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The Basics of Base Training


The purpose of base training is to establish a foundation of fitness that will allow cyclists to build towards their physiological potential for a goal event. It may seem counterintuitive to revert to base training every year after reaching new heights of performance, but this strategy pays dividends come race season.

Much like a pyramid, our fitness is built in a hierarchical fashion, with the initial work serving as a critical foundation that will eventually support a higher peak. This foundation is achieved through effective base training in which cyclists raise their fitness levels. During this phase there are various transformations happening on different levels, but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll just focus on the efficiency of muscles to transform energy into speed on the bike.

As you focus your training on developing your aerobic capacity, amongst other useful adaptations, you train your body to become more efficient at turning fat into energy and producing energy aerobically regardless of its fuel. This transformation takes place within the mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cell ) in your muscles. So, as you spend more time stressing your aerobic energy system, your body adapts by creating more efficient mitochondria. This adaptation will benefit you throughout all portions of your power curve because mitochondria are involved in turning energy into speed at all different intensities.

Takeaway:  By following a Base training plan, you will establish fundamental aspects of your fitness capabilities. The primary focus is on aerobic endurance, muscular endurance, and form/speed/power capabilities.

General Base vs. Traditional Base

So it's time for base, but you can't choose between General and Traditional... what do you do? You can use the guide below to decide which Base plan is right for you (Hint: it's probably General).

General Base

This take on Base training integrates a bit more variety than the Traditional approach.  You will see a lot of Sweet Spot work as you would expect, but the plan also contains VO2 max intervals and neuromuscular bursts in the Low and Mid-Volume Plans.  

The reasoning behind this is that most amateur athletes when training at a low-intensity will run out of time in their schedules before they really tax their endurance muscles to the limit.  Through Sweet Spot work, and a mix of higher intensity work, you can attain sufficient training stress to initiate adaptation in your limited training time.

  • When choosing a Base plan, we've found General Base (GB) is the best choice for most athletes who don't have enough time (less than 10 hours/week) to complete a full Traditional Base. If that's you, we recommend trying one of our General Base plans to fit your schedule.
  • This plan initiates general fitness gains much faster (can expect FTP increase in 6-8 weeks)
  • If you're still thinking about it, just choose SSB ;)

Learn more in our blog post: What is Sweet Spot Training?

Traditional Base

The Traditional Base approach to Base requires long, low-intensity hours in the saddle.  There are a few key demographics that this approach is best for:

  • Those recovering from injury will benefit from the gentle approach of Traditional Base
  • Athletes who have large amounts of time before their target events. By planning their season well in advance of their race days, riders afford themselves the option of cultivating a wider base of fitness.  Completing Traditional Base prior to a General Base circuit is one way to build this huge, substantial base.

Takeaway:  For most applications, General Base is the better choice.

Relevant Podcasts

[13:45]  Podcast 068:  Sweet Spot vs Traditional Base discussion

Can I Skip Base Training?

Typically, we do not recommend athletes skip any training phases. You will get the fastest if you work through all three training phases in order and to completion before moving onto your next phase of training. However, every rider has different time constraints, as well as different levels of fitness and cycling backgrounds going into their structured training.  Here are a few common reasons that athletes want to skip Base:

  • Riders with heavily experienced backgrounds who are familiar with the level of base training they have at that point in the season.  These riders can decide to bypass or reduce the duration of the Base phase, and move straight into a Build phase if they have been doing structured Base outside of TrainerRoad.
  • Riders with mid-level or minimal experience, whose target event is less than 28 weeks away (the time it takes to complete Base/Build/Specialty).  We’d suggest s/he complete the entire Base phase of training and move as far along through the Build and Specialty training plans as time will allow. See our article "Not Enough Time!" To further explore how you should structure your season with less than 28 weeks.
  • Riders who are mid-season and have already peaked for en event, but have 16 or fewer weeks until their next event.  These athletes should first consider a low-intensity training block but can absolutely skip base and jump back into Build.  This is what we call a 'rebuild' and you can learn more about how to structure around this in our "Peaking for Multiple 'A' Races" article.

Takeaway:  No, you should probably not skip Base Phase, however there are a few fringe cases where it is an acceptable decision.

Base Training Q&A

Q: Time constraints aside, how many hours per week would I need to spend base training in order to improve upon last season's fitness?

A: The goal is to increase your annual training volume by 5% but not more than 15% over last year’s training volume in order to improve upon last year’s performance without overdoing it.

Q: Do I really have to go this easy during Base I? It doesn't seem like I'm working hard enough to gain any training benefit.

A: Properly performed, Aerobic Endurance rides (roughly 60-80% FTP) train your type IIb fibers - which are the most versatile muscle fiber type - to prefer fat over sugar, one of the key objectives of Base Training. This adaptation is negatively affected if you work too hard, so go slow so your body learns to metabolize fat and spare sugar at low, but eventually greater, effort levels.

Q: Sometimes I don't have the time for the prescribed ride duration. How can I address these time constraints without missing out on the benefits of base training?

A: Although athletes competing in events requiring long hours on the bike need to adapt to long rides with no breaks, riding twice daily is often the only way to log high daily base mileage and is also an excellent way to reduce body fat during Base Training. Simply break your longer rides into 2 segments and perform them at the beginning, middle and/or end of your day. Try to refrain from breaking your long weekend ride into halves, and avoid breaking rides less than 90 minutes into smaller parts whenever possible.

Q: Are recovery weeks really necessary when the training intensity is already so low?

A: Yes. Regardless of the low intensity, the body needs time to absorb new stress before additional stress is applied, even if that stress isn't due to high-intensity intervals or race efforts. Recovery weeks will simply drop the stress to roughly half the stress of your current phase's toughest week but keep you on the bike the same number of times in order to avoid any disruption of your training schedule. Also, there’s no reason (nor benefit) to exceed 50% FTP during Recovery Weeks unless you are certain that riding over 50% FTP is still regenerative and restful and allows your body to recover and prep for the next, more stressful, block of training.

Q: Which drills should I be doing per session and how many do I do for the duration?

A: The drills are cued, albeit briefly, during the workouts themselves.  As long as you haven't checked the "Hide text during workout" box on the Profile tab, and the onscreen directions will prompt you to add particular drills at particular times.



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