Beginner Tips From the Rest of the Pack - Training

We have a great number of very active and experienced members on our forum, so let’s help the beginner members out a little bit. I’m going to start some threads where we can all join in and give some of our “looking back” or “I wish I knew that when…” tips. Some of these will be funny user-error moments, and others will be common hurdles we all run into as we develop ourselves in our sport(s).

I’m looking at you @bgkeen, @slauson, @robertehall1, @SpareCycles, @SteveHerman, to name a few of our most engaged members, and of course our Fast Talk Laboratories experts @ThermalDoc, @chris, and @trevor :grin:

I’ll start off -

  1. Only training your strengths: When I was younger (teens and early 20s) I had quite a high VO2 max (74 ml/kg/min) and used that to my advantage in short events. I was always resistant to doing threshold work and never had the structure in long rides to keep things under control. Needless to say, my threshold as a % of maximum was abysmal, but I could absolutely destroy myself for about 5 minutes no problem. It wasn’t until I smartened up, thanks to experienced training buddies at the time, that I started plugging away at my weaknesses and saw the advantage of finding a better balance to my training.

  2. Hitting the hills too hard: I know @trevor can speak to this one too! Until I learned, again thanks to training buddies that were much more experienced, to ride my own pace on climbs, I was always hitting the hills too hard. There was one single day road race that had a ~1 mile steep climb at about 30 or so miles into the race (total distance was around 70 miles). It was pretty much the spot on the course where you could put in a good effort and create a huge gap…provided you could hold it. So I was climbing with a front group of guys and dug in hard. Ended up soloing to the top of that one and descending and then riding a few miles on my own. Within the next 5-10 miles a few riders came back and we had a great group. However, related to point #1 above, I didn’t have the durability to ride with them for the next ~30 miles so I gradually dropped back to the point that nearly everyone passed me and I ended up crawling across the finish line nearly dead last. :sweat_smile: (lesson learned!)

Let’s hear yours!
Coach Ryan


It’s been a long time since I felt like a beginner, so the hard part is remembering back to a time when I knew I was doing things wrong but didn’t know how to fix the issue. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about things I wish I knew 25 years ago:

  1. The “endurance-plus” ride: You may have heard Trevor refer to these as the high zone 1 ride (in a polarized model), or high zone 2 ride (in a five-zone model), and Jim Miller likes to call these “endurance-plus” rides. These are rides done at just below your aerobic threshold, and they should be used sparingly because they are harder than they seem on the surface. I’ve found these rides to be incredibly valuable for improving stamina, durability, as well as mental strength. As Jim Miller likes to say, these are the rides that make you a “warrior.” Again, these are more taxing than you’d think, and should be used sparingly. Also, don’t start with a six-hour ride at this intensity. Start at three hours, for example, and every week that you do these rides, add a half hour or so. And be patient. The benefits will become apparent over the course of months, not days.

More to come. I’ll keep thinking about this. Good post, @ryan!


Long-term training lesson I think I’ve learned the hard way (repeatedly!..) is not to lean on the crutch of maximum effort: to resist pushing to the limit on every single workout, because to leave a single watt not pedaled felt unproductive. To not get off my bike feeling exhausted felt like a failure.

Productive workouts don’t have to feel exhaustive, IMO. I think it’s sometimes easier just go 10/10! All-out! Right now! Than to hold something back, make sure we understand the purpose of the workout and how it fits into our larger training plan, and go 8/10 today so we can keep going 8/10 week-in, week-out.

It can be like a security blanket to tell ourselves we can’t go any harder, so we must be maximizing our training. Rather than make sure we understand the intent of our training sessions and maximize our training quality. “I’m not sure how many watts 10/10 quality is supposed to be, so I’m just gonna go all-out again!” :laughing:

In my experience it’s almost always more productive over the long term to prioritize consistency and quality of workouts, than to try and max the effort for every single one. Aim for 10/10 consistency & quality at 8/10 intensity, rather than try to hit 10/10 intensity and end up seeing consistency & quality plummet.


