Cycling Training Plan – 80/20 rule

Cycling Training on an electric bike can be as simple or as complex as you wish to make it, but there is wisdom in keeping it simple as such an approach can pay greater rewards. You should aim to structure your training using the 80/20 rule.

cycling training

But,what is the cycling training 80/20 rule?

Simply put, the 80/20 rule of running training states that 80% of your weekly training time should be done at an easy effort level, with 20% consisting of harder running.

The distinction between easy and hard is based on the athlete’s ventilatory ‘threshold’. This is the point at which you switch from aerobic metabolism (using oxygen to fuel your muscles) to anaerobic metabolism (when there isn’t enough oxygen available for your muscles to use as fuel).

It tends to occur at around 75-80 per cent of your maximum heart rate, but can vary for each runner. ‘Easy/slow’ running is below the threshold, and ‘hard/fast’ is close to, or above the threshold.

The theory is that as running is a predominantly aerobic activity, your training should reflect that with plenty of slower, easy-paced running, when you are best able to use your aerobic energy systems.

There is still a benefit to training your anaerobic energy systems because you will spend some time out of breath for that hard kick at the end of a race, or powering over a sharp hill – and because it helps raise the pace at which the threshold occurs. However, as distance runners, we don’t spend much of our races using our anaerobic energy systems, so it only needs to take up around a fifth of our training.

In addition, running slowly puts our muscles, bones and joints under less stress than faster running, so prioritising the easier paced runs reduces our risk of injury while still allowing for musculoskeletal adaptations.

The above might be an oversimplification, and glosses over the nuance of some of the science, but is, broadly speaking, what the 80/20 rule means.

Where has the rule come from?(Cycling Training rule)

Polarised training – combining easy training with hard training – has been practiced for decades. What’s relatively new is this theory that an 80/20 split between easy and hard is the specific sweet-spot to get the most benefit.

Dr Stephen Seiler, Professor in Sports Science at Norway’s University of Agder, is widely credited as the person who first highlighted the 80/20 rule in academic circles. It then became more widely known thanks, in part, to Matt Fitzgerald’s 2014 book, 80/20 Running.

Seiler would readily admit that though he came up with the term, ’80/20 training’, he didn’t invent it. Instead, he identified and explained something that élite endurance athletes, across a range of sports, were already doing – either instinctively or by design.

Whether it was top runners, pro cyclists, rowers, orienteers, or cross country skiers, Seiler noticed an overwhelming trend of the best endurance athletes in the world doing about 80 per cent of their training at very low intensities. He has since spent much of his career identifying just what it was about the 80/20 split that seemed to work so well.

Riding electric bike also can structure your training using the 80/20 rule, incorporating three different types of training.


Here are the three types of cycling training to be aware of:


Endurance training – you need this for any cycling event in the real world or in e-sports. Without a strong endurance engine, you cannot get to the end of the event or tour. This is all about fitness and staying the course.

Strength Training – this goes beyond the high intensity work and is designed to make your muscles stronger, not just faster.

High Intensity Training – you need this to change from a slow person who can just ride a bike into one that has the power to get up hills, sprint into finishes and stay with the other riders. This is about pushing yourself into moments and bursts of exertion that ordinarily you might avoid.


1.Endurance Training

You should aim to follow the 80/20 rule when structuring your training. Endurance training should be at least 80% of your training measured by time and in fact it delivers more than 80% of the results. In other words, just by riding at a talking pace you will get fitter and stronger over time.

If you decide to ride faster for that 80%, it does not necessarily mean that you will get faster or even much fitter. To understand why is a complex issue, but suffice to say training must be strategic and have a purpose. Goals must be set and worked towards – pushing yourself 80% of the time in an unstructured way risks physical burnout, mental depletion and self-limiting progress.

In cycling, there is a term sometimes called FTP or Functional Threshold Power, which is a power measurement. Your FTP is the maximum sustainable power at which you can ride for an hour and it is useful to have an idea what it is when you start.

