Go from the couch to 30 miles in 8 weeks with this beginner’s cycling plan
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For an inexperienced cyclist, starting out can be a scary prospect. This easy-to-follow plan will get you clocking big distances in no time at all.
You’ve thought about it, haven’t you, watching on with envy as professional-looking cyclists woosh past you on mighty, bending country roads, wishing you yourself could get some of that action?
Whether you are new to the sport and are the proud owner of a new road bike or just looking to get back in the saddle, this plan will carefully guide you through a dedicated training programme, building up your knowledge, fitness and confidence.
This guide will turn you into a top performer regularly capable of 30-mile rides. The plan lasts for eight weeks, running from Monday through to Sunday and includes both riding days and rest days. Each week is also broken down into useful hints, tips and suggestions to help you get the most out of every session.
Before you begin though, here are a few points to think about:
Does your bike need a service?
It's OK if your legs are a bit creaky, but squealing brakes, noisy chains and sticking gears will eventually become a distraction, draining both your enjoyment and energy.
Fit for purpose
Consider getting a professional bike fitting. A bike fitter will take careful measurements of your proportions and set up your bike to fit you exactly, making riding more comfortable and efficient.
Kit yourself out
Check your nutrition and fitness levels
A structured exercise programme can be a shock to the system – if you have any worries about your fitness, consult a doctor before starting.
The 8-week couch-to-30-miles training plan
You will notice that each ride on the training plan contains a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). This is a numerical indication of how hard you should be working, ranging from RPE 1 (minimal effort) through to RPE 10 (maximum effort). For the majority of the sessions, you should be working at a pace comfortable enough to hold a light conversation, but at some points the plan will push you harder for short periods.
This first week is all about building confidence and comfort. On a flat, steady route away from heavy traffic, use each ride to check your bike's set-up. Make sure that you are happy with the way your body positioning feels when riding and make adjustments if necessary.
Fix any issues that may have occurred in Week 1 and check your tyres for debris and potential punctures after every session.
Hydration is important on longer rides, so take a drink every 10-15 minutes. For an added energy boost, use sports drinks or water supplements containing electrolytes and carbohydrates.
Focus on your pedalling technique – you should be pushing down on the pedal with the ball of your foot, knees pointing straight ahead. Aim to pedal at a cadence of 80 revolutions per minute (RPM), changing down to an easy gear if you feel your tempo slowing.
Start to use one of your rest days to include a session of cross-training, such as swimming or running. And on your midweek ride, add a short 20-minute burst of effort (RPE 5-6) by increasing your pace or planning a route with inclines.
As you reach the halfway point, a two-hour weekend ride should be achievable. Over this distance, you will need to take on food while riding. As with hydration, the key is to eat a little, often – attempt to refuel every 20-30 minutes using natural, high-carb foods like bananas, dried fruit or flapjack.
If riding for two hours is still a little daunting, try planning a cafe stop at the midway point for a coffee or energy drink.
"Caffeine has many effects on the body but it’s most significant role is its direct effect on the brain," explains Alexandra Cook, Sports Dietitian and UK Athletics coach. It is shown to block adenosine – the body's key sleep-inducing chemical – by binding to the brain's adenosine receptors. "Caffeine is able to block adenosine from doing its job masking our feelings of tiredness."
A cafe stop then has multiple benefits; as well as splitting the ride into manageable sections, it gives you time to rest, refuel and feel ready to go again.
After four weeks of training, take some time to relax and recover. Continue to cross-train at least once a week, mixing up cardiovascular exercises with core strengthening activities like yoga or pilates.
Now the hard work really begins. Start to focus on attacking hill climbs, pacing yourself gradually to an effort of RPE 7-8 for short periods of time.
When riding up hills, it's important to stay relaxed, keeping a high cadence. Though you may see the professionals out of the saddle swaying from side-to-side, for now, try to remain seated, only standing when an occasional burst of power is required.
Use the first session of the week to concentrate on climbing again, pushing the pace carefully until you reach a maximum effort of RPE 8. Attempt to do three sets of these hills climbs, taking a five-minute break between each.
Check your technique when descending. Always keep your eyes on the road ahead and brake before entering a corner, never while you’re in it. Use handlebar drops if your bike has them – this will make braking easier and distribute your weight evenly, improving traction and control.
With only a week to go until your big ride, think about a bike service – check your brakes, gears and chain, replacing any stretched cables or worn pads.
After seven weeks, all the preparation and hard work has led to this. If you have followed the training plan, you should be feeling fit, energised and raring to go.
Use the remaining midweek rides to prepare for Sunday. Light and short sessions will keep your legs ticking over, but stay away from any heavy cross-training.
Finally, remember to stick to what you have learnt throughout the training plan – and above all, enjoy the ride!