@ryan Great topic! I appreciate the call-out although I would say that I am still very much in the warrior phase of my development. Here are a few of my learnings, though. I hope someone finds them useful:

  • You shouldn’t do a ride that you can’t do consistently. Early on as a Cat 4, I would get invited to these 5+ hour rides with my Cat 1 teammates. They were being good friends by inviting me along, but the rides were way too hard for me at the time. I could hang, barely, but was completely shattered by the end. Looking back, I doubt that those rides were beneficial. I also did quite a number of training camps as well. While those were amazing experiences and am extremely grateful for them, I don’t think they were useful from a fitness standpoint because I cannot ride in the mountains on a consistent basis. I think this goes along with what @SpareCycles said.

  • Along those lines, I wish that I had better insight into what overtraining felt like. When I started riding and racing, I had very little significant athletic background, so fatigue was not a thing I had experienced in this context. Even if you can make the watts, you can still be overtraining!

  • Looking back, I know that I advanced through my racing categories too quickly, at least on the road side. I could have used significantly more races where I was physically capable of being at the front of the race, working on tactics, confidence, energy conservation, and my own strengths/weaknesses. It’s hard to learn to read the race when you’re chewing on your stem! Once I discovered 'cross, I got a tremendous amount of confidence bringing the fitness I had developed from road racing to lower category 'cross races (that’s how the category progression works in the USAC system). Consequently, even now I don’t have a clear sense of my strengths in road races (anything other than time trials? – I guess I’ll never know since I’m done with road :rofl:), while I know very well what types of 'cross courses suit me (>100 ft per mile gained per lap and adverse weather conditions).

  • I wish that I had a greater appreciation for how much fueling I need in a race. A few years ago I spent six months working with an amazing sports nutritionist, who helped me optimize my daily nutrition (which was pretty good already) but also my race nutrition. Six months of learning summarized: A clif bar and a gel isn’t going to cut it for a 60 mile / 4000 ft elevation road race.

  1. I wish I knew about polarized training. I used to spend all winter doing 3 HIT sessions per week in a cycling studio then most of the riding season riding as hard as I could on the mtb trails. Since fall 2019 (after discovering FastTalk) I’ve been much more polarized and I think it’s helping. Hopefully there will actually be some racing this season to find out for sure!
  2. I wish I knew more about rest and recovery periods. I used to take the odd day off but never a regular, dedicated easy week. I noticed performance declines where my FTP tests would yield lower numbers despite lots of training!
1 Like

Great topic and great insights! Truly hope all of our members who are newer to endurance sports find this thread and take it all in. I really only have one thing to add, but it is far and away the biggest thing I wish I had known from day one:

Listen to, learn, and understand the principles of training
Emphasis on “understand.” I spent my first several years as a racer making every mistake and being very unsuccessful to the point of pushing myself into a severely overtrained state. The gory details of which I talked about in a recent episode of Fast Talk.

At the time I had no idea of how to train except to go hard and do whatever workout or crazy idea I heard on the local Saturday group ride. Actually, I should rephrase that. I probably heard a lot of good suggestions on that ride, but because I didn’t understand the principles of training, I didn’t know how to apply the good advice I was hearing and constantly ended up doing the wrong thing.

The big change in my training was the day that I asked my mentor Glen Swan to explain to me how to train. He said if I treated him to a slice of pizza, he’d sit with me for an hour or two and explain the basics. Best $3 I’ve ever spent. All he did was explain the principles. More importantly, he had told me all of this before, but this time I listened and tried to understand.

I have 20 years of experience and research since the day we sat down over a slice of pizza, but those principles he taught me are still the foundation of my understanding of training. He taught me about:

  • The Overload Principle
  • The Law of Diminishing Returns
  • The Idea of Increased Risk of Injury and Overtraining
  • While it hadn’t been named yet, the concept of Polarized Training

Simple ideas, but I wasn’t able to do anything until I put the effort into understanding them.



I like this one. Especially if you are like me being taught at young ages that always going hard is the only way to improve.



I studied Finance/Economics - although I never worked in the field took, the IT/Data route instead - it is amazing how many part of life this law can relate.

