By Kate AmosIn the first two parts of this series, we explained how to get the most out of your body and your bike. Optimizing your pre-workout routine and fine-tuning your machine are the first two steps towards improving your fitness and performance, but to truly take your riding to the next level, you need to develop and follow a training plan that will help you reach your goals.There’s an old adage that says, “The biggest planning mistake you can make is to not have a plan.” While brand new riders will improve just by virtue of spending more time in the saddle, those with at least six months of riding experience will benefit immensely from some sort of training program. This doesn’t mean that every minute of every ride needs to be dictated by BPMs or power meter numbers, but taking into account some of the basic principles of training will help you to get more out of every ride.Training for an endurance sport like cycling traditionally follows four phases: base, build, peak, and recover (Friel). A rider first establishes a “base” by riding at an endurance pace for a relatively large amount of time each week. After that base is established, it’s time to move into the “build” phase, where some higher-intensity work is added. Once the big race or target event nears, the rider reduces the amount of time spent on the bike, while continuing to add intensity. Eventually,, the rider will peak for a period of a few days or a few weeks. Lastly, the rider then enters the recovery phase, which consists of taking some time off or just riding easy in preparation for the next cycle. This type of structured training is called periodization, and it can be a great way for even relatively new riders to structure their riding.One of the biggest benefits of periodization is that it helps riders to avoid the two most common training mistakes: going too hard or too easy on every ride. It may seem counterintuitive, but in order to ride fast, you must sometimes ride slow. Going all-out can feel great in the moment, but in order to truly get the most out of our training, we must build those endurance miles and stick to those recovery days. After all, it’s while the body is resting that it truly gets stronger, as it re-builds from the “damage” done during the workout. On the other hand, in order to cause changes in the body, we must give our bodies a reason to adapt, which means regularly pushing just beyond your current level. By establishing and sticking to a training plan, you will be able to avoid the mistake that most new riders make, which is pushing too hard on your easy days and going too easy on your hard days.With that in mind, any good training program should include periods of rest and recovery. A general rule of thumb is that you should stick to a maximum of five to six days a week of riding, and should take it easy every fourth week. This doesn’t mean sitting on the couch eating chips all week, but rather, reducing either the volume or intensity of your riding in order to give your body a chance to recover and recharge for the next cycle of training.Finally, the biggest mistake you can make with regards to programming is following a plan so closely that it becomes a chore, meaning that you’re not longer having any fun during the exercise. While discipline is an admirable characteristic that will take you far in life, there can be too much of a good thing, and there are certainly times when even the best-laid plan should be broken. Taking a day off while you’re feeling under the weather can be just what your body needs to recover, and a fun ride with friends in which you can have time to chat or a little friendly competition can be the ticket to maintaining motivation during those long winter months. Developing a healthy lifestyle that will truly last a lifetime means working conscientiously towards your goals while, still finding some joy in every pedal stroke.For more tips on how to get the most out of your rides, subscribe to our newsletter!