ASK COACH FRED

Is a Structured Training Plan Necessary?

Question:

I started riding five years ago, logging about 3,000 miles a year, including centuries and cross-state rides. Now I have more time to train and want to improve. Do I need a structured training program, or can I just increase my miles and add more intensity when I feel like it in the form of hills and group rides? -- Samantha V.

Coach Fred Matheny Replies:

I suspect that most cycling coaches would tell you that a structured program is necessary. And for a good many riders, they’d be right.

[I’m exaggerating in the next two paragraphs for effect.] They'd point out how training to improve is different from just riding. They'd say that if you want to get stronger you have to treat cycling like an athletic endeavor, not a recreational activity. This means that each ride is a workout, not a pleasant diversion from daily life.

That's fine for personalities that thrive on precision and like to follow a plan. They want to know their workout schedule in detail, months in advance. They want each ride spelled out minute-to-minute. They can't "just ride" because doing so leads to a sense of cosmic uncertainty. For them, a structured plan is the ticket.

But many roadies don't like to be so constrained. They simply love to be on their bikes, and training is secondary. They still improve because they ride consistently, enter recreational events that challenge them with greater distances, and don't shy away from hills -- the natural form of interval training.

You need to evaluate your personality and decide which profile fits. Many cyclists have improved with the structured approach, and many have gotten good without "training" at all.

Coach Fred Matheny has decades of experience as a competitive racer and cycling coach. He is the author of 13 RBR eBooks and eArticles.

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