endurance factor logo

Periodized Bike Training

  There are many good ways to train for a duathlon. No one way is perfect. The challenge for the serious duathlete is to find a reasonable system of training and stick with it. Too many change their minds about how best to prepare for the big race every time they talk with friends, read a multisport magazine, or hear how a pro trains. This constant fluctuation violates the principle of consistency that is necessary for continued improvement. Even if your training is not that great, sticking with it will do more good than frequently changing direction.

            My purpose in this two-part training series, while it’s still early in the season, is to describe one system that may work for you. But even though I know this system is successful, if what you’re doing now works, don’t change. Stick with it.



            Last month I explained how the concept of periodization is effective for organizing training. In review, periodization is a system of organizing training so that fitness is built in stages and reaches a peak at prescribed times. Most elite athletes, regardless of sport, train this way.

            I also described how a duathlete’s running workouts might be organized using this proven method. This month’s column provides the same assistance for the biking portion of the race. Comparing the two you’ll find that the workouts are similar. That’s because the “motor” is the same for both sports, and the demands of duathlon racing are similar for the bike and run legs.

            The process of periodization begins by setting priorities for your planned races. This is important because if you don’t know when you want to come to a peak of fitness, this system is useless. The “Race Priorities” table will help you with this task. Notice that you are asked to choose only three or four A-priority races. These are best spaced so that there will only be two or three peaks in a season with at least six weeks between them. Two of the races may be on back-to-back weekends.


Training Periods

            Once you know which races are most important, work backwards using the “Training Periods” table and a calendar to plan the first peak of the year. More than likely, you’ll now be in your Base or Build periods assuming there is an A-priority race in the spring or early summer.

            For each subsequent period the same process is used, but there may not be a need to repeat the Base period. If the first Base period of the season was long enough to establish high levels of aerobic endurance and you have been able to maintain it in subsequent periods, follow the first Race period with a one-week Transition. Then go back into the Build period in preparation for the next A race.


Bike Workouts

            Once you have planned out the season’s periods, plugging in the bike workouts is easy. Use the “Bike Workouts by Period” table for your weekly sessions. Do each of the workouts listed each week during the period. The only tricky part is allowing for recovery between hard workouts. This is where many duathletes get into trouble. If you don’t feel rested and ready to go when a hard workout is planned, you’re better off skipping the session that week. Doing otherwise is risky and will eventually catch up with you in the form of overtraining, injury, illness, or burnout. One missed workout won’t make any difference, but one too many could cost you several days or weeks of training.

            Study after study has shown that intensity is a far more potent producer of fitness than is volume. So while there are times in the season when putting in the miles is important, once you get into the Build period reduce mileage by 20 percent or so and emphasize race-specific intensity.


Riding Indoors

            There are likely to be times when the weather will drive you indoors for a bike workout. With a little creativity the planned session may stay the same. For example, raising the front wheel four to six inches and shifting between high and low gears simulates hills. Playing a Powerman videotape also makes this into a motivational workout.

            No matter how long the ride was supposed to be, 90 minutes to two hours is the longest you need to ride indoors.


Joe Friel is the author of The Triathlete’s Training Bible. Frequently asked questions on the topic of this article and more are available on his web site at http://www.ultrafit.com.




Race Priorities

Priority      # of Races             Importance            General guidelines

A                 3-4                   High                      Come to a peak for these races

These define season’s success

B                 6-8                   Moderate               Rest in week prior

C           Unlimited              Low                       Tune-up for A-B races

Try new equipment/tactics

Hard workout—“train through”

Have fun



Training Periods

The typical order of the six periods in building to season’s first peak

Period              Duration          When*             Workload        Focus

Transition        1-4 weeks        After Peaks     Minimal           Rest and recovery

Preparation      4-6 weeks        Late fall           Low                 Readapt to training

Base                8-12 weeks      Winter             Increasing        Endurance, strength, technique, and muscular endurance

Build               6-8 weeks        Late winter      Increasing        Race-specific intensity

Maintain Base fitness

Peak                1-2 weeks        Spring              Reduced          Simulate race & rest

Race                1-3 weeks        Spring              Reduced          Brief, high-intensity workouts

* Varies depending on when first A-priority race is scheduled.


Bike Workouts by Period

Period              Weekly Bike Workouts

Base                2-3 hours at 20-50 beats below lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR).

                        1-2 hours in hills—LTHR or less.

                        Pedaling skills: spin-ups, 1-leg, roller rides, fixed gear, mountain biking on loose terrain.

                        Tempo progressing to cruise intervals (can combine with pedaling skills).

Build               Endurance brick.

                        Cruise intervals (alternate weekly with anaerobic intervals)

                        Anaerobic intervals (alternate weekly with cruise intervals)

Peak                Tempo brick.

                        Tune-up race.

                        All other rides are for recovery only.

Race                Pick-ups twice during week.

                        Pre-race brick day before race.

                        Any other rides are for recovery only.


Bike Workout Descriptions

All sessions include a warm-up and cool down

Workout             Description

Spin-ups             Over 30 seconds, increase cadence to maximum while remaining relaxed.

1-leg                   On a trainer, place 1 foot on chair and pedal with other until fatigue. Alternate legs.

Rollers                An indoor training device in which the bike rests on free-turning cylinders.

Fixed gear          A type of bike which has only one gearing combination and no freewheel.

Loose terrain      Ride mountain bike on trails with soft, or sandy surfaces.

Tempo                Steady 20-40 minutes at 10-20 beats below lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR).

Cruise intervals  3-5 x 6-12 minutes at 10 beats below to 3 beats above LTHR with 2-3 minute recoveries.

Endurance brickA brick that is either long ride-short run, or short ride-long run. Alternate these weekly. All aerobic effort.

Anaerobic           5 x 2-5 minutes at 3-10 beats above LTHR with equal recoveries.


Tempo brick       Bike portion includes intervals totaling 25 to 50% of the goal race’s distance. Do these at planned race intensity. Then transition to a run that is about race duration including 25 to 50% of it at goal race pace.

Tune-up race      A C-priority race or a workout that simulates a race.

Recovery            Short ride at 20-50 beats below LTHR.

Pick-ups             2-4 x 90 seconds at planned race effort. Recover for 3 minutes.

Pre-race brick     A short brick such as 30 minutes of riding and 15 minutes of running. Include race-pace accelerations. This is best done on the race course.