Your FTP can be used to determine the pace at which you ride when endurance training, however for now, we will refer to your Aerobic Threshold (AT). This is the level at which you can still breathe steadily even if laboured and ride for the hour.

About 70 to 80% effort of that Aerobic Threshold is another important level. This is the pace at which you could theoretically ride ‘all day’. More technically, it is the pace at which your body replaces what you are using more or less at the same rate as you use it. This is Endurance Pace. We often call it ‘Talking Pace’, because it is as fast as you can ride and still talk in proper sentences.

Another level below your endurance pace is what we call Recovery Pace. This is the pace at which the body actually replenishes while you are riding. The Recovery Pace is great because it drives fresh blood into the muscles, without creating any further damage, and as the name implies actually speeds up your recovery. It is simply one of the best ways to recover from a grueling session. It’s important to have days like this every so often as recovery is enhanced and muscular soreness reduced.

So now we have a box that looks like this for your Endurance Training. In any given week of training, 80% of the time should be below Aerobic Threshold with nearly all of it at an effort that is between Recovery Pace and Endurance Pace.


2.Strength Training

There are many different strength exercises you could do and isometric exercises in particular are easy to fit into your training (exercises where the muscles are tensioned but not contracting).

A favourite of ours is an isometric exercise done when your bike is fixed on a trainer:

  • Lock the bike down safely so the cranks can’t move.
  • Position your cranks at around 30 degrees and then apply all the pressure you can till you lose form.
  • Stop, perform the same exercise on the other leg, then rest and repeat.
  • Build up both time and pressure.


3.High Intensity Training (HIT) of Cycling Training

Now we come to HIT, which should be around 20% of your time training. If the endurance training builds the house, the HIT is the roof. The best way to understand HIT is to use the analogy of a rechargeable battery when it is in use and connected to the charger.

We are just like that – the system is being used and then regenerating. The shorter the maximal effort in a training session, the more the anaerobic portion of your system is being used (anaerobic exercise is short, fast, high-intensity exercise that doesn’t require the body to utilize oxygen as its energy source).

So, a five second High Intensity maximal effort can put out a lot of energy, but in a 10-minute maximal effort, the rate at which the output is delivered (the battery discharge in our analogy) needs to be slower. Interestingly, discharging regularly actually makes your endurance capacity grow and also makes you more efficient at the High Intensity activity. So, you get a double bang for your buck. You get faster and can also ride faster longer.

The rule with HIT is that it is ‘all out’.

But remember that this is ‘all out’ across the entire set of all intervals, if you truly go all out over the first couple of intervals you may not complete the set.

Judging these efforts takes a little practice, but it’s no more difficult than going to the gym and figuring out how much you can bench press for 5 sets of 10 repetitions – the practice is identical. And as with the bench press in the gym, you are aiming to get through each set in perfect form but exhaust all your energy in doing so.

Remember that this is how you train for 20% of your time including the recovery between efforts. For those at the top of their game, such as Olympic champion cyclists, spending as low as 4-5% of their time in the actual HIT is sufficient.

  • 20% of your time at maximum
  • Always ‘all out’
  • Never on back to back days
  • Done as intervals

Anything else?

The focus of this article has been about optimising your training to improve your fitness, speed or race times. This is all based on the assumption that, if you’re reading an article about 80/20 training, these are goals of yours. If so, the advice above may help you achieve those goals.

However, we also recognise and celebrate that the great thing about riding is you can do it however you want.

If you’re passionate about high intensity intervals and sprint sessions, then go for it and do your thing!

On the other hand, if your idea of riding is keeping it easy and taking in the sights, sounds and smells of your local environment, then by all means continue doing so.

Arguably, far more important than getting your mix of training intensities just right, is making sure that you are enjoying your riding e-bike

If you are looking for a new way of commuting or want a healthier lifestyle, we are here to help you. Visit our website to learn more about electric bikes and electric scooter or please leave information to us.

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