What's Cool In Road Cycling
Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media | brakethroughmedia.com

Toolbox: Base Training In 10 Hours A Week

What is base building? In the 1960s, legendary New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard famously prescribed high mileage for all of his runners and effectively founded the idea of base training for endurance athletes. His system was based on a simple pacing strategy and a weekly pattern of high mileage runs focused on building aerobic strength.

Things have evolved since then. The core principles of Lydiard’s system still act as the foundation for base building today, but exercise physiologists, coaches, and athletes in all endurance sports have continued to tweak the process as they search for improved performance through training optimization.

Training with power meters has increased the accuracy and quality of available data, further advancing not only the ideas of base training, but also their execution.

Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media | brakethroughmedia.com

Three Base Philosophies
Over recent years three philosophies have emerged to dominate the base building landscape. Each one has it merits, so let’s take a look at them.

Traditional Long, Steady Distance Training (LSD) – This is the simple evolution of the effort/intensity of the long base mile approach. The base mile intensity has evolved from training zone 1 (low aerobic) to training zones 2 and 3 (extensive and intensive aerobic).

Sweet Spot Training (SST) – This approach evolved from power data and focuses on spending higher amounts of training time in a high tempo zone (88-93% of functional threshold power as the “sweet spot”) with the goal of building threshold power through intensive aerobic efforts (pushing it up from below).

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) – More recently, we have seen the introduction of a more intensive approach to HIIT. This system has been championed by the time-crunched athlete, and recent research has demonstrated it can be beneficial.

Each system has it benefits and drawbacks, all well documented and easily searchable via Google and too numerous to go into in this short article. With three such clearly-defined systems of training, we naturally wonder if there is a way to combine them to optimize our training by capturing the best of each? The answer is yes, but first we need to accept a few things.

Time Crunch
First off, for the everyday cyclist there is one key consideration that drives the design of the optimized base training period: time. Balancing a job, family, and responsibilities against shorter winter days requires a highly-defined training program that allows you to achieve maximal results in the time you have. So how much time is that? In my observation, the typical athlete has around ten hours a week. These ten hours are often very patterned, with weekdays capped to 60-90 minutes of training (usually on a trainer) and the weekends containing one long and one medium ride.

Second, you will need good data to target the correct time and intensities in order to maximize every minute you have. In TrainingPeaks’ WKO4, the combination of the Power Duration Curve, the Coggan iLevels, and Optimized Intervals supply the needed data to drive the base-building program.

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Combined Base Training

When designing your blended base training, you need to consider the three key factors that comprise any training plan: duration, frequency, and intensity. To help us look at these factors, let’s break our base phase into three separate periods: Base 1, Base 2, and Base 3.

As we already determined, approximately ten hours of training per week is typical for non-professional cyclists juggling work, family, and life. A normal pattern is 1-1.5 hours on weekdays and 2-4 hours on the weekends. This schedule is typical for each base period, but for most of us, Base 1 happens in the late fall or early winter and hopefully allows for an additional long weekend ride or two.

Sweet Spot Training (SST) is the core of each base cycle because it produces the best results, but it can be enhanced by the addition of both HIIT and LSD. Here is a basic overview of some frequencies of each type of training by cycle.


If we want to maximize our training time, we need to train at the right intensity. To me, this means power training and using the data to ensure accurate training intensities. In TrainingPeaks WKO4, the Power Duration Model developed by Dr. Andrew Coggan allows for specific workout targeting with iLevels and Optimized Intervals. Take a look at the chart below depicting the Coggan iLevels for both LSD and SST training targets.


For planning HIIT intervals, I highly recommend using Optimized Intervals and targeting your Functional Reserve Capacity (a measure of your anaerobic work capacity), because targeting is supplied in both target power and duration as driven by your unique physiology, thus maximizing your gain.


Properly blending these systems can help maximize your winter base training and set you up for success in your next racing season. That being said, this blended approach give you a good balance of fitness but your aerobic fitness might not be as deep as if you focused on LSD, your fatigue resistance might not be as strong as if you focused on SST and your short term power might not be a high if you went HIIT but you will get a good and balanced base fitness to build on in the early spring.

It is not a simple process, however. It takes time to learn to access and use training data, to understand what it means, and to learn how to apply it to this process. Because of the education required, you may want to hire an experienced coach, but if you already train with power, you can view your Power Duration Curve, Coggan iLevels, and Optimized Intervals simply by downloading a free trial of TrainingPeaks’ WKO4.

Photo: Jim Fryer / BrakeThrough Media | brakethroughmedia.com

About Tim:
Tim Cusick is the TrainingPeaks WKO4 Product Development Leader, specializing in data analytics and performance metrics for endurance athletes. In addition to his role with TrainingPeaks, Tim is a USAC coach with over 10 years experience working with both road and mountain bike professionals around the world. You can reach Tim for comments at [email protected] [email protected] To learn more about TrainingPeaks and WKO4 visit us at TrainingPeaks.com.

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