Coaching: Top tips for base training & turbo routines at this crucial time

Posted on: December 7th, 2016

With Christmas holiday time fast approaching, getting your base training right and tweaking your turbo routines have never been more pressing.

Former international and FBD Rás winner, Tommy Evans is currently coaching Ireland’s best triathletes and cyclists. Here he takes time to talk us through some common sense tips for working on your base at this time of year and to outline his advice for getting the most from the hours we spend on our turbo trainers.

We’re now well into the winter training period and most athletes should be back on track working on their base having had a well-earned break after a long hard season.

The break should have enabled your body and mind to recover from the continuous bombardment of mental and physical torture we all put ourselves through for the love of sport.

What is the real purpose and philosophy behind base training?

There are two basic energy systems you use when training; anaerobic and aerobic. Unfortunately, you cannot build both your aerobic and anaerobic systems at the same time with any great effect.

The idea behind base training is to train your aerobic energy system specifically and solely.

Why is this important?

The more work you perform aerobically, or in the presence of oxygen, the more efficient you are.

Prolonged aerobic training produces muscular adaptations that improves oxygen transport to the muscles, reduces the rate of lactate formation, improves the rate of lactate removal, and increases energy production and utilisation. These adaptations occur slowly over time.

Fat is a primary fuel source for the aerobic energy system. Over the course of a base period your body learns to more readily break down and utilise fat as an energy source.

As an added bonus, this adaptation helps post-exercise fat metabolism as well. This is an important factor, especially for long distance athletes.


Even if the weather can be tough, now is the time to get stuck into that base training that will stand to us in the months ahead.


The fat we have in our bodies could provide enough energy to perform many distance events back to back, whereas muscle glycogen depletion can occur in as little as one hour.

The less muscle glycogen you utilise, the more efficient you are. Contrary to the aerobic system, the anaerobic system consumes carbohydrate rapidly and the by-product is lactic acid.

Other adaptations of aerobic training include increased stroke volume of the heart, capillary density, and mitochondrial density.

Stroke volume increase simply means your heart pumps more blood per beat. Mitochondria are structures within muscle cells that produce energy from fat and carbohydrate oxidation.

Think of them as tiny batteries for muscle contractions. Regular endurance training can double these structures; by increasing capillary density we can effectively transport more blood to the working muscles.

The process of building capillaries occurs gradually. Because high-stress training breaks down capillaries, base training is best for allowing the slow growth of capillaries.

This training period can take anywhere between 8-12 weeks depending on your training background. It can be split into 2-3 different intensity sessions.


Even if we have lofty training goals, we shouldn’t forget we’re out to enjoy our bikes this winter and to be a bit social.


Longer slower endurance rides of 2.5-4hrs with heart rate between 60-70% of max, shorter more intense rides of 60 mins with heart rate between 70-80% of max, and some short sharp alactic sprint work of 5-10secs with long recovery

Base training in my opinion is one of the most important phases of an athletes season, setting the foundation stones for the intensive sessions that will follow later in the year.

This is also a prime time to pay attention to the technical side of cycling. If our pedalling efficiency is poor some simple cadence session will help. And if our pedalling style is not smooth, some isolated leg drills can also be added to sessions.

This is also the time we should be out training on our winter bikes, kitted with mud guards going 2-3kph slower due to the additional weight so we can also reap the benefits of returning to a race weight race bike when it matters most.

Due to the adverse weather conditions we have been experiencing in Ireland the last few years I have added some examples of turbo sessions that can be done, if we have to take training indoors that can be used during the base phase.

Turbo Sessions

Session 1 aerobic work out low intensity cadence

Simple 60-70 min work out at low intensity to help improve your cadence pedalling efficiency.

Start with an easy work 15 min warm-up, 5 mins easy pedalling then 10 mins building up to approx 75% max heart rate (150 based on 200mhr).

Start with short blocks of 1min on 110-120 rmp, 1min normal cadence, 85-95rpm, 3 sets of 10 mins with 5 mins normal pedalling in-between, followed by 15 min cool down.

As your training progresses, the duration of each set of high cadence can increase in time and reduce the amount of recovery.

Session 2 aerobic work out isolated legwork

Simple 60-70 min work-out at low intensity to help improve your pedalling efficiency and strength.

The aim is to pedal using one leg; you can remove one foot if you wish or leave the foot as a balance weight.

It’s important to think of pushing and pulling as if you were following a circle with your foot…to pedal in circles not clunking at gears or pedalling in squares.

Warm up as per above. Start with short blocks of 1min left leg, 1min right leg1min 1min both legs x3 = 3 sets of 9 mins with 6 mins normal pedalling in-between cadence of 80-90 for these efforts followed by 15 min cool down.

As your training progresses, the duration of each isolated set can increase.

Session 3: mid intensity zone 3 aerobic work

60-90 mins, warm up as per above followed by 3×10 min blocks of 70-80% MHR effort, 10 mines recovery followed by 10-15 min cool down.

As your training progresses you can increase the duration of the zone 3 work and reduce the recovery time. This session can be done at most phases of training.

Session 4: short sprint intervals Alactate

60-80 min work out to help improve your short explosive power.

10-15 min warm up 5 mins easy pedalling followed by 10mins building up to 75-80% include 10 sc sprints every 3 mins at 90%.

2 sets of 4 sprints 8-10 secs max, should be done from a slow rolling speed in a medium gear to in the saddle, 8-10scs or until spun out 3-4mins easy riding between sprints, 5 mins between sets, 10-15 min cool down.

As your training progresses you can increase the duration, set and number of sprints in each set and or reduce the amount of recovery time.

Top turbo tips

  1. Fluids – ensure you drink loads during any turbo session, as dehydration will affect your performance.
  2. Calibrate your bike each time; same tyre pressure and resistance.
  3. Have a record of your session so you can evaluate your progress.
  4. If the weather is really bad split turbo session into two blocks rather than one long block.
  5. Play some good music when you’re doing the hard sets; something to help you get those legs pumping.
  6. Try and enjoy it; that’s what you’re doing it for.

Tommy Evans is contactable on