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The MS Bike 8-week training plan

These workouts and plans will get your ready for your big rides this summer

by Kevin Mackinnon

Whether you’re pushing yourself to finish at the front of the pack in a competitive gran fondo, the 2,100-km virtual MS Bike combined event route challenge or simply aiming to complete a 60-to-100-km charity bike ride like virtual MS Bike, the fundamentals of the training required are the same. Sure, someone looking to just complete an event doesn’t need to push the training envelope quite the same way, but in order to get the most bang for your training buck, incorporating some of the same training philosophies will ensure you get the most out of your cycling goals.

The following program is designed to provide cyclists of all levels with the basics to put together a two-month plan that will allow them to go the distance and cycle however they want at a virtual MS Bike event this summer. The plan calls for at least three rides a week, with a lot of options to add other sports to the mix and more cycling workouts for those looking for a more demanding plan. It also incorporates some strength training, which is a critical component of any training plan to help avoid muscle imbalances that can lead to injury and to promote overall fitness and health.

Suggested training week

Monday: rider’s choice
Tuesday: steady-pace ride/strength work
Wednesday: rider’s choice
Thursday: speed work
Friday: day off
Saturday: rider’s choice/strength work
Sunday: long ride

Basic cycling workouts

Any training plan should incorporate a long ride, steady-pace ride and speed work every week. Based on the time of year, and following physical-distancing guidelines mandated during the coronavirus pandemic, you can certainly complete all of these workouts indoors. It will certainly be a lot more enjoyable to get outside once conditions allow, especially for the long rides. (Many very successful cyclists will do much of their training indoors through the week and get out outside on the weekends.)

Long Ride

The long ride is an important component to your training plan—the goal at virtual MS Bike is to go the distance and make a difference, right? The key to your long ride is to start at a reasonable level and build gradually. One week you’ll want to take this ride very easy, the next week try to make it a bit steadier, trying to simulate the pace you’re likely to be going on the day, or days, of your virtual MS Bike event.

These rides should be done at a 60 to 80 per cent intensity level. The easiest way to gauge that level is to make sure you can keep a conversation going. Since we’re likely to be riding by ourselves for awhile, think of just making sure you don’t feel completely out of breath while you’re on these rides. Don’t sweat it if you have to push a bit beyond that on climbs, but keep things easy the rest of the way.

Most people look to get their long rides done on the weekends when they have more time, but any day of the week is fine as long as you get it done. Here are some suggested long-ride builds based on goal distances of 60 km, 100 km and 160 km.

60 km ride goal

  • Week 1: 20 km
  • Week 2: 25 km
  • Week 3: 30 km
  • Week 4: 30 km
  • Week 5: 40 km
  • Week 6: 45 km
  • Week 7: 50 km
  • Week 8: 60 km

100 km ride goal

  • Week 1: 40 km
  • Week 2: 45 km
  • Week 3: 50 km
  • Week 4: 50 km
  • Week 5: 60 km
  • Week 6: 70 km
  • Week 7: 80 km
  • Week 8: 100 km

160 km ride goal

  • Week 1: 60 km
  • Week 2: 70 km
  • Week 3: 80 km
  • Week 4: 80 km
  • Week 5: 100 km
  • Week 6: 120 km
  • Week 7: 140 km
  • Week 8: 160 km

Steady-pace ride

This ride is meant to be completed at a quicker pace or intensity than your long ride will be. Think of these rides being at a 75 to 85 per cent effort. The length of these rides is dependent on how much time you have available to you. Ideally, they are at least 45 minutes in duration, but can be as long as two hours if you have the time. The goal here is to push yourself a bit during this ride. You should feel like you’re riding with someone slightly faster than you.

Warm up for at least 10 minutes and then try to increase the effort. You can vary things with some longer efforts of 10 to 20 minutes with the same amount of time with easy pedalling in between, or simply just keep the pace up for the entire ride. Take the last five minutes of the ride nice and easy as a cool down.
These rides can be done inside or outside. Riding inside for these efforts can be very efficient: a 45- to 60-minute block on the trainer can provide an outstanding workout.