1 Like

Great topic @ryan and thanks for tagging me to think I may have something to add :slight_smile:

I think a big theme of not going too hard too often has been hit a lot and probably the #2 thing on my list is more mentally for me is to remember “why” - in the big picture - I am riding/training to a certain level. It is suppose to be for adventure, enjoyment and fitness.

My “whys” are:

  • I want to keep fit and be able to do things with my kids
  • I want to do some great “bucket list” ride that are challenging
  • I love getting outside on a bike and watching the sun rise and set and see other great scenery
  • I love to do workouts that exhaust me and challenge me to finish

Some things I do - group rides that are not social (I do like a nice social group ride with good chat), periodic biking challenges - that are not primary but do help provide short-term motivation to the long term “whys”.

I go through periods of doing too much that does not go towards the “why.” To use the thought from @trevor on the Law of Diminishing Returns - I will forego an activity that would give me a bigger return (A morning sunrise ride) for one with less return (the 3rd group ride of the week with tired legs that and will not allow my next workout to be done how or when I want).

I do tend to burn mentally if I do too much of those short-term focus activities. But always coming back and thinking about those “whys” tend to get me on the right track of directing my activities/training to align correctly in both purpose and intensity.


Probably not a stretch to say its a general principle for many things in life


Hello fellow riders,
long time lurker (since wattage group days), (kind of) first time poster.

Nowadays we have so much information and addressed the basics pretty well thanks to booming sports business and internet.

Still some lessons need to be learned for me:

  • Having a bigger than average engine invalidates a lot of experience, knowledge, information and advice. If you have an aerobic capacity above average competitive rider (>70 mL/min/kg) be careful of what you are following. Because this kind of an engine leaves you in no mans land. You are not strong enough or lucky enough or simply not interested to be a pro and have access to professional guidance. And unless you have the means as an hobby rider you will not have enough time to have a healthy fun with that motor.

Which brings us to my second lesson:

  • Training 10-15 hours a week is the most dangerous way to train. Combined with a good aerobic engine this training load have the capacity to crash your soul or make you fall short of your potential. You need to have a lot of experience, be very careful of nutrition and sleep and apply every trick in the book to your training. One mistake and time and energy wasted or worse.

  • A lot of the “old school”, “deep”, “proven” knowledge comes from professional cycling and mostly not from near past. Those people were dealing with 25-30 hour a week, young, extremely resilient and mostly ehem enhanced riders. Be careful before taking their advice to action. Some of that “advice” is not even direct and comes from word of mouth. With 60 Ml/min/kg and 7 hours a week you will be fine but with 75 mL/min/kg and 15 hours a week you might meet a lot of local doctors.

  • When you come across any information do a suitability check before diving into. If a paper starts with “15 well trained cyclists (mean vo2max of 63 mL/min/kg” or “10 professional cyclists training 25 hours a week” stop reading. There is only heartbreak and disappointment for you. Someone riding 15 hours during his off week does not have much to teach you. People having lost 20kg and reached an ftp of 4,5w/kg having x diet and y fueling strategy cannot help you to lose 2kgs and reach 5,5w/kg ftp. A pro rider with 5% body fat and a speed dial list of doctors and coaches who are paid a house a year cannot help you. Stop listening to these people. Well, listen and watch but do not follow their example.

  • To add to the above: be careful of Correlation-Causation. Some advice are simply not based on the reasons but on the happens to be or has to be outcomes. For example someone winning the Olympics with 35% endurance, 60% more endurance and 5% hiit does NOT mean 5% hiit ratio is the reason for their win. Maybe with 30-40 hours a week of Olympic level training that is all the hiit they can bloody do. Do not scale it down to your puny 70 mL/min/kg and 13 hours/week.

  • Your body does not scale other capabilities with its aerobic capacity. Simple as that. Your immune system, digestive capacity, recovery, sleep quality, hormonal balance, brain chemistry are NOT designed according to your engine. You are not a motorized vehicle purpose designed by engineers. If you can push one capability of your body very hard it does not mean that other capabilities will hold up.

