The first thing you need if you’re going to train for a big event, such as a mountain bike race, is a training plan. If you’re just starting out, you can get in pretty good shape just by going out for a ride whenever you feel like it, but if you want to get serious results, you need to do some serious training.

The best training plan is going to come from a coach who has customized the training plan to your specific needs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with a decent plan on your own.

Below I will show you what a training week might look like, plus I’ll explain why it might look like that…

An Example Week from a Cyclist’s Training Plan

Here is an example week of training that a cyclist may use in the Spring, Summer, or Fall:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Recovery ride. 30 minutes. Sprints. 90 minutes. Recovery ride. 60 minutes. Intervals. 90 minutes. Recovery ride. 30 minutes. Intense ride. 120 minutes. Endurance ride. 4 hours.

In a little more detail:

Monday – Recovery ride.

Weekends are usually filled with hard riding, so Monday is a good time to take it easy and go for a 30-45 minute recovery ride. This will get some blood circulating through your legs, cleaning up any leftover byproducts of racing and delivering fresh oxygen. Your legs may be sore, but going out for an easy spin will make you feel better.

Tuesday – Sprints.

Hopefully you are fresh after the recovery day, in which case you can do some sprints. Sprints are all-out efforts that last about 8-15 seconds. You might do 2 sets of 3, or maybe 3 sets of 5 sprints, depending on your fitness. Total ride time should be around 90 minutes.

Wednesday – Recovery ride.

To recover from Tuesday’s workout and prepare for Thursday, another recovery ride is in order. Ride easy for 30-60 minutes.

Thursday – Intervals.

Now that you are rested, it’s time for some intervals. There are so many types of intervals you can do, I can’t name them all here, but here’s an idea:

You could do 2 sets of 3 reps of 2 minute intervals (at the fastest pace you can hold for the entire duration of the interval.) 2 minutes recovery between intervals, 10 minutes recovery between sets. Overall, go for a 90 minute ride.

Friday – Recovery ride.

Another 30 minute recovery ride is in order.

Saturday – Intense ride.

If you have a race scheduled, race. If not, go out for 1-2 hours, riding like you’re in a race. It won’t be structured like an interval workout, but it will be hard and fast and should mimic the types of races you do.

Sunday – Endurance ride.

To maintain endurance during the season, you will want to do a long ride at least once every other week, if not once per week. This ride should be pretty slow, totally aerobic, and it will last from 3-6 hours, depending on your fitness and goals.

Adapting the Plan to Fit your Goals

You could use the above week as a good starting point for developing a plan, but you can’t just do that workout each week – you need to adjust the plan to fit your need!!

You’ll need to adjust the number and length of intervals, the length of the recovery rides and endurance rides, intensity level, etc. And that will adjust continually as you increase your fitness.

A few examples of changes you might make:

Back-to-Back Interval Workouts

If you’re training for stage races or other instances where you typically have to ride hard for two days in a row, you could do your interval workouts on Tuesday and Wednesday, instead of separating them with a rest day.

One Hard Weekday Ride

Let’s say it’s the heart of racing season and you just want to maintain fitness, since your primary goal is being well-rested for the weekend. In this case, you might do a hard workout on Wednesday, but take it easy on the other days. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and maybe even Sunday will be easy recovery rides.

Intense Fridays

If you have a race on Saturday, you’ll want to ride a little bit on Friday to keep your legs fresh. This ride won’t be long, but it should have incorporate some intense intervals to make sure you’re ready and raring to go (rather than sluggish) come Saturday.


If you’re focusing on events like long time trials, or real long events like RAAM or 24-hour mountain bike races, you might forget the sprints and stick with longer intervals and/or more endurance days.

A Day Off

Sometimes even a recovery ride will be too much. In that case, you need to take a day and lay in bed all day!

Cross Training

To maintain your body, you should also incorporate other exercises, such as weight lifting, body weight calisthenics, and/or yoga.

The “Why” Behind the Training Plan

Even though you should adapt your training plan, there are a couple basic principles at play. Keep this in mind:

1. Hard then Easy.

In this plan, each hard ride is followed by an easy ride, so you end up alternating hard and easy days.

By going very easy on your easy days, you can go very hard on your hard days. This style of training will produce bigger gains than if you rode every day at a mediocre pace.

2. Big Rides on the Weekend.

If you work Mon-Fri, 9-5, it’s kind of obvious you have to save the big rides for the weekend.

But this is also because that’s when races are. You want to get in the groove and establish a routine, so you schedule your training to match your race schedule.

You can take it even further if you want and match your workouts to your actual race times. Some races may start at 8:00 AM, while others take place at 2:30 PM. You want your body used to delivering at the specified time.

Think about it – if you’ll be racing in the afternoon heat, you want to get accustomed to that. So don’t do all your rides at 7:00 AM. If you’ll be racing early in the morning, train early in the morning. A big thing in this case is determining what to eat and drink.

Designing Your Own Training Plan

To do the best job designing your own training plan, I highly recommend purchasing a book on the subject. The best choice for a dedicated cyclist is The Cyclist’s Training Bible by Joe Friel. It’s a big book which features in-depth coverage of virtually every aspect of training.

If you’re just starting out and want some training advice coupled with a training plan, try The Lance Armstrong Performance Program, which provides three separate training plans (beginner, intermediate, and advanced.)

You will learn a lot from those books, and you’ll get a good start on a training plan. You can get both for under $25, which is less than what a coach would cost per month!

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