Absolute Novice In Cycling? Build Base Fitness For Your First Triathlon

base fitness cycling

Allow yourself to be a beginner. No one starts off being excellent.

For any triathlon, cycling plays a huge role in the overall outcome of the race. Your strength on the bike determines your cycling performance after the swim and how much will you be able to run after the bike. So for any beginner triathlete, it’s a very common question to ask, “How should I start?”. Let’s dive into the topic of base fitness cycling and how you can prepare yourself for your very first attempt.

Before you start your base fitness cycling training, you have to remember that the cycling leg takes up 50-60% of your total time in a triathlon. Hence, your triathlon training should reflect such volume in terms of cycling. So, be mentally ready to grind long and hard, if you plan to compete in any race.

First Step

To start your training, you definitely need a bike first. I would suggest a road bike as your first buy. It’s very versatile for different racing and training situations. Contrary to popular beliefs, you don’t need a TT bike unless you can stay aero for long without sacrificing power and handling skills. During my IM Malaysia, I crossed a huge field of riders on their TT bikes, whereas I was on the road bike. Invest for a fancy bike once you’re comfortable and at the intermediate level in terms of your cycling abilities.

Before you buy a bike, make sure that it’s the right size for you. You can’t run if your shoe size is wrong, isn’t it? The same goes here as well, as improper bike size will cause discomfort and injuries. There are lots of websites which give you a recommended frame size based on your height and inseam length but I won’t always follow such suggestions as the frame size varies from brand to brand. Some brands do mention what size is suitable for you based on your height, so it’s better to go along with their suggestion.

base fitness cycling
A diagram with all the important measurements of the bike

You got you bike, now what?

Now comes the all-important factor of bike fitting. You have to set your bike according to your physical limits otherwise you won’t be able to ride faster and will create unnecessary injuries. For any bike fitting, the most basic fundamental basics are your saddle height, saddle fore-aft and you reach of the bike. There are plenty of articles and YouTube videos on how to fix those basics and I suggest you to follow those.

For cycling accessories, helmet, gloves and cycling shorts are mandatory. You need these things to train and race in the events. Also, opt for higher quality products. Cheaper products don’t last long and you end up losing more money anyways. Besides these, I strongly recommend getting a bike computer. Why? I’m coming to that point shortly.

Finally, you have got the bike and ready to train. Congrats for your first step but the hard work begins now. For the first few weeks, just focus on riding the bike. In Chinese Kung-Fu, it’s said that any weapon you use should be an extension of your body, the same goes here for cycling. You should start with 4 weekly rides and get used to the bike, how it feels under acceleration, how it handles etc. and so on.

Time to build base fitness cycling

After your initial bike rides, it’s time to ramp up your training a bit. Try riding 30 minutes at the average speed that you intend to complete for your goal race. For example, if you need to keep 25 kmph for a race, try riding at that speed for 30 minutes. Use the bike computer that I mentioned previously to keep track of the speed. 4 days a week here, that’s solid 2 hours of training weekly. Remember that, the more you ride, the more saddle time you build, which in turn is going to make longer rides more comfortable.

Once you can ride above the goal speed comfortably for all the weekly sessions, it’s time to increase the duration. Raise your duration by 15 minutes and repeat the process till you hit the 60 minutes’ mark and can easily keep your target average speed. So that’s solid 4 hours of training under your legs with the focus of building your base. Once you reach there, it’s time to change the routine again. Your base fitness cycling has improved :).

At this phase, you’re ready to increase the intensity of the training. Schedule 3 days of training which consists of one interval, one steady ride, and one long ride. For the intervals, do hard sprints of 10/10 effort, 5-10 times, building gradually. Take enough rest between the sprints and ride at a comfortable pace. You should see a very fast improvement soon.

base fitness cycling
A typical bike computer

For long rides, aim to ride as long as possible. Raise 5-10 minutes in duration every week and target to reach 2 hours continuously at the goal average speed. Once you can do that, you can raise your goal average speed as your new benchmark. You reiterate the process with this new benchmark and that’s how you keep improving your speed.

Training by cycling heart rate zones

So far, that’s a very basic way to build your base fitness cycling for a goal race. If you want more control and data, I would suggest investing in a heart rate monitor and train based on heart rate data. Track how your heart reacts to various training sessions, and pace your efforts according to your training needs. It helps a lot when you’re doing a triathlon and when you need to stay at a certain heart rate so that you don’t burn out during your running phase.

Most importantly, listen to your heart. Managing three sports at the same time is very difficult so, during your cycling base, your legs may feel very tired. So don’t push unnecessarily and cause injuries. Let your body get used to working for new muscle groups. Try to plan the run and swim sessions accordingly so that you can perform all of these. Remember, the goal of the triathlon training is to create mild fatigue and train through it, not to perform extra efforts and then burn out.

For any aspiring triathletes who are struggling with how to initiate base fitness cycling and building up the base, I hope this guideline gets you started. The training aspect of cycling is huge, one that cannot be completed in one article. I’ll post more advanced topics in future articles, so stay tuned for those.

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