The purpose of my last article was to spur you on to start thinking about the approach to your classes at the beginning of the year. Being a coach, my natural tendency is to sway you toward a periodized approach.  I was definitely very happy with the responses from the last article which could be summed up as “so, how do we do it?”  As promised, here is a simple approach to early season periodization for indoor cycling that I have been using for the last 10 years.

Quickly....What is Periodization?

Periodization is a process of structuring training into progressive phases or blocks of time. In addition to the structure, there is a determined progression to the training from week to week and month to month. The progression manipulates a variation of Training Volume, Training Intensity and Training Specificity with a focus on the end goal (which could be anything from a pure fitness goal to preparing for a charity ride, century, cycling vacation or competitive event) or peak fitness. Although we are going to focus on the early season (or Base period), here is a simplified periodization plan I use for indoor cycling so you have a picture of how the Base period fits into the rest of the year:


  • BASE Period: January - March
  • BUILD Period: April — May
  • PEAK Period: June — September
  • TRANSITION Period: October — December

Keep in mind that how long and when each of these periods occur throughout the year is purely a function of the goals of a specific person or athlete.  The above is a generalized approach I found suitable for indoor cycling classes.


I”™m going to reference 5 to 6 different ride profiles in the upcoming paragraphs. Unfortunately, I”™m not going to be able to go into the details of each of these profiles for the sake of time and sanity.  Each of these profiles could be an article or AudioPROfile in and of itself.

The Benefits of this Approach

Having a plan engages riders more because they often feel obligated to join in or continue. And it doesn”™t matter which point a rider enters your plan. You may start your periodization plan in January and then get a new rider each week all the way through to March.  No problem.  Although each of the workouts is challenging, the overall intensities and specificity will be lower than usual, making it easy for new-comers to jump-in. The fact that they walked into a “plan” many times keeps them coming back because they don”™t want to miss anything else. Plus, a periodized approach is a smart, proven training method which appeals to the cycling community as a whole and will draw more cyclists to your classes.

As a side note: Most of the classes I teach meet only once per week and thus there is only 1 training focus per week. The class that I have that meets twice a week gets the same ride twice.  They appreciate a second chance at it, as they are often better prepared (mentally) to be successful the next go-around. Plus in the “real” world of cycling, many of these workouts/rides would be done 2-3 times during the week anyway.

The Plan

First I”™ll layout the weekly plan and then I will give a brief explanation of each ride. Notice that in this plan, the same ride is not repeated for 6 weeks and the schedule takes you right into April.


  • WEEK 1: Threshold Test
  • WEEK 2: Aerobic Development
  • WEEK 3: Leg Speed / Cadence Work
  • WEEK 4: Muscular Endurance
  • WEEK 5: Aerobic Endurance
  • WEEK 6: Muscular Strength
  • WEEK 7: Test / Review
  • WEEK 8: Aerobic Development
  • WEEK 9: Leg Speed / Cadence Work
  • WEEK 10: Muscular Endurance
  • WEEK 11: Aerobic Endurance
  • WEEK 12: Muscular Strength
  • WEEK 13: Threshold Test

Threshold Test

There are a number of ways to do a threshold test.  My preference is the Foster Talk test which identifies 2 ventilatory inflexion points: VT1 (ventilatory threshold 1) and VT2 (ventilatory threshold 2).  I”™m going to use VT2 (or approximately 80% perceived effort) as the upper limiter on all of the remain class profiles below. Here is another method of performing a 20-Minute Threshold Field test posted on June 25, 2011 -

Another side note: I use the early part of the Threshold class to talk about proper form and technique while taking time to walk around the room and make necessary (wanted) adjustments.

Aerobic Development

This class consists of short aerobic intervals of 30 seconds to 2 minutes.  It is easiest to break these intervals into sets using a 1 to 1 (work to recovery) ratio.  The target intensity for each effort is VT2.

Leg Speed / Cadence Work

Another interval structure where the variable is now leg speed.  Two common ways to structure these intervals is to either do a set of 1-2 minute efforts at 90 RPM, then do a set of 1-2 minute efforts at 100 RPM, etc.  You can also approach it like a pyramid and design a set that starts with an effort at 90 RPM, then 100 RPM, etc.  There are dozens of cadence drills one could use to build a nice varied class.  Keep in mind that the speeds you target should be appropriate for your demographic of rider.  The goal of these classes is to obtain the leg speed, while maintaining a smooth pedal-stroke technique, and without driving one”™s heart rate above VT2.

Muscular Endurance

These are basically long climbs of moderate intensity ranging from 7 to 30+ minutes each.  I tend to mix up the class giving them a climb closer to 7 minutes, than another at 14 minutes and yet another at 21+ minutes.  It gives them a nice (duration) goal. The cadence range is closer to 65-75 RPM and heart rates should stay below VT2.

Aerobic Endurance

These are long steady-state efforts (with some gentle rolling roads) ranging from 4 to 10 minutes. This time the target intensity is VT1 or closer to 70% of their perceived effort.  Like in most base building workouts, the stimulus is “volume” or duration and NOT intensity.  And believe you me, if done correctly, are equally as challenging (physically and mentally).

Muscular Strength

Similar to the format of Aerobic Development, these are shorter interval sets of 30 seconds to 2 minutes, but the focus is on workload or heavy force on the legs.  Cadence should range closer to 55 to 70 RPM.  Be sure to caution riders who may have injuries before you introduce these.  As always, rides should be instructed to work at their own pace and strength.

Test / Review

This is what I call a “Freebee”.  I build a class consisting of 1 or 2 drills from each of the preceding weeks (same music and all) and present it as a test.  “Let”™s see how we have been progressing over the last 5 weeks. Take note of which drills are your strengths and which are you weaknesses.  I”™m happy to talk with you after class if you would like some guidance on how to adjust your training based on what you”™ve learned.”

Rinse and Repeat

Yup, go through the previous 5 profiles again as you help your riders continue to build their fitness base.  I like to leave the second threshold test to the very end.  One generally gets a better result (or noticeable progress) after 10-11 weeks of focused workouts, and it is a great segue into the next phase of training.

Remember, BASE training is not boring but dynamic, varied and purposeful. Although the intensities are not near-max, the duration of time spent during each effort is longer and recoveries are often shorter (because...well...the intensities were not as high).  Have Fun!

Originally posted 2011-11-18 17:54:48.

Tom Scotto
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