Building a Base: Step-by-Step

It is known that logging fall and winter miles can help build an athlete’s foundation come spring and summertime racing. The ability to string together consistent weeks of training can help to not only increase endurance, strength, and stamina but also aid in injury prevention. While spring and summer season sessions will focus on race-specific workouts, that does not mean that winter training cannot also add in high-intensity intervals. In fact, while most may think of base season as holding steady power for hours on end, it is important to add in high-intensity efforts to make the most of your time. 

Many of us are time-crunched athletes and as much as we’d like to, our lives do not allow for us to train 20+ hours per week. In order to maximize our winter foundational gains, it is important to add in efforts in order to benefit from a base season in the long term. 


Traditional Base Season


Standard procedure calls for hours in the saddle building strength endurance for both cardiovascular and muscular systems. Long steady rides can certainly improve your fitness, but in order to receive any substantial return, you need to dedicate at least 16 hours a week. This type of training will actually show a decrease in fitness in metrics like your VO2. Your training will only work when you subject your body to new stress. This need for stress will trigger adaptations and improvements to your fitness. 

There is also a discussion of volume and how much someone can perform. While many of us may want to log high volume weeks, it may not be in our best interest in regards to injury. Piling hundreds of miles onto tired muscles will result in poor form and posture which can lead to injury. By reducing volume, but increasing intensity we can help mitigate overuse injuries before they occur.  


What Work Should We Do in The Off-Season?


If the above may confuse you on what workouts to be performing during the winter, then continue below to get some ideas for the best way to optimize those base miles. 

  • Sessions that push your limits: do not shy away from incorporating high-intensity sprint efforts during the winter months. 
  • Sessions that will leave you feeling tired or taxed, but manageable: though you should be working, be sure you are not completely emptying the tank during your base season, there is plenty of time for that later on. 
  • Incorporating quality of rest: not everyday needs to be or should be intense. Be kind to your body and give it the recovery it needs. Try incorporating off the bike sessions like yoga or pilates to strengthen your core. 
  • Add in Neuromuscular Work to perfect your technique: adding in high cadence work like 20-30 second cadence builds or cadence holds can help work on your pedal stroke. This will also require you to maintain good core positioning which is crucial for cycling. 

Identify Your Long Term Goals

The best way to plan a path for success is to begin with the destination. When you know where you want to go, it makes it easier to create a plan to arrive there. Once you have your goal in mind, then it is time to figure out what you need to train in order to achieve your goal. For example: looking to win a local crit? You’re going to need to focus on bike handling skills, sprint work, and VO2 ability. Having a sense of direction allows you to plan out your winter training in order to maximize your potential for success.

Focus on Your Weaknesses

Performing activities that we are inherently not good at is never fun. On the flip side, we know that making a weakness a strength will only make us a more well rounded, harder to beat athlete. Your base season is a perfect time to hone in on specific areas or skills that you previously struggled with. While some weaknesses may be easy to define for some (increase endurance, increase strength, etc) others are not as easy to define. This is where tests like the SYSTM Training App 4DP is a great place for a starting point. The test will include sprint efforts, a 5-minute effort, 20 minute, and 1-minute effort. After completion of the test, you will receive your rider’s passport that can highlight your areas of strength as well as areas you can improve upon. This is great news since specific workouts can then target your weaknesses and turn them into strengths.  

While the base season may long he held in high esteem as the time to perform 2×20 minute efforts or endurance miles. Perhaps we can help turn the narrative as a time to add in some intensity, define your path for in-season goals, and develop your weaknesses into strengths. When summer racing rolls around you will be ready to tackle the courses and your competitors. 


Mac Cassin is the Chief Cycling Physiologist at Wahoo Sports Science. He holds a degree in Integrative Physiology from the University of Colorado-Boulder and has won multiple National Championships. The experience of juggling athletic goals with collegiate and career responsibilities has taught Mac that peak performance is achievable even for those who cannot focus exclusively on training.  While concentrating on exercise physiology in an academic setting, Mac competed at the World Championships, Pan American Championships, and World Cups on both the road and track.

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