  • Similar to above: If you have one better than normal pillar of performance out of 3 (vo2max, threshold % of vo2max, efficiency) there is a reason for that. You are probably crap at other(s). Work on all 3 but more on weak ones (efficiency itself almost never changes but replace it with endurance).

  • These 3 pillars of performance has to be addressed year long. Distribution changes throughout the year based on where we are in the season and what is the reference performance (performance signature needed for our target events) that we are aiming. Every workout has to have one of the following 6 purposes: vo2max, % of vo2max @threshold, endurance, reference performance, technic. And they all have to touch (not exceed or crush) your potential for that purpose.

  • Similar to “nothing displaces the displacement” in ic engines nothing can replace good old high volume. Do not try to chase training load numbers (ctl etc) achieved with high volume using mid volumes and intensity. It is not the same ctl, not even close. For a well executed session (see above) your recovery rate is exponentially correlated to the work rate of the work part (kj/min/kg of interval portion) and not to the decay rate of ctl algorithm etc.

  • Long term sustainability is the key to any training program. When it comes to planning and evaluating training time unit is months. Lots of advice and study starts with 6 weeks of hiit, 8 weeks of polarized training etc. Focus on: then what?

Don’t ask why I know :slight_smile:


All great and I wish this was around when I first started training for things…

The following hits home:

I remember making that a goal over the course of 1-2 months. I was able to do it but it was like a job, especially with a family. The stress of trying to fit it in was mentally stressful. I will have weeks now where I will fit in bigger hours, but planned, and really pay attention to my sleep, resting HR, and ability to focus on other things. If I see anything getting out of sorts there I have no problem of taking a few days off to get things back in balance.

1 Like

So many interesting points here.

@trevor, the one area I consistently struggle with the most, and which I don’t hear being discussed enough, is how to apply the key “overload” principle to my training, when dealing with a fixed, and relatively low, amount of time available for training.

Overload is probably easier to achieve if one can ramp up their volume from an initial 6h week to a 15h week over several months, and where initial top end power is low and can be increased significantly.

But what about someone with a max of 6-7 hours a week year round, who may be able to stretch it to 10 for a couple of summer months?

Or/and someone who is closer to maxed out in terms of peak aerobic power, and therefore doesn’t have much room to play with intensity?

I’m in both these situations: how can I best achieve overload when neither volume nor intensity can be increased much?

1 Like

Hi @CEBorduas,

That’s a good question and maybe @ryan has a little more to add here. But I’ll start with the part you probably don’t want to hear. There is a lot you can do with limited time, but unfortunately at some point it is going to peak out.

Meaning if you only have 6-10 hours each week, you can get strong but there is a limit on how strong you can get. At some point, if you have optimized the time you have, you will get to where it is not possible to increase the load. The only way would be to do more high intensity session, but everything I have seen and read shows that even athletes who have to train 8 or less hours per week, a polarized approach is still best. So, i don’t recommend adding more intensity sessions to compensate. I know that’s what’s in The Time Crunched Athlete but I don’t personally fully agree. So, as long as you stay polarized, there’s only so much training stress you can produce in a week.

That is why Pros have to train so many hours in a week. It’s the only way to get the load they need while staying polarized.

All that said, I do think there are a few things you can try:

First, you can increase the load of your interval sessions. So, still limit yourself to 2 interval sessions per week, but as you find that you are handling the current load well, add a few REPS and try to increase the power a little (while still staying in the same training zone.) That’s what I’m personally doing. Back in the winter, the TSS for my typical interval session was around 70-80. That’s all I needed in January. Now that i’m getitng into the season, I still do the same number of interval sessions, but I’m hitting TSS values more in the 140-170 range.

Another way that I find works, even with time-crunched athletes, is to have periodic weeks where you increase the volume (i.e. do a mini-training camp) and push yourself to a small functional over-reach. You can plan these weeks ahead of time to make sure you have the time. You follow these weeks with a rest, and then it’s okay if you go back to 6-8 hours per week. Those typical weeks just maintain (or solidify) your form until your next overload week.