Here are a couple of indoor options you might want to try out:

Steady ride 1

  • 10 minute warm-up
  • 30 to 40 minute build. Increase effort (either turn up the resistance or change to a harder gear) every 5 minutes
  • 5 minute cool-down

Steady ride 2

  • 10 minute warm-up
  • 4 to 6 x 5 minutes hard (either harder gear or faster cadence)/ 5 minutes easy spinning recovery
  • 5 minute cool-down

Speed work

“I don’t care how fast I go; I just want to finish.” I hear you. But, believe it or not, speed work is still an important part of training for virtual MS Bike. The faster you pedal on the bike, the easier your easy pace will feel. More important, riding fast improves your endurance because it will improve your anaerobic threshold—the point when your body struggles to keep going.

The other aspect of speed work is that it is fun. Changing up the pace will keep the rides interesting, especially if you find you have to do a lot of your training indoors.

You want to push yourself for these efforts to the point of feeling out of breath. Your speed work efforts, or intervals, should be between 30 seconds and two minutes in length, with anywhere from the same time to twice the length of the interval as recovery.

These sessions should be between 45 and 75 minutes.

Here are a couple of speed sessions you might want to try:

Speed workout 1

  • 10 minute warm-up
  • 5 x 1 minutes hard/1 minute easy spinning recovery
  • Take an additional 5 mins easy spinning recovery after the last interval, then repeat 1 to 3 more times
  • 10 minute cool-down

Speed workout 2

  • 10 minute warm-up
  • 5 x 2 minutes hard/2 minutes easy spinning
  • 5 minutes easy spin
  • 5 x 30 seconds hard/1:30 easy spinning
  • 10 minute cool-down

Here are some links to some other speed workouts you can try:

Strength work

Even though your legs are going to be doing the lion’s share of the work for your big cycling effort this summer, maintaining overall strength should be a critical component of your training plan. You don’t need to hit a weight room for hours and hours of strength training every week. In fact, that probably would hinder your bike goals as you would likely gain some unwanted muscle mass. The gym time would take away from valuable training time on the bike, too.

Your strength work should be very much focused on core strength and incorporate as much own-body exercises as possible. Aim to complete a couple of strength sessions a week for about 20 minutes.

For core strength workouts that will help every cyclist, check out this equipment-free program.

Other workouts

OK, so you have three bike rides, two strength workouts. What else should your training week include? For some riders, that workload will be more than enough. For those who want to add some more training to their weekly schedules, include what we’ll call cyclist’s choice days. These could be some easy bike rides, easy runs or even just some long, brisk walks to get you out of the house and enjoying some fresh air.

Those looking to really maximize their bike performance this summer should look at adding another speed or steady-pace workout to their weekly schedule, along with one or two easy rides of 45 to 90 minutes.

Day off

One of the most important things you’ll do as part of your training plan is to make sure you have a day off every week. Giving yourself a 24-hour break to let your body rest and recuperate will make all the difference in your performance and ability to build and maintain your fitness. I like to plan days off for Fridays—typically that’s the end of the work week and people are looking forward to a bit of a break. It also ensures you are rested heading into the weekend when, typically, you’ll aim to get some longer training done because they have more time.

About virtual MS Bike, with CTA.

About virtual MS Bike
Every summer cyclists of all ages and fitness levels come together across Canada to find, and conquer, their personal cycling challenge at MS Bike. This year is no different as we come together at our virtual MS Bike, uniting online. Join us as together we hit the road, trainer or stationary bike and virtually connect for a cycling experience you will never forget.

Register at msbike.ca

Kevin Mackinnon is a former professional triathlete who has been coaching cyclists, runners and triathletes for more than 30 years. He is the editor of Triathlon Magazine Canada and a senior editor at Canadian Cycling Magazine.