Try this 7-day cyclocross training plan for the busy 'cross racer

6 hours in 7 days to boost your racing fitness

There are plenty of reasons to love the sport of cyclocross: it’s spectator and family friendly, the races are short, and success demands a balance of bike handling skills and fitness. In short, it's the perfect competitive outlet for those of us with busy 'real' lives.

As we get older, our tastes tend to shift from quantity to quality. This goes for all things good — wine, beer, food — but is especially true when it comes to training.

Young cyclists often overtrain and, despite the fact that many make up for it with youth and an ability to sleep 12 hours a night, some are surely slower because of it.

Growing up also means you're likely to have a job, partner, kids and/or a million other things to spend your time on. The good news is that we’ve found a fairly specific — but fun — training structure for cyclocross which doesn’t take that much time, but does allow you to be competitive on the weekend ’cross courses. This holds true whether you’re a beginner or racing with the big dogs.

Muddy shoes, muddy kit, but fitness gains and lots of fun
Muddy shoes, muddy kit, but fitness gains and lots of fun

Cyclocross races may be short, but they still require a rider to ‘pin it’ for 45 minutes to an hour. While this requires serious training, you don't need to put in the hours of a Tour de France pro.

In fact, you can can get a lot of quality training done on four to six hours a week if you use your time wisely. This translates to between 40 to 60 minutes per day, which is short enough to fit in before or after work, or even at lunch time. 

Cyclocross is also a very inclusive discipline, and many races will have men's, women's and kid's categories, so you can get the whole family involved. Rock up with a picnic, soak up the atmosphere, get covered in mud and enjoy! 

This is what we recommend you do during those training hours, from Monday through to racing on Saturday and Sunday:

Monday

Rest and recover from the previous day('s) of racing. For advanced riders this can mean a short (45 minutes) recovery spin, but for others — or after a super-tough weekend of racing — taking the day off to rest is a good idea.

Tuesday

Beginners and intermediate riders can benefit from a 20-minute run today — perhaps during your lunch break. This can build to 45 minutes over the course of the season, but no more. Time should be increased in five minute increments as your running fitness improves.

Later in the day, try a bit of 'cross specific training. Boulder, Colorado has a ’cross training route up a canyon road which is also intersected by a hiking trail. Riding the road then running each successive section of trail as it intersects makes for an incredibly hard workout. If you can find something similar, you'll reap rewards.

Advanced and professional racers may better benefit from a motor-pace workout consisting of three 15-minute lactate threshold efforts.

Motor-pacing forces race-paced efforts and helps train mental fortitude by always giving you a stronger wheel to follow
Motor-pacing forces race-paced efforts and helps train mental fortitude by always giving you a stronger wheel to follow

Any workout should be skipped if you’re still tired from the weekend’s racing and replaced with a recovery spin or complete rest. With a high intensity sport like cyclocross, recovery is more important than training.

You need to be completely recovered from previous efforts so that you can maximize the quality of your next training session or race. If you continue to work out when tired, you'll quickly become over-trained.

Wednesday

Today do two 20- to 25-minute race-paced efforts with 10 to 20 minutes of recovery in between. These must be done at 100 percent effort to exhaustion.

In Colorado, we’re lucky enough to have a race-intensity morning ’cross ride to use for this workout. The group ride makes two stops at local parks to ride two sessions of hot laps, which end up being mini-races and maximize both the workout and fun. This type of ride is also great practice for cornering, dismounting, remounting (transitions) and generally staying lucid on the bike under a high level of stress.

If you don’t have access to a group ride, motor-pacing will work brilliantly, as will pyramid intervals if you’re truly disciplined. A pyramid interval consists of a work/rest scheme that looks like this: 1min work/1min rest, 2/2, 3/3, 4/4, 5/5, 4/4, 3/3, 2/2, 1/1. The low numbers call for a higher-than-threshold effort, while the higher numbers have to be done at threshold.

Make it through one of these sessions and you should feel a real sense of accomplishment; two sessions and you’re a rockstar. Do not exceed a three hour total ride time or one hour total of intensity.

The simulated races are a great training effort and last about 20 minutes
The simulated races are a great training effort and last about 20 minutes

Thursday

If you’re racing on Saturday or both weekend days you should be resting today. A short 45-minute recovery ride can be placed here as well. If you’re only racing on Sunday and/or didn’t train on Tuesday, you can add a second workout here too. We'd suggest the same style workouts as we recommended for Tuesday.

Note: Beginner and intermediate riders should skip fitness workouts on Tuesdays and Thursdays all together in favor of practising techniques. One intense day of training per week is plenty for the average racer and greater gains can be made on the race course from better transitions, cornering and sand riding techniques than can ever be achieved by training fitness alone.

Friday

Here you should use a handful of high-cadence openers to unblock from your rest day, if you’re racing on Saturday. Complete (off the bike) rest is the order of the day if you’re racing on Sunday only.

Openers consist of two to three short (five-minute) efforts with rest in between that equals the effort. They should be done at a high cadence to jump-start your cardiovascular system, but not weaken your legs.

This workout can be done on your ’cross bike at the same park where you do your Wednesday training, or on your road bike. For a big race like a state or national championship, you should aim to do this ride on the course. Total training time is around one hour.

Saturday

If you're not racing today, do some high-cadence openers (see Friday). If you’re racing you should plan to be registered, dressed and warming-up on course for the hour before the race. Once you have the course, tire selection and tire pressure dialled, you should plan on one or two hot laps at 85 percent effort to warm up. This will also give you a final race-speed check of your bike.

This effort should be finished 15 minutes before the start, after which you should make final equipment adjustments and take in an energy gel. If you’re racing the following day, plan on a short 20- to 40-minute spin after the race, before you pack up and get in the car.

We prefer to incorporate a bike into our training runs so that we can be ready for this
We prefer to incorporate a bike into our training runs so that we can be ready for this

Sunday

If you’re racing a second day, consider a short 20-minute spin before you get in the car to drive to the race. Make sure this is finished no less than three hours before you start your warm-up. Use the same warm-up as yesterday.

Follow this schedule, while listening to your body — rest when it tells you to — and you should find a good balance between your racing endeavours and real life. You'll not only feel the benefit, but you'll emerge from the season a fitter, faster cyclist in general. 

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