12 Weeks To Build Your Base

By Josh Horowitz

Editor’s note: Winter is looming and we’re taking a look back at some of our favorite winter training advice.

As we descend into the cold winter months, most of us will encounter limitations in our training due to darkness and bad weather. Even those who live in more temperate climates are limited by work and family restrictions. We’re all faced with the same challenge: how do you lay down a winter base, like a pro, on such a limited time budget? Although it might be tempting to keep the intensity high throughout the winter, if improved cycling performance is your goal, you would be wise to stick to the time-proven principles of Periodization and devote your winter training to endurance and strength-building.

Contrary to popular belief, base building does not necessarily mean slogging along at 16 mph on endless, mind-numbing, frost-bitten winter rides. A good winter program can be extremely challenging, but it must include the right kinds of intensity and the proper ratio of work to recovery. This article will help you wade through the mystery of building a training program and help you push through your training plateaus and take your cycling to the next level.

Before delving into the specifics of an organized, scientifically based training program, it is important to understand the basic principles of Periodization. Simply put, Periodization is the process of breaking training down into phases based on the time of year that peak performance is desired. The purpose of Periodization is to cause the body to continually adapt to new conditions and stressors. If you were to do the same training rides day in and day out, eventually your body would become so efficient at doing those particular rides that adaptation would cease to occur. The result is a training plateau. A periodized training program is designed so that the training changes the moment the body has reached maximum adaptation in order to fool the body and keep the training effect going on a constant basis.

2019 Road World Championship Yorkshire -Toms Skujins (LAT – Trek – Segafredo)


To keep things simple and straightforward, we will outline 12 weeks of off-season training consisting of three four-week phases that address the energy systems required to build a solid platform for the intensity that you will do in the spring and summer.


Off-season training wouldn’t be complete without a solid weight program. This is a great way to supplement your training, especially for those forced indoors during the winter months. In the gym you can work on weaknesses that can’t be addressed through riding alone. Lifting is especially important for riders over 40 who have an increased risk of bone density loss and osteoporosis due to the non-impact nature of cycling. To prevent injury, practicing good, safe form is essential. I highly suggest having a certified trainer check your form.

In each of the three phases of your winter weight lifting program, perform one exercise to address each muscle group in the lower body including glutes, quads, hamstrings, hip adductors and abductors and calves. End each session with some core work. Although there is not enough space here to delve into the individual exercises, any good book on weightlifting will give you a variety of exercises designed to work each of the above mentioned muscle groups. Each phase of your weight training will last four weeks and we will address them along with the corresponding road phase.


In order to follow this program, you will first need to figure out the absolute longest possible week of training you will be able to do over the course of the winter. This brutal week will only occur one time on the schedule, and we will call it the Longest Week or LW. Each week of the program has been calculated as a percentage of the LW, which you will learn more about as we get into the specifics of the different phases.


Before we start, we must establish some training zones. The old school method of calculating zones based on maximum heart rate is somewhat outdated. For a scientific program like this, you will want to calculate your zones as a percentage of threshold heart rate or power. Find a route where you can do a 20-minute all-out time trial with no interruptions. Do it on a day when you are well rested and pace yourself so that you don’t blow up before the end or finish with a lot left in the tank. If done properly, your average power and average heart rate will be just a bit above your anaerobic threshold.

For the purposes of this training program you will want to establish ranges for Zone 1 through 3. Zone 1 (Z1) or Easy Recovery will be anything less than 50 percent of your threshold power or 70 percent of your threshold heart rate. Zone 2 (Z2) will be 55 to 70 percent of your threshold power or 70 to 85 percent of your threshold heart rate. Zone 3 (Z3) will be 70 to 90 percent of threshold power or 85 to 90 percent of threshold heart rate. Keep in mind, different programs use different zones and these zones correspond specifically to this program.

Make sure to mark your start line and your finish line, so you can repeat this test on a monthly basis. This is especially valuable to those using wattage, because power output can change drastically depending on fitness.


After three months of solid base building, you will be ready to start piling on the intensity, but we’ll save that for another article. The most important thing is that you’ve built a solid base that will prop you up throughout the season. Since I only have a few words left to dispense some parting wisdom, I want to remind everyone that cycling is about more than just numbers and science. Don’t forget to incorporate group rides, team building exercises and skills sessions into your training, and take advantage of these long winter trudges to repeat some positive mantras to yourself addressing any psychological weaknesses you might have. Above all, don’t forget to have fun!


Following the advice outlined in this article, you should now be able to create a winter training program for yourself. Log all your data and keep careful tabs on your progress. You should be able to recover completely between each workout and only start to feel real fatigue as you approach the final few days of your three-week training cycle, right before your recovery week. For some more detailed examples of the way a proper program might look, check out our free five-week sample base programs on TrainingPeaks.com. There are plans for riders of all levels.