Hope that helps!


Thanks, @trevor, for the tag. I don’t have a whole lot to add, and I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment of:

I think there is a reality to training where we see the potential of what the pros can do and realize there is more we can achieve. However, that requires more time. It’s one of those things where once you’re tapped out on time, it’s hard to continue the overload to move past that current limit.

@CEBorduas, are there other things we can do? Definitely. I think the suggestions on adding intensity to the existing interval sessions and building in small overload blocks work great. I’m in agreement about the Time Crunched Athlete comments too - can it work? Maybe…for a very short time frame, but the risk of over-cooking yourself is high. I’m not sold on that being a worthwhile trade for a potential boost in fitness.

Another approach I like is a block approach where you can concentrate workloads over smaller time frames - this would be very close to a mini-training camp or overload week in some sense, but you can push it out a bit longer to align with your time availability. It would feel like something in between your normal volume and the volume you would hit for a mini-training camp/overload week, so you can usually pull that out over a more typical training block of 2-3 weeks.

Coach Ryan

1 Like

I’d like to add a couple things that I wish I had known earlier on.

  1. Riding happy-hard too often. Usually this is high tempo into Sweet Spot, but not often over threshold. It feels like you’re doing work, but you’re not really riding THAT hard. The perception of work overshadows the effectiveness.

  2. Chasing and/or obsessing over CTL. I still struggle with this. I hate seeing how the decay is severely impacted by a few days off. I’ve had to work really hard to divorce the assumption that CTL = Fitness, and that more is better.

  3. Not appreciating the endurance ride. When you’re new you’re hungry, and when you’re hungry you tend to ride hard-ish all the time, as mentioned above. A consequence of this is that you neglect to work in those long-steady rides that target LT1.

  4. Accepting your current reality. With a family of 5, my time is crunched (6- 8 hr weeks) and there’s really nothing I can do other than work with my wife to schedule in periodic long rides, but a standing weekly 5-hour ride or a 12-15 hour week isn’t a reality at this point. THAT IS OK. You can be competitive on 6-8 hours per week if you train smart.


Awesome! I love the 4th point - there is so much we can stress ourselves out with around the training process, and it’s so important to look at the reality. That reality can inform our goals too - as a time crunched athlete, we’re not going to be racing any Grand Tours, but we can surely find the best way to use our 6-8 hours per week to be competitive with not only ourselves, but other people around us who are likely in the same boat. The nice thing about endurance sports is there’s always someone faster, so never a shortage of competition! :slight_smile:

1 Like

Reading through another local (cycling) forum that I have been a part of since 2007, I saw a post by a new member asking for help to get stronger. The comments given by every second person was pretty much the same: “do intervals”. I sent him a private message asking him that if he was serious, that I was willing to assist him. He responded yesterday, and we’ve had a lot of back-and-forth communication with a mutual agreement to follow a “structured” plan.

Turns out he is an absolute beginner, as in 295Km (total distance) and <20 hours (ride time) on the bike. He only knows one way, go hard. If you don’t make it to the top, go harder. Takes me back to the year spent doing military service as a 19yo fresh out of school.

His goal is relatively simple: To ride the 36Km route in under 2 hours, on his Bianchi (old steel frame) without having to push. He pushes his bike on one 4Km long hill that includes gradients into the double digits. Not that difficult (for me) but a challenge for someone like him.

Seems like he’s keen to ride every day, so my challenge will be to hold him back (ensuring recovery) while allowing him to see progression. Looking forward to it. Normally it’s someone who has been fairly active, and wants to get faster.

There’s no metrics he’s interested in (yet), just that magical 2 hour mark for a 36Km ride. How simple is that? Watch this space.


I’m new here to the site, and to coaching. What is this “endurance-plus” ride? I see mention of high zone 2 in a 5 zone system, but always wonder if that is hr or power

I would utilize HR with these rides. As Chris described, it’s a more taxing version of an endurance ride, so you would want to be aware of the HR response as this could produce some noticeable fatigue or drop in power