60-65% of CP --- You are Done!

How to read a Heart-rate based training session

10'@ 68-73%+ 5' alternating 30" @ 95-100%
30" @ 68-73% + 5'@ 80%

20x30" (30" 68-73% ) @ 95-100% + 5' @75-80%

5-10'@ 65%

Do Warm up as 10 min at 68-73% of your Threshold Heart Rate (THR), then ride 5 min alternating 20 seconds at 106% or higher of your THR followed by 40 seconds at 68-73%, after you complete that do 5 min at 80% of THR

Move to the Main Set: do 20 sets of 30 seconds at 95-100% of THR with 30 seconds at 68-73% of THR as recovery (Total 20 min), when completed do 5 minutes at 80% of THR.

Cool down: ride 5 to 10 min at 65% or lower of THR --- You are Done! 

How to do the tests

With Power - 20 and 5 Minute Maximal Tests

*On testing days, make sure to fuel properly and be relatively rested. It would be wise to take it easy the day before. Always test under the same or very similar conditions – same tire pressure, same time of the day, if indoors, same resistance. If outdoors, use the same venue, etc.

For both tests; remember that the goal for the test is to ride as hard as possible but at the same time at a pace which allows you to complete the entire test. It is wiser to start easy and build up your effort finishing strong.

A simple pacing strategy is:

  • For the 20min test start a bit easier for 5 min of you ‘think’ you could sustain for the entire duration. Then settle into the effort you can sustain for the next 10 min and finish as strong as you can for the last 5 min.
  • For the 5 min do the same as above starting a bit easier for 1 min, settle into your effort for 3 min and finish the last 1 min as hard as you can.

Make sure you calibrate you power meter before the test, your trainer set up is in the same (or very similar conditions for all testing), enough fluids, a towel and the most important; you have to have fan(s) or some sort of cooling system as over heating can impact your testing negatively.

The average power for both tests is what we'll use to calculate your Critical Power and your training levels will be percentages of that. It is very important that you should finish knowing you gave it everything you had.

With Heart Rate Monitor

Remember that the goal of the test is for you to ride as fast as possible but at a pace which allows you to complete the entire 30 min test. Record your heart rate for the entire test and the average is what you’ll use to calculate your Threshold Heart Rate (THR). It is very important that you should finish knowing you gave it everything you had. Make sure your trainer is properly set up; you have a cooling system, enough fluids and a towel.

A simple pacing strategy is:

  • For the 30min test start a bit easier for 5 min of you ‘think’ you could sustain for the entire duration. Then settle into the effort you can sustain for the next 20 min and finish as strong as you can for the last 5 min.