There are three main training phases that a cyclist or mountain biker needs to understand being base, build and competition/peak:
- Base - the base phase is where you lay out your foundation of aerobic fitness before any high intensity training is taken place. Base training basically includes spending most of your time working on endurance rides at a low intensity (65-70% of maximum heart rate if you have a heart rate monitor). Building your base provides most of your endurance for later in the season and without it your improvements will be dramatically limited. Time spent in the base phase depends on your goals for the season. The longer you spend in the base phase the larger your potential for the season; aim for somewhere between 3 weeks and 3 months. It is useful to develop your base either on road on an indoor trainer as it provides less interruptions with your heart rate and rhythm.
- Build - once you have built your foundation in the base phase it is time to start to ramp up the intensity. Here it is also useful to suppliment with strength/resistance training. Sessions in the build phase can include intervals, hill starts and pace rides. It is a good idea to start with your workouts having longer and less intense efforts and gradually work your way up to shorter, harder intensities.
- competition/peak - this is where all of your hard work troughout the season pays off. Your workouts should be short and sharp focusing mostly on speed and high intensity. If you executed your base and build phases correctly, you will find that at this stage you should notice a difference in performance. Your body can unfortunately keep this sort of peak condition for a limited time from 2-4 weeks, so it is important to time your program so you are peaking at an important race or event. Riders often feel that they are losing fitness through this phase, but if you peak correctly you will reap the rewards.
- restoration phase - at the end of your program, after the competition phase, it is important to give your body a rest to rebuild and recover. Depending on your condition and calander this phase should last between two weeks and two months. In this time avoid having a junk food blow out accompanying plenty of couch time and try to continue to eat well and include some gentle exercise like swimming, walking etc. The restoration phase is also used to recover your mind making you motivated to train when you finish resoring.
The overload principle
The overload principle entails gradually increasing work (duration, intensity, weight etc.) over a period of time. This should be used in your base, build and any weight/resistance training you may be doing. For example, in your base phase you should be aiming to increase the duration of your rides by about 10% each week, in the build phase you should be increasing intensity each week and so on... In the competition phase however, you need to do the opposite by reducing training volume by 10 % each week. This will allow your body to rebuild and "taper".
It is important to add recovery into your training schedule to prevent "burnout" and allow time for your body to adapt. Every 3-4 weeks back off the training slightly to allow for a bit of extra recovery. Remember that it is in recovery your fitness improves due to your body rebuilding and adapting to the exercise.