For more information on Josh Horowitz, check out www.brokenbonesbicycles.com


Phase 1 Cycling and Cross Training can be frustrating because one of the goals is to actually de-train the body just a bit from the high level of in-season fitness. Phase 1 will consist of three weeks of steadily increasing workout duration. Depending on how many times per week you ride, you will want each week to include one or two short Z1 rides, two or three longer Z2 rides and two cross training workouts (which can be anything but cycling) in Z2 or Z3.

During Phase 1, most of your riding will be in Z2, but to break up the monotony, twice per week throw in a handful of 30-second sprints to keep things interesting and to prevent complete atrophy of your pain threshold. The fourth (and final) week of Phase 1 will consist of short easy recovery rides.

Determining duration of Cycling and Cross Training in Phase 1
Week 1: 50 percent of LW
Week 2: 55 percent of LW
Week 3: 60 percent of LW
Week 4: 45 percent of LW

Phase 1 Weights are also known as Anatomical Adaptation because you are preparing the body for the heavier weights to come. Start off slowly to prevent injury and severe muscle soreness. Do your exercises using free weights to help eliminate imbalances that may have developed during the season and to stress your stabilizing muscles and your core. Include such exercises as squats, lunges, reverse lunges, and calf raises. Do as many of the exercises as possible using a balancing or physio ball. By the fourth week, you should be pushing close to exhaustion on each set.

Weightlifting Sets and Reps in Phase 1-three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps on each exercise two to three times per week.


Phase 2 Cycling will incorporate on-the-bike strength work in the form of Muscle Tension Intervals (MT). Continue with one or two short Z1 recovery days and three to four longer Z2 endurance rides. During weeks one and two of Phase 2, do just one cross training workout per week and by the third week, phase out the cross training completely and replace it with an additional Z2 endurance day.

ME intervals are done in the big chain ring at 50 to 55 rpm near the top of Zone 3. Do two to three ten-minute intervals during each session. Experienced cyclists should do these three days a week, whereas those with less experience will do two days a week. Use your best judgment to determine exactly how much intensity you can handle in your program. Resist the temptation to use your upper body and keep a smooth, even pedal stroke. If your power starts to drop during any of these intervals it could be a sign that you haven’t recovered from the previous workout. If this happens, pack it in for the day and recuperate so you can nail the next set of intervals. It’s always better to have one good interval day than two or three mediocre ones. The fourth week of Phase 2 consists of short easy recovery rides.

Determining the duration of Cycling and Cross Training in Phase 2-
Week 1: 70 percent of LW
Week 2: 80 percent of LW
Week 3: 95 percent of LW
Week 4: 45 percent of LW

Phase 2 Weights are otherwise known as Max Strength. In this phase you will be stacking up the big plates at the gym. For safety reasons, stick to machines such as leg press, leg extension and leg curls. You should notice your strength continue to increase throughout this phase. You should also be able to add weight on each successive set as your muscles fire up. You should load the machines so that you are going to complete exhaustion on each set.

Weightlifting Sets and Reps in Phase 2-Six to seven sets of four to five reps on each exercise two to three times per week.


Phase 3 Cycling is all about time in the saddle. This might mean some cold early mornings and some late nights on the trainer. Be safe! Wear plenty of reflective clothing and light yourself up like a Christmas tree. Although you always want to keep your life and your training in balance, this is the one time per year when you might want to sacrifice a little sleep to get a few more minutes on the bike.

During this phase, you will continue to build endurance with Tempo or Z3 intervals. These intervals require a lot of concentration as they can be long and tedious. You can incorporate two of these into your training each week. Start with 30 minutes and gradually build up to an hour or even an hour and half. These should be done just below threshold intensity. Whether you’re on the flats or a climb, stay smack dab in the middle of Z3 for the duration of the interval. As always, week four is easy recovery.

Determining the duration of Cycling
in Phase 3:
Week 1: 75 percent of LW
Week 2: 90 percent of LW
Week 3 = 100 percent of LW
Week 4 = 45 percent of LW

Phase 3 Weights are all about Power. Everything up to now has been a foundation for the sheer brute power you will develop in this last phase. You can do a combination of free weights and machines. This will probably be the hardest phase as you will be stressing the muscular system while at the same time going into oxygen debt on each set. Focus on an explosive yet controlled lift and then a slow painful release. Go to exhaustion on each and every set.

Weightlifting Sets and Reps in Phase 3:
Do five sets of 12 repetitions two times per week

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