Should Amateur Cyclists Train Like Professionals?

Anyone who takes to the road to cycle probably imagines themselves hitting the front of the pack, leaving the chasing peloton in their dust. Hitting the road towards home may even bring dreams of hitting the finish line as the winner of the Tour de France.
These feelings may inspire some of you to adopt the same training methods as the pro riders. The question here is whether this is a good idea for the average road rider, or whether doing so will just make you feel like a failure.

How The Professional Riders Train

The word “professional” should be your first clue that these guys are riding on a full-time basis, logging as many as 20,000 miles each year.

To break that down, you are looking at 400 miles per week, which is not probably possible for those of you with a job and a family.

The winter months are usually when the pros get in most of their base miles, with the goal of either building endurance, sustained speed levels, or a strong finishing kick.

Talk to the average cycling coach when looking for advice as an amateur rider, and you will probably be advised to so the same thing, throwing in some high-intensity training for good measure. The distances covered by amateurs may be shorter, but the ratio between steady rides and intense ones remains the same.

It is possible to look at how the pros train and apply those methods as an amateur. This includes setting clear goals, as well as looking at recovery techniques, proper nutrition, and properly preparing for an upcoming event. Paying attention to each of those things can certainly help with performance.

That said, research has shown that cyclists who only have around 6-8 hours per week in which to train may not benefit from putting in as many miles as possible. Base miles are a low intensity way to train, which mean you need to log a lot of them to get any sort of meaningful return. For those who only have time to put in slow, steady rides, expect performance gains that are also slow and steady.

How Should You Train If Time Is An Issue?

Motivated riders who don’t have a lot of time may benefit from what coaches refer to as sweet-spot training. It’s a little technical here, but the description of the sweet-spot effort is falling between the upper end of zone 3 and the lower end of zone 4. To put that in layman’s terms, look for a ride that is tough yet manageable, to the point where you should still be able to clearly talk in short sentences while you ride.

This is a much better approach than low intensity rides, and should help you get fitter that much faster. You can skip this method if you have 4 or 5 free hours to train every day, but for those of you with limited time available, sweet-spot training is the way to go to get a real fitness boost.

Another goof training method used by the pros is known as high-intensity interval training, which is where you alternate between intense bursts and recovery periods. HIIT is great if you are looking to build endurance. Again, this is a method that is made for those with time to train. That doesn’t mean that you can’t mix in some HIIT runs if you are a training time starved amateur. This type of workout is one that you should ease into if you are still relatively new to the sport. If you have been training for years, then by all means jump into this effective endurance training.

What this all means is that if you are short on time, intensity will deliver better results that long, sustained rides.