How Fast Should I Ramp Up My Early Season Riding?


I recall reading in a past issue about the amount of mileage one should increase at the beginning of the riding season, like now. I recall the recommendation was to increase miles no more than 10 percent each week, but I'd like the specific reference, because I'm not sure I'm remembering it correctly. In other words, how much more should I ride from one week to the next when I've only been riding about 35 miles a week on an indoor stationary bike? – John Y.

[Coach John Hughes is Pinch Hitting for Coach Fred today.]

Coach John Hughes Replies:

Thank you for your excellent question! Too many riders build volume too fast and develop “spring knee,” a form of tendonitis that can take months to heal.

Trainer miles, even on a computerized trainer, don’t translate to road miles. And not all road miles are the same. Hilly or windy road miles take longer than flat or calm road miles.  Think in terms of hours of training. Spring knee is the result of increasing total hours too fast.

Also think in terms of hours of total training. Suppose you’ve been on the trainer 3:00 a week. Next week you increase to 3:20 (10% increase) of riding. But you also start resistance training for half an hour 3 times a week to get stronger. You increased training volume from 3:00 to 4:50! Very risky!

On the other hand, suppose you’ve been riding 3:00 per week and doing strength exercises 1:30 per week, a total of 4:30 of exercise a week. You could cut your strength training to 1:00 a week and increase your riding a little more, to 4:00 – 4:30 hours per week. I wouldn’t increase too fast because you’re also changing types of exercise.

How rapidly you can increase also depends on frequency.  If you’ve been doing three 1:00 trainer rides, you might be able to increase 15-20% by doing four rides that total 3:30 – 3:40.

The injury-free rate of increase also depends on intensity. If you’ve been riding 3:00 at a conversational pace and increase to 3:30 of riding and start hammering—that’s risky! On the other hand, if your 3:00 on the trainer includes lots of intensity, you might be able to increase your volume to 3:30 – 3:45 by backing off on the intensity. For more on intensity, see my eArticle Intensity Training for Cyclists.

My eArticle on Spring Training: 10 Weeks to Summer Fitness, lays out four different programs which, depending on how much winter exercise you’ve done, helps you ramp up at appropriate rates.

Finally, how fast you can safely ramp up depends on your “Athletic Maturity.”  I’ve been doing aerobic exercise for over 40 years. I XC skied 72 days this winter and hit the gym regularly. I’m just starting to ride again regularly.

Because I’m very mature as an athlete, I can ramp up my riding volume faster. Athletic maturity is explained in my eArticle Cycling Past 60, Part I: For Health. Although the concept is used to develop training programs for other riders, it applies to everyone: the more you’ve been riding and the more balanced your training, the more you can handle.

Bottom line:  listen to your body.  If something starts to hurt, or it takes longer to recover, or performance decreases—back off!

Coach John Hughes is a record-setting ultracyclist and cycling coach specializing in working with older athletes. He is the author of 28 RBR eBooks and eArticles.


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