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British Cycling Federation Training Guidelines

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Training Level 1

Heart Rate: Level 1 training intensity is typically performed by riding at a heart rate of less that 45 BPM below measured HR max.

Sensation: At this work intensity the sensation of effort would be very low and concentration is not required to maintain riding pace. You should be unaware of your rate and depth of breathing and continuous conversation with training partners is possible. For and elite athlete Level 1 will not be stressful, and could be maintained continuously for many hours.

Purpose: The real value of Level 1 training is as a controlled, active recovery exercise, performed between more stressful workouts, or at times when higher levels of training are undesirable. It is below the level of intensity at which a significant strain is placed on the body functions that limit performance. This low intensity level is ideal for improving basic skills, adjusting riding technique and acclimatising the body to long periods in the saddle. Level 1 is the basis of most club rides, and a pleasant activity, but should not be confused with serious racing.

Limiting Factors: The major factors that limit training at this level are energy. Therefore food and drink should be carried on all rides in excess of one hour. Although, the elite cyclist will use fat as the major fuel source at this intensity.

Frequency: This type of cycling is essential for riders returning to training following enforced inactivity due to injury or illness. Level 1, used as a regular recovery ride, could assist in avoiding chronic fatigue and destructive effects of overtraining. However, it will not result in large improvements in performance and cannot be considered as a suitable training intensity, even for long rides.

Training Level 2

Heart Rate: Level 2 is the training intensity at which the major biological mechanisms which determine your performance as a cyclist start to become taxed. This level equates to 35 to 45 BPM below measured HR max.

Sensation: Although this intensity is at a relatively comfortable pace, Level 2 training required a marked increase in concentration on Level 1. Without this higher degree of concentration the effort can easily drop back to Level 1. Breathing rate becomes more rhythmic and is noticeably deeper. Conversation is possible, but frequent pauses are necessary to regain breathing pattern.

Purposes: Training at Level 2 results in a number of important physiological changes. These include: the improvement of the supply of oxygen to the working muscles by an increase in the hearts capacity to pump blood; a rise in the total volume of blood; the growth of blood capillaries; and the fine tuning of controlled flow in the body. The ability of the muscle to use oxygen also improves, through changes in the biochemistry of the muscle fibres, enabling you to work more efficiently, and at higher work intensities, without the onset of fatigue. A further effect is to encourage the body to use fat as a fuel source in preference to depleting the carbohydrate stores.

Limiting Factors: Frequent rides over one and a half hours at this pace are possible, but longer training rides at this intensity are very draining. There is a strong risk of becoming glycogen depleted or dehydrated. This can be avoided by adequate feeding, but these sessions should not exceed two hours, or be frequently repeated on a daily basis.

Frequency: Because Level 2 training is fundamental to improved cycling performance, riding at this intensity should figure prominently in an elite riders training regimen. These sessions are best performed alone, or in a small group steady line out.

'Low Level 2' Training

Heart Rate: For the road rider particularly there are occasions when an extended long ride at the bottom end of Level 2 is desirable. These rides would typically be performed at around 45 BPM below HRmax and be between 3 to 5 hours duration.

Purpose: Long training rides at Low Level 2 will have a similar training effect as normal Level 2, but additionally the body will be forced to continuously recruit, within the working muscles, as many muscle fibres as possible in order to obtain adequate supplies of muscle glycogen. Also, the ability to use fat as a fuel source will be further enhances. It is important during Low Level 2 training that plenty of fluid is consumed without restriction, and there must be a continuous supply of intake of carbohydrate. Both of these requirements can be maintained by using a glucose
polymer solution. It is also important that carbohydrate is consumed immediately following the training bout, as the ability to train on subsequent days may be severely affected following this intensity and duration.


Because of the debilitating effects of exhausting the body's glycogen stores, long duration Low Level 2 training should be relatively infrequent: preseason maximally once every week, and possibly once every 14 days, dependant on race commitments, in season. At least 24 hours recovery is required before performing more training of any intensity.

Training Level 3

The physiological reasons for Level 3 training are somewhat complicated but the basic principle lies in the fact that a critical level of effort exists, beyond which you are incapable of maintaining a steady pace without rapidly fatiguing (maximal steady state). Riders often experience this phenomenon in middle distance time trials where it is crucial that this critical work threshold is not exceeded.

Heart Rate: Typically 15 to 25 BPM below measured HR max.

Sensation: Level 3 training is best performed as a continuous steady effort, and the intensity is such that it can only be sustained for relatively short periods. In practice this should be kept to around 25 - 30 minutes in duration, plus a warm up and warm down of approximately 15 minutes. Breathing rate would be rapid and powerful, but should remain regular. If on completion you feel that you could have continued the effort for a longer period, then it is unlikely that the work rate was high enough. Conversely, if during the session, you become progressively exhausted, with heart rate, breathing rate and muscular pain rising, then the load is too great. Level 3 requires intense concentration and is psychologically very demanding.

Purpose: The object of Level 3 training is to exercise for a sustained period just at your critical threshold. Such a session places a very high load on the body's ability to supply oxygen to the working muscles. Equally important, it stresses the mechanisms which control the fatigue causing processes that occur within the muscles at high work rates. Training at this intensity ensures a heavy aerobic stress and should improve the power output you can sustain before the onset of fatigue.

Limiting Factors: The major factor limiting Level 3 training is the discomfort associated with the failure of the body to maintain control of the fatigue causing processes. The depletion of the body's carbohydrate store dramatically affects this type of training, so it is important to ensure you are fully recovered from any previous training session. If you perform Level 3 training on an indoor apparatus, heat build up can be a problem.